Et tu, Thanos?:
Telltale don’t make many missteps – since their ascent to mainstream success in 2012 with the Walking Dead, they’ve mostly gone from stregth to strength.
Sadly, I think that upward trend was broken somewhat with Batman, a series based on a favourite comic of mine that was largely hit or miss. I was a little worried, then, when they announced a Guardians of the Galaxy series. Luckily, that concern was completely misplaced.
People who’ve only just gotten into Guardians thanks to James Gunn’s fantastic film a few years back have nothing to worry about going into this adaptation of Marvel’s comic book series. Indeed, this game is aimed squarely at us – with familiar faces (and from what I can tell, purposeful soundalikes) making sure every
Guardians fan, both new and old, are appeased – and its timing just before Guardians 2 hits theatres can’t be a coincedence.
The game starts with the our crew of loveable misfits facing off against Marvel big-bad Thanos – an apocalyptic enemy that the Cinematic Universe has been ramping up to for a while now – so the stakes already feel through-the-roof. Now, it would be heading deep into spoiler territory to get much further into the plot, but I can safely say that the story took some genuinely thrilling and very intriguing turns going forwards from this encounter.
To have such an epic showdown this early on feels like a recipe for disaster – I’ve seen games, movies and books back themselves into a narrative corner when something like this happens – but Telltale handle the situation with a grace that, even after all their excellent titles, surprised me. Thanks to some spot-on humour, excellent dialogue choices and a few massive hooks, I’m already desperate to dive into Episode 2.
Guardians of the Galaxy is a Telltale game like any other. Previously we’ve seen the studio mess with the formula, throw in some context-appropriate mini-games or activities (like Batman’s plans of action and detective zones) but honestly I’ve never found they add all that much to the standard brew. This, of course, consists of plenty of engaging dialogue, exciting, QTE-driven action scenes and difficult decisions with reverberating consequences. The first two are checked off effortlessly, and as a premiere episode I could have forgiven Tangled up in Blue for being light on the decision front. Luckily, it doesn’t need the free pass.
Whilst they’re not fate-of-the-galaxy-decisions in regards to their magnitude, Episode 1 is already making me choose sides in a cold war taking place on Starlord’s ship. As a group of wildly different and morally ambigious bozos, the Guardians are a difficult mishmash of personalities to get to play nice. Elsewhere, there are a couple of multiple choice moments that tug on the heartstrings rather than on your own in built morality meter. It’s a good start, but I expect big bombshells are gonna start dropping and ask you to really invest not too far down the road.
Playing Starlord might just be Telltale’s best lead yet. It’s effortless to slip into the cocky, suave and only slightly moronic shoes of Peter Quill’s alter ego, and slinging zingers at any alien who got in my way was exactly as fun as it should be. Despite Starlord’s completely set-in-stone character, Telltale have given players enough room to really make him their own when it comes to dialogue options. Each one usually feels like something Peter/Starlord could and would say at any given moment, and making these feel organic and true to character whilst not limiting the player is a delicate balancing act that Telltale somehow nail.
I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the presentation of these games for as long as I’ve been playing them. Anyone who’s read a handful of my Telltale reviews know this section is where I’m likely to rant for a couple paragraphs, for better or worse. I’m glad to say that, In Guardians’ case, I’m very pleased with the final product.
In the ninety minutes it took to complete the first episode I only had two weird moments where character models simply failed to render in a scene, and I count that as a win. There’s also the usual jankiness during scene transitions, and a couple of five second hangs, but honestly I’m used to it. I shouldn’t be, mind, but I am.
Besides from these minor blips, Tangled up in Blue is some of Telltale’s best work. It’s a beautiful, colourful piece that evokes its comic-book roots at every turn. In the first major action scene, powerful hits seem to linger for a second as if trapped within the frame of a comic panel, just giving you enough time to really appreciate the moment before its in the rear view. It helps that graphically the game looks fantastic, with a set of close ups on Gamora and her glittery eye-markings really impressing me in particular. The expressions – vital, in a piece that is as much comedy as it is action – are also knockouts. This is a stylized game – meaning its not an absolute powerhouse or anything – but it’s easily Telltale’s best looking title to date.
But it’s in its soundtrack that Guardians of the Galaxy needed to shine the brightest, and it absolutely does. Starlord carries a walkman loaded with 80s bangers, and they score every moment perfectly. Flicking through the names of episodes still to come – Under Pressure, Hooked on a Feelin’ and Don’t Stop Believing, for instance – give me hope for the future of the series that this fantastic score will keep growing. I don’t expect to see those (expensive) songs in particular (though it would be awesome) as Bob Dylan’s Tangled up in Blue never played during the first episode. I’ll be honest, this broke my heart a little, but as long as they keep this vibe going and pump it full of new tracks each episode, I’ll be over the moon – if you’ll pardon the pun.
When Telltale announced a Guardians of the Galaxy series I cheered loudly, despite being sat alone in front of my monitor in the dark. Despite feeling slightly burned from their take on DC’s Batman, I still held out hope that they’d nail the stylish capers of Starlord and Co. – it felt like an endeavour with the same pulse as the excellent Tales from the Borderlands.
Well, with the first episode down I feel like that hope was rightfully placed – Tangled up in Blue is an incredible premiere for what I hope finally dethrones Borderlands as Telltale’s best.