Video Games Review: Guardians of The Galaxy: The Telltale Series Ep 1 – Tangled Up In Blue (Xbox One, 2017)

Telltale Games is back, baby! I know, they seem to be back every few months but this time they’re bringing the flavour of the month — Guardians of The Galaxy! This is a story based not on the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s band of misfits but directly from the pages of their long-running comic book. So yeah, their aesthetic is a little different from that of the films and that sort of helps because they also sound different (except Rocket Raccoon, Nolan North does a damn near spot on impression of Bradley Cooper’s take on the character).

Telltale’s Guardians of The Galaxy story takes them on a quest to destroy Thanos (surprise) which, as fate would have it, finds them stumbling across another ancient artifact known as The Eternity Forge, an item that, at first, is used as a throw-away drinking cup for Star-Lord. This item seemingly lets the holder re-live memories of their loved ones that have passed on. Are they visions or is this some form of cosmic time travel that would make for some great story-telling further on?

In a surprising move that made this episode for me, things actually get down to business pretty quickly and the most interesting premise emerges — what if Thanos died? What if the very reason the Guardians joined forces in the first place came to an end? Where do they go from here? What is the point of their existence as a team? I thought it was an awesome way to start the series.

There are some nice little touches to the usual click-and-watch gameplay mechanics of the recent Telltale outings. Conversation options go as they usually do in Telltale games. Make some witty conversation, add a bit of character building and then an epically fit cliff-hanger finale. Nothing has come close to the amazing shock value of the original Walking Dead series of games, but you can tell they’re trying and for the most part, it pays off. While exploring this time you also have an earpiece you can call your teammates on for a little bit of extra (fully optional) dialogue. The hard choices that you’re left to decide in this first episode really do feel like they change a huge chunk of the storyline. It was enough to push me into playing through the first episode again right away to see what would change if I behaved differently.

The frequent graphical jitters, clip cutting transitions and complete freezes we’ve come to expect in a Telltale game abound (at one point I thought my console had frozen for about 15 seconds and was ready to reset it before the game juddered onward). It used to be ok, but it’s getting old now. This is especially disappointing when you consider that Guardians is running on Telltale’s updated engine. It’s jarring, pulls you out of the story and I long for them to sort these clunkier aspects out.

The Xbox One visuals in comparison to PlayStation 4 seem to be that little bit smoother and in some cases shinier. The gleam on star lords metallic jet boots and his phaser weapons seem a tad more detailed and transitions of scenes that little bit more forgivable. Might be my imagination but that’s how it seemed after trying both. Guardians also marks the first time Telltale has gone for a more realistic look rather than their now iconic thick-lined comic book style. Interesting that they deployed it in a comic book game.

The music, the epitome of what has made Guardians of The Galaxy so successful, feels like a huge wasted opportunity here. Star Lord’s cassette tape is now called “Rad Mix” and it kind of sucks. The music was a huge pull for audiences and adored by fans James Gunn’s take on the Guardians, but here, at least in the first episode, it doesn’t carry the same weight.  Electric Light Orchestra’s ‘Livin’ Thing’ is so overused it grinds you down from being ‘hooked on a feeling’ to ‘I don’t want the feeling.’ Licensed soundtracks are expensive, I can appreciate that but the game makes it clear that these were the songs they could afford and they’re going to get their money’s worth, dammit. The other songs, The Buzzcock’s ‘Why Can’t I Touch It’ which goes well with the opening scene and character setting and Darryl Haul and John Oates ‘You Make My Dreams’ are less grating, but only because they are not used as repetitively.

Going back to the gameplay, the highlights are Quill’s Jet Boots, which add a little more flavour to discovery by using the ability to hover up or down and navigate between certain areas while solving puzzles. Also, the use of a device called ‘The Time Scanner’ which sends a pulse around the area or corpse your investigating so you can see into the past via a hologram that re-enacts the important moments needed to continue on, for example, finding where a key-card was placed on a Nova Core soldier’s corpse.

A series of scripted events and a few choices later and we are at the end of episode 1 with another surprisingly shocking death and an artifact that can bring them back from the dead. That, however, let me down a little. I know, I know, we can’t have everyone die, it isn’t Telltale’s Game of Thrones. But to break out the ‘cure for all things’ in its first episode just felt a little anti-climactic and left any sense of loss we felt or will feel kind of invalid. Well, here’s to the second episode. As usual Telltale’s gift at spinning a good yarn won me over in the end. It won me over above all the aging mechanics and graphical nuances and over the lack of any real gameplay depth and difficult choices.

All in all, Guardians of The Galaxy leaves us just enough flavour for the next installment. Let us all hope we are not waiting too long in between episodes this time.

Score: 6.5 out of 10
Highlights: Learning more about the history of our favourite characters, Star-Lords Jet Boots, surprising and fresh plot twist!
Lowlights: The usual graphical glitches and freezes we come to expect (we shouldn’t), fairytale happy ending leaving no real sense of tension or loss!
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, Android, IOS
Release Date: Episode One – OUT NOW!