Telltale's games can be hit or miss. Sometimes you get a perfect combination of story and style. Other times, the studio's formulaic approach to development overshadows the final product.
With Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series, trepidation at the potential sameness must be balanced with elation at simply having a game based on Guardians at all. Marvel games have been few and far between on consoles ever since SEGA lost the Marvel license. Thankfully, we needn't have worried about this one. Telltale's Guardians delivers an awesome mix of characters and story.
When comics and movies collide
Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series (Guardians: The Telltale Series for short) is an episodic adventure game based on the popular team of heroes (and antiheroes) who battle against cosmic threats to the Marvel universe. But which iteration of the Guardians is it based on? Many characters have been part of the Guardians over the years, and one version of the team exists primarily in the far future rather than the present.
The team makeup consists of Peter Quill (Star-Lord), Gamora, Drax the Destroyer, Rocket Raccoon, and Groot – the same makeup as the film version. Clearly, these team members were chosen to appeal to the widest possible audience.
Despite the movie-like roster, the actual character designs are a mix of comic and movie aesthetics. Rocket looks like you'd expect (though Nolan North doesn't give him the cockney accent long imagined by comics readers). Groot (Adam Harrington) is just Groot, as you'd hope.
Gamora (Emily O'Brien) and Drax (Brandon Paul Eells) both look like their comic counterparts. Gamora has yellow circles around her eyes, a look I much prefer to the film version's facial prosthetics. Drax has his comic-green skin and simpler red color patterns from the comics as well. His origin seems to be the movie version, in that his deceased love ones have alien names (neither of which is Moondragon.
Star-Lord is all movie-version, wearing an outfit that closely resembles the Chris Pratt Star-Lord. His voice actor, Scott Porter (Speed Racer), turns in a strong performance, although he lacks Pratt's limitless charisma. (So does everyone besides Chris Pratt, so you can't blame him.)
Other notable characters who appear in Episode 1 include Yondu (whose voice actor does a fair imitation of Michael Rooker), Thanos the Mad Titan, and Hala the Accuser, this episode's primary antagonist. Hala first appeared in the comics in 2015 as one of the last survivors of the Kree empire following the destruction of the Kree Homeworld. She is a serious threat, wielding a staff that can be controlled remotely.
Episode 1: Tangled up in blue
Episode 1 of Guardians: The Telltale Series begins during a battle between Thanos (antagonist of the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War film) and the Nova Corps (a group of intergalactic peacekeepers) at an abandoned Kree outpost. The Guardians, who happen to be nearby, accept the Nova Corps' request for help. Unfortunately, they get there too late and all of the Novas have already been killed.
Telltale games typically feature brief segments during which you control the protagonist on foot, performing sparse environmental actions. You'll do that here as Peter Quill, the leader of the Guardians. Our hero becomes trapped within the Kree outpost and must figure out how to open a door for the rest of his team. To do this, he'll search multiple levels of a Thanos-decimated chamber, flying between them with his jet boots.
When the jet boots are activated, hitting up or down on the D-Pad changes the level at which you hover. You won't be flying around in 3D space like you'd do in a non-Telltale game, but at least the developers found a way to incorporate Star-Lord's boots while keeping the controls simple enough for casual players.
Peter has a few more abilities to draw upon in this episode. He can use his communicator to call specific members of the team or answer incoming calls. He also has access to a device called the Time Scanner, apparently created specifically for this episode. It emits a blue pulse that reveals recent events that have happened in the area. This proves vital to opening the door to the Kree outpost, revealing the location of an ID chip that will activate a crashed ship's gun.
Big battles ahead
Warning: This section contains minor spoilers about the general story structure of the game.
Once the team reunited inside of the building, they face off against the main man himself, Thanos. This is a surprisingly ballsy turn of events, given that the actual Guardians movie didn't even bother letting Thanos out of his chair.
The fight is action-packed, in the typical quick time event (QTE)-laden way of Telltale games. But it works here – everyone has their time to shine, and the whole thing is excellently choreographed. The fun of the fight comes from how well it's brought to life visually, as well as our investment in this lovable team of rogues.
The rest of the episode deals with the fallout of the big battle. Our heroes come into the possession of an ancient Kree artifact. This puts them at odds with Hala the Accuser, a more badass female equivalent to the movie's antagonist, Ronan the Accuser. Somehow, she ends up being even more of a threat than Thanos.
Besides the walking around and QTE bits, Telltale games also like to offer players choices. You'll have to make split-second conversation choices, as well as occasionally choose between one major choice or another. Things generally play out almost the same either way during conversations – it's more an illusion of choice than real choice. The major decisions have a greater impact, forcing Star-Lord to choose between supporting different members of his team as well as who will come along on a mission.
Guardians: The Telltale Series offers a very Jackbox-like feature called Crowd Play that is aimed at live streamers. When enabled, viewers can log in through a web browser and vote on the decisions that come up during the game. The primary player can choose to follow the crowd's choice or not. It's definitely a cool feature for the streaming crowd.
Achievements and episodic structure
The Xbox One version of Guardians: The Telltale Series features 31 Achievements worth a total of 1,000 Gamerscore. At launch, however, players can only earn six Achievements, or one for completing each chapter of the first episode. You'll get all six of them just for playing through the game, regardless of the choices you make. The whole episode takes about two hours.
Four subsequent episodes are expected to arrive in the months to come, each with its own chapter-based Achievements. To play those episodes, you'll need to either purchase them individually for $4.99 or buy the Season Pass.
Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy is the best Telltale game since Tales from the Borderlands. The strength of these games comes from story, characters, and direction. Here, Telltale takes a terrific set of characters and puts them through an adventure that feels perfectly in line with both the movie and comic universes.
You won't find a tremendous amount of gameplay in Guardians: The Telltale Series. Like most recent Telltale games, it's more of an interactive movie than a traditional game. But that interactive movie is one that Guardians fans should love, at least during this first episode. Hopefully the rest of the series can maintain this same sense of adventure and bravado.
- Feels like a real Guardians of the Galaxy adventure.
- Finally, we get to see the Guardians take the fight to Thanos.
- The same old Telltale formula means no puzzles or challenge.
- The song that plays during the main menu and credits, "Livin' Thing" by E.L.O., is no substitute for "Hooked on a Feeling" or any of the movie music.
Guardians: The Telltale Series will be available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Steam starting on May 2, 2017. The first episode will cost $4.99. Subsequent episodes will also cost $4.99, or you can get them bundled via Season Pass.
Xbox One review code provided by the publisher.