I’ll be honest with you, there are several reasons I think I’m under-qualified to evaluate this particular game: (1) I’ve never read the Guardians of the Galaxy comics (or any Marvel or DC comic series for that matter – I mean, where do you even start?); (2) I’m reasonably sure I’ve seen the first Guardians of the Galaxy film, but I remember very little of it other than thinking it wasn’t the worst way to pass the time at fourteen thousand metres; (3) I’ve never before played a Telltale game, unless you want to count a thirty minute panic-dive into Tales from the Borderlands a couple of weeks ago in preparation for, well, this.
To summarise, I can’t tell you how this game compares to the source content, the recent film/s, or even really to other Telltale games. I confessed this to GameCloud’s overmind when he asked if I wanted the assignment, but he seemed unconcerned. “Perfect,” he said. “The rest of us are sick of this junk.” I’m paraphrasing, of course.
I was sort of hoping that having few expectations about this game would mean I’d be pleasantly surprised (which is itself an expectation, I’ll admit). But alas, this first episode is a clumsy start to the series. It’s full of questionable structural choices and uninspired dialogue. The main upside is that it doesn’t tip its hand too much with regards to the overarching plot for the episodes to follow, so there’s definitely room for it to improve from here.
The Guardians of the Galaxy, in case you’re wondering, are a team of misfits in space. I think they’re meant to be self-interested mercenaries, but it seems like they also just do good deeds for the sake of it sometimes? It’s a bit unclear because the game doesn’t really bother with introductions or backstory, but we’ll get to that. For whom it matters for, the game apparently is based more on the comic canon than the movie plots (I’ve only found this out by looking it up online. I’d have no idea, obviously). The voice cast is also completely different to the movie. They do fine, but they’re let down by the writing.
Anyway, now that I’ve played the game I’ve gleaned this much: Your protagonist is Peter Quill, a thirty-something loveable rascal type. People keep calling him Star-Lord. I’m not sure why, I guess that’s just what they call him. He has a handy self-apparating space mask and some jet boots. Mostly you’re making decisions as Peter Quill/Star-Lord, but during the quick-time action sequences, the viewpoint flits between the rest of the Guardians, who are with you from the outset. There’s Gamora, a green-skinned but otherwise very human-looking lady (implied love interest?); Rocket, a moderately annoying chaotic-neutral raccoon…person, apparently good at fixing things; Groot, equal parts Chewbacca and Treebeard, and one of those characters that only has one line (“I am Groot”), which is delivered often and to diminishing comic effect, but with little else to do in this episode; and Drax, a muscle-man, whose main motivations and defining characteristics seem to be poetically declared vengeance and bloodlust.
The game has maybe three different components of play, which it switches between fluidly and sometimes without warning (I’m guessing these are typical of the Telltale formula, but anyway). There are these limited third-person exploration sections, where you can move Peter Quill around and explore small areas by clicking on highlighted people and items (never more than a couple available at once). Then there are these mildly interactive quick-time action sequences, in which you play out a scripted action scene by pressing keys or clicking the mouse as the screen prompts you. The rest of the game is spent watching more traditional cutscenes and making dialogue choices when prompted, often under a time-constraint to answer, which may or may not affect the path of the game to some extent. From what I understand, this is one of the defining characteristics of Telltale’s oeuvre.
Although it’s somewhat commendable that the game interweaves these different components seamlessly, I prefer games to be a little more predictable when switching between their hands-on and hands-off bits. This is mainly because so much of this game is played with just the mouse that it begs to be accompanied by a hot beverage. Yet long scenes with minimal interaction are suddenly interrupted by demands that the player hit the arrow key, or maybe the q key, or some other single keystroke interaction that may not be so easy if you’re currently leaning back from the keyboard, hot tea to your lips, and only have a couple of seconds in which to switch modes, put the mug down and do the task. I have no fundamental problem with games that don’t have much interaction, but I personally prefer to be warned when the situation changes. Do they expect to ply me with dialogue and still have me constantly ready for action at all times? Sheesh. And then you realise, once you’ve stuffed up a couple of times, that hitting these cues doesn’t seem to make much difference to the outcome, which pickles the façade of your involvement.
Guardians of the Galaxy desperately wants to exude casual cool, which is promised at the outset by an upbeat, ‘fun’ soundtrack and a hero who wants to dance to it. Stumbling into a space-battle is no big deal, crash-landing on a planet is no big deal, everything is breezy, everything is fine, nothing bad can really happen here. Unfortunately, I feel like the game is let down in its ambition by some pretty average dialogue. The first third of this episode is a roll-call of sci-fi clichés, and it never really recovers. It has a couple of enjoyable moments here and there, but mostly it lacks the wit and pizazz that it seems to be setting the mood for.
Meanwhile, as alluded to earlier, the cast and setting totally lacks exposition. There seems to be an assumption that you’ll recognise everyone from the comics or the movie, or at the very least that you’ll catch on quickly. Before long you’re battling Thanos, the supposed biggest enemy in the galaxy, who is given little to no context here. “I can’t believe it” is one of the things you’re allowed to say to the team when you’ve slain him. Who is this guy again, though?
The game is plagued by little logical inconsistencies and weird premises, each only a bit irksome, but they sure add up quickly. Here are some examples: it’s established from a small, awkward slab of dialogue that Thanos and Gamora supposedly have a long history (she used to do murders for him, he calls her his daughter, okay sure – this is one of the few things we work out about Thanos before killing the guy), but then it takes Peter Quill an age to ask Gamora how she feels about this after you’ve murdered this man who called her his daughter, as though she should be completely chill with the situation; Later on you’re conducting an important business transaction, but for some reason someone left the hangar doors open and you’re allowing whomever to just wander in uninvited and reap chaos, which inevitably they do; After you’ve just supposedly saved the galaxy from destruction, you’re expected to pay for your own drinks, and the fact that you don’t becomes a driving plot point; Even though you’re in a bar full of people celebrating Thanos’ death, while TVs show news broadcasts of this very same thing, Gamora is worried about what will happen if her sister finds out about this. “It’ll be fine,” Star-Lord says, just don’t tell her. “You’re right,” shrugs Gamora, apparently believing this is the kind of thing that could stay secret, while it’s being broadcast on screens all around her.
The main point of the plot (it takes a long time to determine where it’s actually going, but I guess that’s what this first episode is for) centres around a strange relic which you take from Thanos’ cold dead hands, which he was convinced he could wreak destruction on the galaxy with. Of course. It’s eventually established that this relic can maybe bring back dead people somehow. I’m not totally convinced as to how this is going to go as a plot device, but I’m happy to reserve my judgement on it until the rest of the series is done. The rest of the time you’re experiencing the haphazard mercenary life and having Peter Quill talk to the rest of the Guardians, trying to make them feel good about themselves, their decisions, the lives they lead, and to make them feel wanted and important. There’s a bit of tension about, you see. Everyone wants something a bit different, but inevitably you can’t please everybody. If only the game bothered to give you a reason to care about these people in the first place, rather than expecting (rightly or wrongly) that everyone coming to the game will already have that motivation, this could be an interesting way of navigating the series.
At least I had no technical problems while playing this game on PC, which I’m given to understand has been an issue with some of the previous Telltale titles at launch.
The first episode of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series is an unpromising start to a series I’d not expected much from to begin with. Now that all the awkward exposition is out of the way, though, I don’t think the game has any problems which can’t be amended in future episodes with some tweaks to tone and delivery, and a bit more thought into structure and narrative-building. I hold out hope that the rest of the series will be worth playing, for my own sake if no one else’s.