Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series review

Can Telltale's signature style capture the Guardians' charm?

Even on a mission on board an unexplored spaceship filled with murderous baddies, alien super-assassin and self-confessed "most dangerous woman in the universe" Gamora wiggles her butt while walking. Now butts are wonderful things. Who am I to deny players some shapely CGI posterior? But then, what about Star-Lord's butt? Shouldn't we have an equal-opportunity derriere fixation? 

Yes, butts are fun, and I can talk about them endlessly. But if the first thing I remember when sitting down to write about Telltale Games' latest offering: Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series is alien butts, something’s not right with the game. At least, not the first episode, Tangled up in Blue.

Telltale Games clearly has a distinct style: pretty cut-scenes with cinematic visuals interspersed with scenes of point-and-click exploration and four-choice dialogue options. Oh, and the ominous “Bob will remember that” notifications reminding the player that their choices make a difference (though that’s not entirely true). Unfortunately, thanks to an unshakeable desire to cleave to tradition and no economic stimulus to change its ways (i.e. continued popularity and strong sales), Telltale has done nothing to remedy its greatest weakness: busywork.

This isn’t like MMO-level grinding, where players have to endlessly repeat the same mundane tasks in order to have any hope of progressing in the game. Instead, Telltale simply punctuates the flow of the game with calls for keyboard taps like so many unnecessary apostrophes, in a desperate bid to add “interactivity” (and I use that as a dirty word here). You could say that every dexterity-based game ever made does this, too, but again, Telltale games aren’t about hand-eye coordination, reaction-timing or physical rhythm. These button-press moments occur here and there, for no real reason. Most of the time, the result of failing to press the right button in the allotted time span given simply leads to death, forcing a player to rewatch a cut-scene and repeat.

And we know Telltale can do better! Guardians gives us some great exploration moments, where you, playing Star-Lord, can use your rocket-boots to fly around and search for clues, or your time-scanner to recreate the past as ghostly holograms. Even if these moments are fairly linear, looking around and commenting on bits of scenery is fun, and adds color to the world.

On the other hand, hitting the E key because the game thinks you need to be twiddling your fingers a bit just doesn’t cut it. There’s no real challenge, no flow state to achieve, and it just feels like a chore that interrupts my experience.

Now, let’s take one of Telltale’s other titles, Tales from the Borderlands. While playing that game, I didn’t give a flying fart about interactivity, gameplay rhythms or any of that jazz, because the writing was so bloody brilliant. Borderlands made me laugh out loud, made me question my dialogue choices, got me emotionally invested in its characters. The problem with Tangled Up in Blue is that the characters and plot all fall a little flat. It starts off high-octane and adventurous, but even that feels a bit meh, due to some lacklustre voice acting. You then have some cool exploration, a fun fight (where I will say the game does offer some nifty time-based button sequences) and then…a whole load of boring. “Character development” flounders in a celebration scene that oozes forward like treacle, and is just as sickly sweet. For the rest of the game, the narrative surprises are predictable and Gamora (the same but-wiggly one form earlier) is the only Guardian apart from Star-Lord himself who seems to have any interesting depth.

As you’d expect from any post-movie version of Guardians, the retro soundtrack did make me smile. Some of the music choices are clever, and the melodies get you into the mood. But I get the feeling that by naming each episode after a classic song, the designers were banking on the music doing the heavy emotional lifting. And if your game relies on its music to tug at your audience’s heartstrings (and you're not making a title like Flower), you have something to worry about. 

So while the initial shock of a non-Chris-Pratt Star-Lord wears off, the absence of the humor and heart that made the Guardians of the Galaxy film so compelling does not. Sure, the story's fine, but if you want me to look past the game's flaws, you gotta give me more than just fine.

This was not Telltale's finest work, and until future episodes redeem Tangled Up in Blue, I can't recommend it unless you're a die-hard fan of the comic or the film. If you're really looking to play a Telltale game, maybe go with A Wolf Among Us, for an interesting setting and unusual characters, or Tales from the Borderlands for an exciting, humorous and at times touching story. You don't need to get all tangled up in any of Guardians of the Galaxy's colors.

Verdict: No