Coming just in time for the release of the second James Gunn directed movie, Telltale Games give us the first part in their Guardians of the Galaxy series. Branching out into the Marvel property is a brave move given that the comic book monster is riding high with just about every film they produce; but then it’s not like the developers of The Walking Dead series have put out poor games. On paper it makes sense that the story driven adventure genre is a fit for dragging us on a wild ride with Star-Lord and his adopted family, so does it deliver in practice?
Adopting the aesthetic of the movies, though not the likenesses or the voice talent, the first instalment throws us right in at the deep end with Star-Lord, Drax, Gamora, Rocket and Groot taking on the massive bad ass that is Thanos and… not a spoiler… killing him. It’s an interesting approach to start the story off with what would traditionally be the ending, but it’s in keeping with the unusual approach to the superhero genre Guardians of the Galaxy takes. Following the mother of all celebrations you, as Star-Lord, have to deal with disgruntled crew members, nefarious characters intent on taking your belongings, and basically keeping the dysfunctional family together… and this being a Telltale game means that you can’t please everyone all the time.
In the opening episode you’re not introduced to the background of the team, there’s a high expectation that you’re at least familiar with the first film, if not some of the comic book lore as well. That’s not to say it’s impenetrable because it makes it feel more of an extension to the universe rather than a standalone tale, but it could be slightly confusing for first timers. Character backstories are available if you go digging through the ships computer systems, which is a nice touch, though it will come a little late for some players. If another Telltale game sits in your library then the game systems are going to be very familiar as well, and there are some nice additions that fit the controls into the world so your eyes are not as easily dragged away from the action.
Combat button prompts appear in places where logically you’re targeting, Star-Lord’s dual-wielded pistols work using the triggers, and swiping to dodge is much less prone to failure than in other games. During exploration where you’re split from your team, their quips and sarcasm are just a button press away; and rocket boosters on your boots even come into play to help you travel between vertical levels. It’s all quite refreshing and easy to use, hampered only by semi-fixed camera angles that move far to slowly to let you get a view of the nicely detailed environments. Guardians of the Galaxy does look very nice, and the latest iteration of the Telltale engine emulates the colour tones and feel of the movies brilliantly. Adding to the atmosphere is the voice acting which is usually top notch in these games, and doesn’t disappoint here either. It might not be Chris Pratt joking about slow moving elevators, but Scott Porter comes across as with the same swagger and nonchalant style; and Nolan North’s turn as Rocket is brilliant. In fact the only thing about the main players that is off is that Gamora has different coloured circles around her eyes that make it look like her green complexion is a mask. A very strange design choice, or the engine bugging out?
It’s already mentioned that the Telltale engine looks great, but it still has the usual issues with performance. Whilst the multi-threaded choices stored for future reference seem less prone glitching than in other games, there’s a lot of stuttering and texture pop-in. With each new title the issues reduce, and it’s getting tiring continually having to say it’s got problems, so I’m glad there are improvements… I just wish it wasn’t something that stood out so obviously. Away from that and the camera being a little too rigid, there’s not much in the 2 hour chapter that leaves a bad impression. There’s the addition of licensed music from the motion picture soundtrack too which lends to creating more of that cinematic feel, as well as punctuating certain story points in only the way that this property can. Having all the trophies named after songs too makes them more engaging, and had me paying attention to them each time they dinged.
What we’ve got here is a well executed story based on a comic book that might just struggle to produce a coherent and decent game in any other genre (except maybe rhythm action dancing). Telltale have worked their magic again and given a game that delights as it moves the plot along, and maintains an enough air of mystery to keep anticipation for the next episode high. What they need to do is make sure there’s not a 3 month gap between chapters that we’ve experienced with other properties – the game deserves better than that.
A PS4 review copy of Guardians of the Galaxy was provided by Telltale Games PR team, and the first episode is available now, as well as the season pass, on Xbox One, PC and PS4.