Editor’s note: Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy: A Telltale Series is an episodic release. As such, this review will remain provisional and follow the season as it unfolds.
Telltale Games' first swing at a Guardians of the Galaxy story brought back a lot of good feelings. Not memories, necessarily. Just good feelings.
The story it tells is a rather standard establishing scene for a comic book hero team, and its intentions, particularly in introducing the characters and giving all of them some interactivity, are telegraphed. There's a slow, padded-out interlude after the first big fight that seems to be set in Knowhere, the gang's base of operations, for no reason other than to show it to you.
Yet as all this was going on, Guardians of the Galaxy radiated a good-times vibe worth preserving. Telltale put me among a gang of misfits who really need each other, and threatened just enough to break that all up that it influenced my decisions. The developer’s narrative catalog, spanning The Walking Dead, Batman and Borderlands, is best when I feel myself leaning into it, like reading a good paperback, or a captivating comic book — but when the story starts to slip in a direction I don't like, I get to put a thumb on the scale to bring it all back.
Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series’ first chapter is perfectly that.
There are two big fights in Guardians of the Galaxy's first chapter, but its real conflict is spoiler-proof: The team is, big surprise, at each other's throats. The grudges largely developed through my dialogue choices after the first action sequence. It's not like everyone started out pissed at one another, with all the expository dialogue that would require. I put things in a bad spot when I shit-talked Rocket for shit-talking Drax. As big and mighty as Drax is, physically, he is earnest and emotionally delicate, and I don't want someone so destructive to check out in a key situation.
I tried to patch things up with Rocket by endorsing one of his typically tasteless ideas, in the chapter's major choice. That alienated Gamora, who likewise needs emotional support, but also has to be told to stop whining. She was reeled back in by choosing her for the major mission (where her performance, I thought, was a lot stronger than Drax's would have been). As for Groot, well, he's a tree. Just put him out when he catches on fire.
Looking back, I'm pretty sure there isn't some dramatically divergent path from the outcome I reached. But in context, at the time, I genuinely couldn't be sure. That, more than investigation puzzles or quick-time events, is what validates this type of a video game.
Guardians of the Galaxy's weaknesses are rather common to Telltale's games, but they don't injure the overall story. There's always a risk that, in a scene, you get to the critical dialogue or discovery before hearing all of the other conversation options, or seeing everything in the setting, making all the leftover stuff difficult to introduce, or even irrelevant. There were two sequences where I got to the point a little too quickly, so someone playing this chapter needs to do so more as a director than as a gamer trying to 100 percent everything.
The game's most emotionally pivotal scenes connected with me, though. There are two very touching flashbacks involving Star-Lord and his mom that anchor Telltale's take on the group to its overall lore. In between is a striking opportunity for empathy with the game's first big adversary. Both proceed rather linearly, with only one choice that isn't really connected to anything. Yet as Guardians of the Galaxy's branching paths gave me direction over the story, the dialogue options in these scenes gave me ownership of it.
Guardians of the Galaxy is crisply illustrated, though not in the stylishly inked comic book style of The Walking Dead or The Wolf Among Us, nor the signature looks of Minecraft or Borderlands. The art is more of a mainstream animated series look. There are some noticeable pauses between scenes, tipping off that the game is queuing up something important, and weird endings to dialogue choices made out-of-order. Guardians of the Galaxy doesn't seamlessly fit together all of the moving parts, even if together they make a very charming comic book story.
And that's where Guardians of the Galaxy hit me most. The first chapter's conflicts and outcomes may be conventional, but so were the the ones in the weird comic books my best friend's older brother stored in bread bags, which we'd read as fast as we could before he got home from football practice to terrify us. The feeling of wanting to read the next issue is just the same, too.
To be continued ...