I don’t think I'm going out on a ledge saying this, or even carving out a hill, so to speak, to die on, but Telltale Games feels like a different company when they deal with things that are not utterly, almost devastatingly depressing. While the success of their Walking Dead series goes without saying, their recent forays into the more heroic with Batman, and downright jauntiness of Tales of the Borderlands, which was far better than anyone could have expected, exhibit a style that just feels… right.
That style, a combination of Batman’s comic chops and Tales' goofy comedy, combines into what could be their best outing yet with Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. While they are the current darlings of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with a successful movie behind them and an anticipated sequel slated to come out in less than a month, Telltale’s story hews closer to the comics while borrowing some of the style that made the movie so enjoyable.
This stylistic choice is apparent from the moment the game is started, as the title screen grooves to the Electric Light Orchestra’s "Livin’ Thing". Much like the movie, GotG’s first episode, entitled Tangled Up in Blue after the Bob Dylan song, punctuates its moments with songs, namely The Buzzcock’s “Why Can’t I Touch It” and Hall & Oates’s “You Make My Dreams.” The latter’s inclusion during a bar scene brought a smile to my face and capped off a truly epic scene in which our heroes had handily defeated a major villain. Now, where the movie managed to fit in nearly 12 songs within its 2-hour run time, Episode 1’s inclusion of 3, including ELO’s appearance in both the main screen/credits, looks shoddy in comparison, but I can’t think of another space where licensed music would have done a better job than the available score.
Focusing on the Guardians themselves, Telltale has chosen to go with the comic version regarding the looks of the characters. This works, not only because it makes for a more dynamic color palette, like swapping out Drax’s dull blue for a more vibrant green, or punching up the color of Gamora and Yondu’s skin, but it allows for further differentiation when it comes to voices. Scott Porter does a fairly even job as Star-Lord, earning a few bonus points for being able to skirt the line between childish jerk and older brother to the team. Emily O’Brien is great as Gamora, and Adam Harrington puts his all into every “I am Groot.” The true standout, which will go kind of without saying once you learn who it is, is Nolan North as Rocket. He’s sarcastic, funny, and even a little heartfelt in his portrayal, and that’s about all you can ask when you’re playing a weapon slinging raccoon.
Items like Star-Lord’s jacket and Rocket’s orange jumpsuit have also made there way over from the movie to the comics, and their inclusion adds familiarity so people who maybe not acquainted with their comic book origins aren’t thrown completely for a loop (seriously, google Star-Lord’s original costume and tell me you’d be able to pick him out of a lineup with his present self). The result and this is not a bad thing at all, is a game that looks like it was made to feature the Guardians line of Disney Infinity toys. In fact, I’m willing to go out on that limb I mentioned before and say that GotG is the best looking Telltale game yet.
That goes for the game itself and not just the characters. The look of locations like Knowhere, the floating space titan skull that houses the shady underbelly of galaxy, and the inside of a Kree Warship are spectacular, and the only time the game slowed down, as Telltale games are wont to, is during a space chase scene that takes place in a small asteroid field.
It feels a bit weird to just be hitting on the story now, 6 paragraphs in, but the comic fare presented by Telltale is a good entry point for the series. Called in to help by the Nova Corps to deal with the Mad Titan Thanos himself, the beginning chapters of episode 1 find our intrepid heroes involved in a space dogfight, a crash landing, and an epic 5 on 1 featuring the MCU’s main baddie and his focus, a small rectangle called the Eternity Forge. The remaining deals with the fallout from that fight, and focuses on the idea of family and whether or not Star-Lord has what it takes to hold their ragtag group together.
They accomplish this through small moments featuring Peter and each member of the team, allowing him to either play up to their strengths or even pit them against one another. Moments where other games like The Walking Dead would have put you in positions that would have seriously damaged the credibility of characters here feel like family spats, where you feel almost safe in choosing your side, drawing your line in the sand, and knowing that the other person still feels enough for you that won’t jettison you from the ship. These scenes go right to the heart of why I think Telltale excels at these “happier” properties. Instead of having their hands tied, stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place, they’re able to approach a scene and offer actual choices that I have hope won’t backfire.
Beyond the story, GotG offered some small gameplay improvements. The few times I was able to “freely” move around as Star-Lord, I was offered the option of using his jump jets, adding some verticality to the normal hunting for clues portion of the game. I also enjoyed walking around Ship, or at least a compromise between the movie’s Milano and the comic’s sentient starship. The intimacy of a small, enclosed space shared by this ragtag family is a wonderful fit for the few moments spent aboard, and having a place to revisit over the next few episodes can be a nice foundation to the more spacey elements of… space.
With four episodes left, and this episode ending with one hell of a mystery left to solve with a villain hot on their tales, I am looking forward to picking up with the Guardians to see where adventure takes them. Consider my interest also peaked for finding out how they eventually work Thanos back into the mix. Until then, we’re left with a wonderfully solid first chapter that leaves me with the hope that Telltale’s best is still to come.
Reviewer and Editor for Darkstation by day, probably not the best superhero by night. I mean, look at that costume. EEK!