"... Episode Four swoops in to resuscitate and revitalize the series ..."
The core narrative focus of Telltale's Guardians of the Galaxy (GotG) is undoubtedly the Guardians' relationships with each other. This method of storytelling was a purposeful design choice by the developer and has made character interactions vastly more interesting than a generic superhero story accompanied by boring super-friend banter. Multiple personal conflicts between the Guardians, some painfully contrived, place the player-controlled Peter Quill at their center and force him to choose sides throughout the series. The ultimate outcome of these choices is only now coming into focus, but they're becoming more consequential with each entry in the series.
The bubbling cauldron of escalating resentment, destructive pride, and crippling self-doubt that underscores the Guardians' tenuous camaraderie finally boils over in the series' fourth installment, Who Needs You. The episode is, in most ways, an improvement over a predecessor that was part extended exposition, part narrative bridge to the second half of the story, and all prototypical mid-series lull. Episode Four's pacing is improved and the dialogue retains the sometimes witty, sometimes cheesy quality for which the series and characters are known.
There are several notable highlights throughout the episode, including a sweet yet somber Drax flashback, an escape sequence that may haunt your dreams, and an ending that is predictable yet no less powerful. I was pleasantly surprised by the chances Telltale took with the story and characters, though there's the potential for them to backpedal on some of it in the series finale. Make no mistake, outside of a few humorous moments, this is a notably depressing episode. It embraces the series' underlying themes of loss and tragedy and highlights their influence on the Guardians' relationships and decision-making.
There are no real changes to the core mechanics of GotG's gameplay beyond an elementary stealth sequence that manages to add a bit of diversity if little true substance. Still, I enjoyed the exploratory sequences in this episode more than I have in any other, and I suspect it's mostly because the areas in which the player explores are a bit more interesting this time around. Episode Four also takes a page out of its predecessor's book and provides some of the series' most engaging and stylistic action sequences to date. There are still some instances of frivolous interactivity whose sole purpose appears to be keeping the player engaged, but they're easily overlooked.
I've written about the impacts of player choices in my reviews for previous episodes of GotG, or more specifically, the lack thereof. Choices have had seemingly little effect on anything other than story sequence, and those that include choosing sides in an argument between Guardians still haven't quite manifested in any meaningful way. Choices in the third episode have bucked that trend and carried over into Who Needs You in the form of team composition, while Episode Four itself contains a player choice with catastrophic consequences for the Guardians. It remains to be seen if most of the choices really mean anything, but their nature in relation to the story suggests they could all come to a head in the series finale.
The audiovisual quality of GotG is still a series hallmark, and Who Needs You doesn't disappoint in that regard. The environments are notably darker and gloomier than its predecessors, but the dreariness compliments the overall tone of the episode well. Amazingly, the music seems to have improved; there are additional songs I don't remember hearing in previous episodes, and all tracks are matched perfectly to their respective scenes.
We're approaching our journey's end with Telltale's GotG series, and the stakes are higher than ever for the Guardians. Player choices bring with them increasingly severe repercussions, and relationships affected by them have strained to the point of breaking. If Episode Three was GotG's low point, Episode Four swoops in to resuscitate and revitalize the series as an entry I personally found the best of the bunch. Let's hope that Telltale comes through on a season finale stacked with great potential.
This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.