Release Date: April 18, 2017Platform: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC, iOS, AndroidDeveloper: Telltale GamesPublisher: Telltale GamesGenre: Adventure
Reviewing a new Telltale Game is a lot like reviewing a new Marvel Studios movie. Most fans know about what to expect going in and are really just wondering if the final product is enjoyable and where it fits into the studio’s hierarchy.
Perhaps it’s destiny, then, that Marvel and Telltale finally join forces in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series.
Telltale’s Guardians of the Galaxy isn’t actually based on the Marvel movie of the same name, but you’d be forgiven for believing that it is. Despite officially being based on the comics, this game borrows many characterization and presentation elements from the 2014 film.
Telltale’s clear fondness for the film’s take on this universe does lead to some design hurdles. The most notable of these obstacles is Scott Porter’s performance as Star-Lord. With all due respect to Porter who is clearly doing his best to bring this character to life, Chris Pratt simply is Star-Lord. Porter’s admirable efforts are undermined by the nasty feeling that you’re watching a particularly good impersonation.
The rest of the principal cast draw heavily from the film version of their respective characters with varying degrees of success. Brandon Paul Eells can’t quite match Dave Bautista’s brilliant deadpan portrayal of Drax, for instance, while Emily O’Brien actually does a great job as Gamora. As for Adam Harrington’s portrayal of Groot…well, Groot says three words and Harrington emotes them well.
However, it’s Nolan North that steals the show as Rocket Racoon. To be entirely honest, there were times when I felt like North’s portrayal of Rocket was even better than Bradley Cooper’s. He clearly loves this character, and his comedic timing in this first episode is simply flawless.
Equally free of error is the game’s soundtrack. Yes, the heavy use of licensed music featured throughout is another way that Telltale borrows from the movie universe they are not technically adapting, but given how wrong a modern Guardians game without a ‘70s soundtrack would have felt, you’ll find it easy to forgive them for that particular creative liberty.
Besides, Telltale’s selection of thematically appropriate ‘70s songs is too good to hate. They even named Guardians‘ episodes after individual songs – this first installment is appropriately titled Tangled Up In Blue – and each episode’s chapter titles pay homage to famous ‘70s albums. You have to respect that level of stylistic commitment.
While playing through the first episode of Guardians of the Galaxy, you begin to understand that the “based on the original comics” clause was simply a measure imposed by Marvel so that the game didn’t become part of the Marvel cinematic canon. While that technical dissociation from the films does occasionally cause you to raise an eyebrow at the game’s most flattering imitations, the relatively free reign that it affords the developers does allow them to tell one of their most compelling stories ever.
Since it’s impossible to discuss most Telltale plots in-depth without ruining the pleasure of experiencing them for yourself, it’s difficult to give even a basic plot summary for Guardians of the Galaxy without compromising the brilliance of the story. Instead, I’ll just say that Guardians of the Galaxy quickly introduces a genuinely surprising development that leads the game in some fascinating directions. Even when the story occupies slightly more traditional comic book adventure territory, you’ll still get to enjoy some wonderful moments of character development and a fascinating revelation that sets up the rest of the season quite nicely.
The brilliance of the game’s story isn’t just apparent in the writing – which is exceptional both in the context of this universe and in general – but also in the way that Telltale utilizes their various gameplay tropes to tell it. For instance, compared to other Telltale games, there are very few narrative-altering choices in Tangled Up In Blue. In their place are more subtle dialog options that allow you to establish a relationship with each crew member, often at the expense at your relationship with other crew members.
Inevitably, this lack of dramatic choices will disappoint Telltale fans who crave such things, but I found this more intimate approach to decision making far more compelling than the typical fork in the road method. Of course, it’s worth noting that Guardians still has some of those classic conundrums and that this is only the first episode.
Whatever Telltale does with Guardians‘ choices moving forward, I hope they do nothing to alter this first episode’s combat sequences. Tangled Up In Blue plays host to some of the greatest action sequences the studio has ever directed. “Directed” is the ideal word here as the brilliance of these combat scenes can be attributed to the surprisingly lively cinematography on display. The game’s playful action scenes bounce joyfully between multiple characters and benefit from organically implemented button prompts that allow you to enjoy the perfect framing.
Actually, the only thing that hinders these stunning scenes is the occasional framerate dip. Guardians is visually pleasing overall, but there were a couple of moments when the game stuttered or stalled entirely. Thankfully, these occurrences were brief.
As for the last ingredient in the Telltale formula, the puzzles, they are familiarly disappointing. I’d hoped that the somewhat creative investigation scenes featured in Telltale’s Batman series would carry over to the studio’s future endeavors, but alas, that momentary glimpse into slightly more complex puzzles seems to have been a one-off way to pay tribute to the world’s greatest detective. At least there are only a couple of these scenes in Tangled Up In Blue as Telltale instead opted to focus on action and dialogue in order to play to the strengths of this universe.
By sticking to those strengths, Telltale has managed to deliver a game that I ended up loving far more than I ever thought I would. Much like how the 2014 Guardians of the Galaxy film surpassed the expectations of many viewers by playfully altering the Marvel Studios formula, Telltale’s Guardians of The Galaxy changes the developer’s formula in a way that doesn’t completely reinvent this sub-genre but will remind you why it is you ever enjoyed this style of game in the first place.
It’s too early to assign Guardians of the Galaxy a permanent place in the Telltale hierarchy, but based on the quality of this first episode, it certainly feels like the series will ultimately rub shoulders with The Wolf Among Us, Tales From The Borderlands, and even The Walking Dead: Season One.