Guardians of the Galaxy was the shot in the arm that the Marvel Cinematic Universe needed, opening the door to very different kinds of heroes in very different environments, all infused with loads of attitude.
It's still one of the most memorable Marvel flicks to date, and now with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 hitting cinemas in a matter of weeks, gaming's best storytellers get a crack at spinning their own tale with this misfit team of space heroes.
Telltale Games has worked its episodic narrative magic with everything from The Walking Dead to Game of Thrones, with a dash of Minecraft and Batman as well, but Guardians proves a unique challenge: it tries to match the film's spunk while not actually having access to the actors' voices or likenesses. Which is rather strange, really.
We've had a play through the first episode, Tangled Up in Blue, so consider this a review-in-progress for now. Four more episodes are due in the coming months, so we'll update both the review text and score along the way as needed as the complete adventure takes shape.
Galaxy of choices
Telltale has its game design approach down to a science, and while each license it tackles does something a bit different, the core experience is largely similar. As such, Guardians of the Galaxy follows a familar path: it's essentially a choose-your-own-adventure game, in which your decisions and dialogue choices shape the events.
Every so often, you'll face a larger decision that can significantly change the course of the narrative, such as aligning with one force as opposed to another. But even the little choices matter: what you say to whom, and how that affects various relationships.
That's a pretty smart fit for this kind of volatile group, and Tangled Up in Blue shows the five Guardians – Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket Raccoon, and Groot – both coming together and splintering apart in some ways, with teases from the menu that future episodes may each center on individual members and highlight their own stories.
It's hard to get a feel for the story arc from playing just one-fifth of the total quest so far, but Tangled Up in Blue very much feels like it's setting the table. There's a surprising outcome to an early battle that guides the events thereafter, and we get a sense of where things are going, but there's no big payoff just yet.
It could be a couple episodes before we get some meaty results, but the first episode provides a solid opening hook. Just be prepared for how brief this intro segment is: we didn't even hit the two-hour mark before the credits rolled.
Packs a punch
As you'd expect from a property like this, it's not all about dialogue choices: there's also a bit of action and physical interaction in the mix, whether you're fighting against a big bruiser like Thanos or navigating environments in search of clues to help push the story forward.
Simple timed analog stick movements and button taps dominate the combat, at least in the Xbox One version we reviewed, which is pretty standard stuff for Telltale – and perfectly adequate, given the narrative focus. Moving around levels and investigating clues isn't the most fluid or exciting part of the game, which again is par for the course for these games. At least there's a decent navigational mechanic built around Star-Lord's jet boots.
Also familiar for Telltale adventures is some presentational clunkiness along the way. The actual character models can look rather nice at times, but there are bits of slowdown here and there, and some raw-looking textures along the way. Again, you have to consider the scope here with each episode only costing a few hundreds, but it doesn't feel like the game got a huge amount of final polish before publishing.
An awkward imitation
As mentioned above, Guardians of the Galaxy tries very hard to emulate the style and tone of the live-action film: the characters largely have the same kind of attitude, the jokes are familiar in approach, and there's even some classic rock in the form of serious jams from ELO and Hall & Oates.
But it's not quite there. These versions of the characters don't all look like the ones from the movie, and maybe more crucially, they don't sound like them either. Rocket Raccoon is very close to the original (kudos to Nolan North, a.k.a. Nathan Drake), but the others aren't there. And the game likewise seems to lack the punch of the film; the jokes and insults don't have the same sting.
It's jarring, really, and Telltale's version makes an awkward impression as a result. The game is clearly trying hard to live up to the very distinctive example set by the movie and its actors, but doesn't have all the pieces in place to make that happen. Telltale's Game of Thrones adaptation had real actors, so why couldn't this one? The result here feels like a diminished imitation instead of a fresh interpretation.
Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series Verdict
Tangled Up in Blue is a solid first episode that helps set the stage for what's ahead, and it's enough to have us interested in the next entry. On the other hand, it feels like a step back from the source material in terms of look and feel, and it doesn't live up to the lofty heights of the Guardians of the Galaxy film.
Based on what's here so far, there's a lot of potential to tell an interesting story that digs into more of the comic backstory and really explores these characters, so we're intrigued to see where the rest of the series goes. But right now, we can't shake the feeling that it's trying to do a grand impression that it just can't hope to nail.