After a few stumbles in their latest outings, Telltale’s Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy Episode 1: Tangled up in Blue (“GOTG” from here on out) harks back to their last truly excellent offering of Tales From the Borderlands, with the familiar action-comedy setting of the latter to tell… a tale.
These things are episodic, so any review at this point may not be necessarily useful. For what it’s worth though – it’s pretty good. If you’re a fan of Telltale experiences or Guardians of the Galaxy, then you’ll probably enjoy this, as I certainly did.
However, there’s enough here to get me pedantically analysing the thing, and that’s always fun!
I’m just going to open this review with the blurb for the game from Telltale’s official website:
“In the wake of an epic battle, the Guardians discover an artifact of unspeakable power. Each of the Guardians has a reason to desire this relic, as does a ruthless enemy who will stop at nothing to tear it from their hands. From Earth to the Milano to Knowhere and beyond, this five-part episodic series puts you in the rocket-powered boots of Star-Lord in an original Guardians adventure.”
It’s a pretty safe guess to suggest that the wider audience who will play this game is familiar with the Guardians of the Galaxy from the 2014 film, and not necessarily from the comic books that this now expanding franchise is based on. That’s certainly true for me. While Telltale tout this as an “original Guardians adventure”, it’s imagery and tone is very recognisably borrowed from the movie – and that’s absolutely fine. It gets everything going along quickly through familiarity.
From the familiar settings of The Milano and Knowhere – as mentioned in the above blurb – to the very similar designs and voices of the lead characters, along with the use of licensed seventies rock/pop music; there’s a familiar tone to the whole affair. You’ll recognise important and minor characters, and the game even starts in a similar manner and setting to the film, in a temple on a rocky planet. Finally of course, what Marvel entertainment property would be complete without a MacGuffin for the heroes and villains to be chasing?
It’s not an overly comedic game; rather the tone is light. There’s no swearing and no blood, despite the guns, swords, and cartoon-action-violence. There are jokes that are mostly funny, and the characters behave consistently. GOTG is very on-brand as a Disney/Marvel Cinematic Universe property. Timely too, as their next film is releasing in a couple of days.
While several aspects are familiar, this incarnation of GOTG establishes very early on that it’s a spin-off from the film-canon. It differentiates itself through a rather surprising first event that subverts the expectations of those that keep up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s not long though before our familiar heroes are facing familiar challenges with a new enemy, each other, and oh God, does the word “family” get thrown around a whole lot.
The graphics look really gorgeous in this one too, which is something I don’t usually comment on. The spit-shine to the Telltale engine from last year allows some impressive looking rendering, lighting, and camera-focus effects, and there didn’t seem to be any of the performance issues that several people suffered with the Telltale Batman release of last year – at least not for me, anyway (luckily?).
There are some issues with pacing that are familiar with all these interactive-movie type games, which as they move further away from their “adventure game” roots (and oh boy, are they so very far away from those these days) and more into straight CGI-movie territory, some of the game-play sections and in-engine-rendering of the visuals lead to some narrative-beats – particularly the comedy ones – missing their marks. Not often, and not a big deal though.
Overall, I’m very keen to see where GOTG goes over the next four episodes.
But enough kindness – let’s get to the good stuff! I’m going to examine a couple aspects of Telltale’s writing in this episode, and specify a few examples of where it needed tightening.
I’m also going to say MINOR SPOILERS ahead. I’ll do my best to avoid naming names and important outcomes, but don’t read on if you want to go into the game fresh.
Telltale’s Writing needs Tightening
This has been a bit of an ongoing issue with the last couple Telltale games; It would be hyperbolic to say that the writing is lazy or sloppy, because it’s not. For the most part, it is very good, but there were a few instances of dialogue contradicting narrative set-ups that were noticeable and distracting.
Are we clear on the impetus for what is driving the plot forward?
After celebrating their victory over the First Act Villain, the Guardians hit the booze hard at a bar on Knowhere. Top-shelf liquor and plenty of rounds are consumed. In the morning, player character Peter Quill/Star-Lord is awoken from the floor of the bar by his fellow Guardian Gamora. “We’ve got a big problem” she says urgently. In the following scene, it’s established that the Guardians owe the Barkeep a hefty bill that they can’t afford. Luckily, something that recently came into their possession can be sold for a potentially large sum. Gamora appeals to the player to collect a reward posted by the Space Police Nova Corps, while Rocket Racoon is adamant that selling to The Collector, a criminal figure on Knowhere, is the correct choice in this situation. This is the first binary choice for the player in the game – a biggun’ that one or more characters will no-doubt remember! A choice needs to be made quickly, as the Barkeep apparently needs his bill paid urgently.
The impetus for urgently paying the bar-tab requires a quick decision to choose a buyer, which is what the plot is relying on in this moment to be driven forward. Solid information is not available to the player to inform the decision further, so we need to go by the sparse personal advice of two friendly characters with different motivations. I don’t know how bad a criminal The Collector is. If I choose him I might get a massive reward, but as a known criminal, he might ambush or attack me at the sale-point and not pay me. Conversely, how can I be sure the Nova Corps are still honoring the posted reward? They may just send me off with a handshake and an honorable thank-you. This is good in building up tension around such a choice, especially one where we don’t have the luxury of being well-informed – that bar-tab needs to be paid urgently!
The scene ends and you have some player agency to walk around the Milano (the teams’ spaceship), and chat to the other Guardians. I spoke to Rocket who, among other things, said of the previous night “I’ve never had so many free drinks in my life!”
It’s been established that Rocket is a bit of a shifty fella. He’s been arrested before, and is flippant about the ramifications of the petty crimes he freely admits to committing. So maybe he doesn’t intend to pay the bar-tab? Is this why he considers the drinks free? Why didn’t he bring that up before? I understand that the game needs to push a binary choice on the player, as that’s a part of the Telltale-experience formula, but this line of dialogue contradicts the set-up of this current situation. Peter doesn’t seem to notice or react to this either. But I did.
If Rocket says the drinks are free, then there’s no real rush in making this decision. In fact, a message received from the Barkeep on my in-game message system doesn’t really give a sense of urgency. Logically, Peter should have said to Gamora and Rocket, “give me a couple days to think about this.” His crew probably would’ve welcomed the down-time. Instead, they get angry at each other, because they’re a family, aww!!
From scene to scene – no one is clear on whether the Kree are alive or extinct
In the first act when Peter is investigating a temple, he calls his buddy Drax the Destroyer on a voice-communicator. Drax tells Peter that this is likely a Kree temple, and goes on to say “I have never encountered more blood-thirsty and nefarious creatures. I rejoiced greatly when they were annihilated.” This is a great line. It establishes the Kree as a fearsome villain, who I’m glad to hear are not around anymore (I hope)! Moments later when Drax enters the temple, he affirms that it is a Kree temple, but then says of them “they are a technologically advanced species. Strong of body, powerful in military.” Umm, Drax – didn’t you just say that the Kree were annihilated?
A few acts later and a small party of Kree arrive and attack the Guardians. They engage in an extended action scene. Concluding the scene, Peter and a chosen companion (I chose Gamora) chase the fleeing Kree to their spaceship, Drax pleads of Peter (with Gamora standing with them) “Kill all the Kree for me, Star-Lord. If you do not… I shall never forgive you”. Star-lord gives a thumbs up to his friend, and I smiled at the good humor! Moments later, as Peter and Gamora are following their attackers through space, Rocket calls them on their communicators and says “Peter, Gamora… You need to know this… That ship you’re headed towards… it’s Kree.” To which Gamora replies in a surprised tone “Kree? But their planet was destroyed. I thought they were extinct.”
Again, this is a universe where space travel seems widespread and commonplace, so it’s not unlikely that even with a destroyed home-world, aliens of a particular planet would probably be seen from time to time on other space-stations or planets, and may feasibly have colonised elsewhere. However, this is information that we don’t get. We’re told that the Kree are “extinct” and have been “annihilated”, but even after they show up and we’re basically told here are the Kree, our main characters instantly forget that the Kree are here. This is plain bizarre. and I’m a little shocked it wasn’t picked up in testing.
Drax sometimes has the ability to speak using symbolism, but not always
Remember in the film when Rocket says of Drax:
“His people are completely literal. Metaphors are gonna go over his head.”
To which Drax replies:
“Nothing goes over my head! My reflexes are too fast. I would catch it.”
Well, the game continues this conceit, which may or may not also be established in the comic books that- let’s be honest – no one has read, Anyway, in one scene, Star-Lord says goodbye to Drax, and in his cool-Earth-guy lingo says, “stay, cool man!”, and Drax replies “my body temperature is always 125.9 degrees”.
Inconsistently in this game though, sometimes Drax uses symbolism in his speech. I picked up on this in the first Act. Peter asks Drax about the villain Thanos, to which Drax tells him of his wife and daughters’ murders at the hands of Thanos. He tells Peter, “Due to Thanos’s madness, they now rest in a place where I cannot visit.” That’s quite the poetic symbol for death! However I do concede that this point is arguable, as Drax literally cannot visit his wife and daughter, so I give this a pass.
However, later in the game, Drax says of the Kree antagonist “Let us paint her ship red with blood. From the inside.” Drax, that’s symbolism again there buddy. That’s very uncharacteristic! Maybe Drax isn’t aware of what he’s doing, and through this the writer is actually demonstrating that Drax is picking up language habits from his new family. If this is the case, you really need someone in-game to mention it, or I’m just going to assume you’re making mistakes.
It’s OK to make mistakes! GOTG is a fun game from Telltale – so far at least after just one episode.