Shaun Munro reviews Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series – Episode 1 “Tangled Up in Blue”
Continuing to prove the prevailing inconsistency of Telltale Games’ episodic adventures to date, their stab at Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is a fairly pedestrian exercise in fan wish fulfillment that does just enough to make it worthwhile for the hardcore set, though more discerning crowds will probably be left wanting.
Much like 2014’s acclaimed movie, “Tangled Up in Blue” is an outing low on anything approaching an original or especially intriguing plot, and is instead propelled forward by its rambunctious personality and colourful characters. The crux of the first episode’s narrative sees the gang chasing down the purple Mad Titan himself, Thanos, which will be of welcome relief to fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in particular, who may have grown frustrated with the incessant foreplay leading up to next year’s Avengers: Infinity War showdown.
Be sure, however, that this is not part of the MCU canon, which leaves it in an odd sort of limbo; it’s clearly trying to cash in on the upcoming release of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, yet takes place in its own delineated continuity, which some may argue is a near-necessity given the abundance of apparent “choice” in these games. Moreover, this iteration comes complete with an all-new voice cast, and even though Telltale didn’t stump up the cash for the visual likenesses of Chris Pratt and co., the replacement voices have clearly been instructed to ape their Hollywood counterparts as closely as possible (with a wildly varying degree of success).
Thankfully, the off-kilter personality of the titular outfit does still shine through in spite of all this; the tone feels well-matched to both the comics and the movie, and the easy novelty appeal of getting to actually fight Thanos so early on speaks for itself, something that won’t be realised in a big-budget movie for another year. Even with the epic Thanos battle, though, a lot of the best moments here are dialogue-driven; the gang hanging out at a bar post-battle, for instance, just might be the most Guardians thing of all.
Enjoyable though these sequences are, this first episode is also a fairly rote exercise for large swathes of its 90-minute playtime. Gameplay is, unsurprisingly, standard Telltale fare for the most part, complete with incredibly stiff shooting, procedural detective fare, and QTE fight scenes. The only thing even remotely approaching innovation here is the ability to use Star-Lord’s propulsive space-boots to explore multiple tiers of a building.
Other than that, little will be of much surprise, and to that end players may find themselves wishing for a little more variety throughout. Furthermore, those who dare to play through both of the two choices presented in the episode’s third act will find only the most lazily, insultingly transparent divergence between them.
Visually, this is totally all over the place like most of Telltale’s recent efforts; planetary expanses look almost inconceivably beautiful for the low standards of the engine (as pictured above), yet lip sync and facial animations remain as gracelessly horrendous as frequent Telltale punters will be familiar with, and perhaps overly forgiving of.
That’s without mentioning regular frame-rate drops during scene transitions, which only compound the game’s overall dated and even straight-up bland aesthetic at times, while the lack of official likenesses further contributes to that feeling of tawdriness. Considering how well this franchise would’ve lent itself to the same cel-shaded style as Telltale’s own Tales from the Borderlands, it’s a shame they instead opted for a more “realistic”, and consequently quite off-putting, visual style.
Voice acting is meanwhile sure to be divisive, for though Nolan North does a damn fine Bradley Cooper-as-Rocket-Raccoon impression, most of the other renditions barely even touch the sides as anything more than ersatz reproductions. Dialogue is braced firmly between being knowingly cheeky and straight-up, unironically cringe-worthy, with occasional moments that feel certifiably torn from either the comics or the movies. The music rotation thankfully proves much more consistent, with especially inspired use of Electric Light Orchestra’s “Livin’ Thing” as the game’s menu music, which was actually supposed to appear on the soundtrack for the 2014 movie.
Telltale’s Guardians of the Galaxy has smartly attempted to recreate the breezy feel and tone of Tales from the Borderlands in its first episode, and despite the strain of Telltale’s brand fatigue weighing heavily, they’ve basically manage to achieve this, albeit just by the skin of their teeth. The price for the season is seemingly very reasonable for what’s presumably going to pan out at 7-8 hours of content, even if its overall quality naturally remains unknown for now.
On the basis of this first serving, don’t get your hopes up for a top-tier Telltale effort, but if you’re OK with what’s basically a casual, alt-universe cash-in that doesn’t linger long in the memory, you’ll probably enjoy it enough, even if there are some heavy qualifiers worth bearing in mind.
+ Fun tone consistent with the source material
+ Thanos gets a decent amount of screen time
+ Great musical choices
– Visually it feels incredibly dated
– Hit-and-miss voice acting
– It’s not part of the MCU canon (but clearly wishes it was)
– Telltale’s formula is wearing incredibly thin
Reviewed for PS4 (also available on PC and Xbox One).
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more video game rambling.