That ain’t your daddy’s Thanos.
When I first heard that Telltale’s next big licensing grab was the Guardians of the Galaxy IP, I was hopeful but skeptical. A great deal of Telltale’s work has been comics-based, including last year’s tepid Batman series, but there was something about this particular venture that made me nervous.
I guess part of it came from my personal love for 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy film. Even after reading that the series would not be directly connected to the film, I worried that this new elaboration on the group of ragtag heroes would try to lean too hard one way or another. Luckily, one of the first choices Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series makes is some of the best first-episode tone-setting the studio has accomplished outside Tales from the Borderlands. Tangled Up in Blue is a few planets from perfect, but things for the Guardians aren’t looking too shabby.
Blowin’ in the Wind
Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series kicks right off and into the action, as the dashing Starlord (aka Peter Quill) hails a distress call from Nova Corps. The galactic police need some help ending a tangle with super-chinned supervillain Thanos. Immediately, I had choices for how I wanted to play things in my favor. Hey, a Starlord’s gotta eat. Things open up by reminding players that the Guardians are heroes sure, but also just spacefarers trying to survive.
It’s actually unfortunate how good the first half of Tangled Up in Blue is. I wish I could spoil it! It points at not just the Guardians of the Galaxy movie, but the entire Marvel cinematic universe, and practically shouts “no, dude, we’re not there! We’re somewhere new!”
Here’s what we can say, though: Tangled Up in Blue seems to be aiming towards a story that keeps Starlord front and center narratively, but gives everyone else their own path. There’s a lot of arguing between Guardians in this first episode, the player picking sides all the while. There’s a grander story developing that actually seems like it might go into some much more personal and humanistic territory than one might expect. Meanwhile, Peter Quill himself finds some issues to tackle that got me thoroughly hooked. The overarching writing is great, has some truly genuine laughs, and gives me hope for the future of the series.
It Ain’t Me, Babe
As with every Telltale excursion, a huge part of Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series is making choices that affect different characters. Here, it follows that a lot of those choices bounce between members of your team. One minute you’re defending Rocket Raccoon having built an unstable super-gun. The next, you’re trying to figure out what to say to Drax about his role in a recent battle. Almost every choice I made in Tangled Up in Blue seemed to effect one of my team members or another. There were even a couple choices which I was pleasantly surprised to see on the episode-end scoreboard of how I leaned on major decisions. It just might surprise you what people remember.
That said, there are points where I felt like I was hearing something meant for much younger kids to understand. There’s one point in particular where a character’s search for emotional comfort is completed with a single line of dialogue. No important conversation, just a pretty basic statement. This is a moment between Peter and Gamora, and one of a couple between those two that still come off as rough draft versions that were never finalized. For the most part, though, the cast is fully-realized, and reflective strongly of their movie counterparts.
My only hesitation is this. The amount of conflict between Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series‘s main cast members in this first episode makes me concerned that we’ll be seeing it as a constant force throughout the whole gambit. And, frankly, that would be a bad way to go. There’s always going to a be a handful of arguments and fights between the Guardians, of course.It’s part of what makes them interesting as a unit. That said, it’s not enough to carry a game’s story on its own. It’s nothing to dock points off this first episode for, but it’s something to bookmark for the future.
Masters of War
The other biggest victory of Tangled Up in Blue, outside of its previously-covered tonal choices, is the way it handles combat. This is a Telltale series, sure, but it’s also a story about a bunch of superheroes. Surprise; that means action! Luckily, the early encounter with Thanos culminates in some of Telltale’s best action to date. I was allowed to freely hop between the five Guardians as they each took part in a cataclysmic five-on-one. It’s a tight, engaging sequence that makes each of the group feel at least a little bit unique.
The rest of Tangled Up in Blue‘s more interactive moments demonstrate use of some cool ideas that I hope come to even fuller fruition over the course of the game as a whole. Peter Quill has a Time Scanner, which can show a timeline of recent events around him. He also has some handy-dandy jet boots which gave more exploration than I could have had before.
It’s also worth noting that Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series brings back the multiplayer voting mode first introduced in their Batman series last year. This allows spectators to connect their devices to the game, and vote on important story choices. The narrative can be in as many hands as you can gather onto a couch together.
Other than that, Guardians is pretty standard Telltale fare control-wise. There’s some menu-navigating, including a whole communication array Quill has access to on his ship. You can even read some emails from characters who didn’t show up in the episode, and hope that they’ll appear sooner or later. The general attitude here continues to be “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and so far the only thing falling apart are parts of the Guardians’ ship.
Episode 1 of Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series isn’t part of the movie universe, and doesn’t try to be. It’s characters, mostly, take more cues from film than page, but the story itself is uninhibited by any existing canon. I entered worrying Telltale might try too hard to tie this closely to what we already know, and exited laughing at myself. There’s a whole galaxy of possibilities out there for Telltale’s latest, and Tangled Up in Blue is one groovy first installment.
Final verdict: 4/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed), Playstation 4, Xbox One, Android, iOS ; Publisher: Telltale ; Developer: Telltale ; Players: 1-5 (voting mode only) ; Released: April 21, 2017 ; MSRP: $24.99 (season pass), $4.99 (single episode)
Full Disclosure: This review is based on a digital copy of Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series purchased on Steam.