The Telltale recipe for adventure games is by now so well-established that players know exactly what they’re in for when diving into one. The general structure centers around a cutscene-driven narrative with dialogue choices that affect the story, interactive action sequences driven by quick time events (QTE), a bit of free-roam exploration, and perhaps some mechanic unique to a given title.
This formulaic approach to video game development is not necessarily a bad thing, particularly considering Telltale’s mastery of the genre. Still, it’s vital to nail down the execution when games start to feel like they’re rolling off an assembly line. Guardians of the Galaxy (GotG), the latest popular intellectual property to get the Telltale treatment, looks to build on the framework provided by the movies with its own unique spin.
It’s important to note that my only experience with GotG comes from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). In fact, although I dabbled a bit in comics as a kid, I didn’t even know this motley crew existed before Marvel made them an integral part of the MCU. As such, I noticed almost immediately that this single point of reference had led me to establish a set of preconceived notions about the characters based on their cinematic interpretations.
This is significant for two reasons. First, these notions shaped my expectations for how I thought the characters should act and, as a result, clearly influenced the decisions I made when presented with dialogue choices. Second, there was virtually zero world building or character introduction required for such a rich and popular property. The former is just an interesting data point, easily altered by simply changing my choices in-game. The latter, however, meant Telltale could create their own GotG story with an already-established ensemble and universe rather than retelling how the Guardians came together.
Telltale’s GotG narrative both is and isn’t canon to the MCU. The Guardian’s personalities, including Peter Quill’s sarcastic wit, Drax’s literal humor, and Rocket’s raging anger, are ripped straight from their MCU counterparts. All other MCU elements surrounding the anti-heroes, from ancillary character history to the overarching plot build-up of the two movies, doesn’t apply here. Instead, players are met with an all-new adventure about a mystery relic and the effects it has on those who encounter it.
Episode One: Tangled Up in Blue’s story and pace are about what you’d expect from the first entry in a multi-episode series: sufficient, if a bit slow. The developing story itself seems interesting enough, but it’s clear that the main focus of the narrative centers around the relationships between the Guardians and the player-controlled Quill. This is plainly obvious based on most of the choices the player is presented with throughout the episode. Many of the dialogue trees present options that appease one character while angering another. These are binary choices, mind you, with no way to placate both characters. Those choices may affect the bond between the disagreeing characters as well, where one choice can negatively impact multiple relationships. At this point it’s hard to tell how these choices ultimately play out beyond immediate branches in the storyline, but it will be fascinating to see it unfold.
Visually, Telltale’s GotG looks great. It successfully emulates the movies’ dynamic color palette where spats of bright colors pop against the backdrop of a gritty game world, though the contrast of those colors is bit more subdued. Also like the movies, the game’s soundtrack is littered with fantastic 70s and 80s hits that are as categorically “Guardians of the Galaxy” as its humor.
GotG is a Telltale game, so gameplay boils down to bits of exploration and QTE-laced action sequences. I found the QTE portions mostly satisfying but less fun than previous Telltale games, which is a point of potential improvement as the series progresses. The interactive exploration sections are quite boring and don’t add much to the experience, though, and the controls during these segments are very clunky.
I spent a lot of time comparing Telltale’s interpretation of GotG to its MCU forebears with good reason. The two are inextricably linked for most fans, and Telltale has done a fantastic job of using that to their advantage in the game’s design and presentation. It captures all of the charm of the movies while allowing enough wiggle room to chart its own path. There’s certainly room for improvement, but Tangled Up in Blue is a promising start for Telltale’s latest adventure.