Once considered being among the ranks of the “B” or “C” tier Marvel characters in the company’s expansive comics universe, the Guardians of the Galaxy have quickly taken up a name for themselves thanks to the wildly successful 2014 film (and its impending sequel) that have made the team almost household names like Iron Man or Spider-Man.
Thanks to equal doses of space opera and a quirky sense of humor, the Guardians as we know them – Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Groot, and Rocket Raccoon – have worked their way from Marvel’s C-tier, to the big-screen as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and now as part of developer Telltale Games’ latest episodic adventure, Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series.
Following in the footsteps of their previous comic adaptations like The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us, and Batman, Guardians of the Galaxy marks Telltale Games’ first collaboration with Marvel and a chance at going deeper into the backstory of the ragtag, space-faring crew as we’ve come to know them from their comics series and film. Given Telltale’s previous work on the excellent Tales of the Borderlands – which shares many of the same qualities as Guardians – the idea of a narrative driven game exploring the Marvel characters is one that only seems natural for Telltale Games and their penchant for comedy and meaningful character development and full of promise.
Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series, so far, only delivers that promise in spades. While Telltale has delivered an experience that fans of the characters should enjoy – even if only in getting to spend more time in exploring their backstories – the series’ debut comes across less assured and confident than what the 2014 film offered for both fans and those discovering the characters for the first time.
In the first episode of the series, titled “Tangled Up in Blue” (also the first of many classic rock songs referenced in the series’ later episode titles), players are introduced to the full roster of Guardians and set out on their latest adventure. Namely, that involves the group going after the Mad Titan himself, Thanos, for a hefty bounty that ends up splitting the group in a variety of ways, leaving players (as Peter Quill/Star-Lord) to determine where to lead the group and what to do next.
While visually borrowing numerous elements from the films (including some of the character designs), by and large Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series is inspired more by the team’s comic roots and is meant to be taken as a standalone, “alternate” adventure with no ties to the film or the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole.
Though some fans may be hoping for a story with more connective tissue between it and the ever-expanding MCU, Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series still offers enough of a bridge for both first-timers to enjoy the story without getting lost, but also offers enough context and story beats that fans of the characters won’t be bored or hear repetitive story beats. You don’t have to worry about hearing the characters’ origins once again – in this version of the Guardians‘ story, they’ve been together for quite some time, and it’s all the better for allowing players to learn more about characters they might already be familiar with.
Compared to the technical issues that cropped up with the release of Batman, by and large Guardians of the Galaxy runs well on a technical level without too much in the way of frame-rate drops. However, playing through the title makes it clear that Guardians could have benefitted in some ways from a more stylized approach to its look and visuals that could have befitted its comic roots, or the bonkers visual style of the films. Many of Telltale’s titles in the past have made the compromise on more realistic visuals by instead opting for a more stylized look – such as The Walking Dead or The Wolf Among Us – and Guardians of the Galaxy, unfortunately, tries straddling that line to mixed results.
The character models and animations in particular are the biggest offenders, and though in action scenes they come to life in some dynamic ways, conversations between Quill and the rest of the Guardians feel particularly wooden and lacking in energy. That factor is made worse by the uneven writing that doesn’t quite capture the crackling energy that we’ve seen of the Guardians on-screen, with comic delivery that often falls flat and lacks what makes each of the Guardians characters so distinct and full of personality.
This isn’t necessarily the case for most of debut episode, as some of the environments and places that players explore in Episode 1 are well-lit with moody lightning and the sci-fi space dressings that define the Guardians’ galaxy. However, the mixed nature of the visuals are pretty evident from characters like Star-Lord, Groot, and Rocket that recreate their characters fairly-convincingly, but others like Drax and Gamora are in need of a little more polish.
That being said, there is some promise in the direction of Guardians of the Galaxy‘s story and integration of elements from the broader Marvel comics universe. Where we’ve only seen brief glimpses of him in the Cinematic Universe, Thanos’ role as a key player in the season (and a notorious enemy of the Guardians in their comic iterations) is one that I’m curious to see develop in the upcoming episodes. A few other story threads that rely on some familiar faces from the Guardians’ history also pop up in “Tangled Up in Blue” that (hopefully) will lead the story to some interesting directions for the rest of the season.
Compared to the balls-to-the-wall nature of the Guardians as we’ve seen them in comics and their wildly-popular films, Telltale’s take on Guardians of the Galaxy comes up short on delivering their wacky personalities in an interactive form. While the initial idea of Telltale Games and Guardians of the Galaxy seems like a match made in heaven, the first installment of the series leaves some room for growth when it comes to the direction of the story and characters, but comes across as a bit of a disappointment visually with its stiff animations and by-the-numbers presentation.
Given their penchant for classic rock tunes, we’ll have to see with the remaining episodes if Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series can evolve from an acceptable (but not stellar) cover song to something truly great of its own.