We’ve heard a near ungodly amount of news regarding the impending Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. There are like a dozen post-credits scenes and writer/director James Gunn will continue for another 20 sequels. Or something. But what about Telltale’s take on the franchise. What about Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series?
Upfront, it sounds like the perfect marriage betwixt material and developer. These interstellar misfits were made for episodic content, freely flowing between sitcom-style predicaments and action-oriented cliffhangers. And with the guiding hand of a seasoned storyteller like Telltale, we can expect some rock solid drama to boot.
And it gets there. Sort of. The biggest problem it has is a lack of confidence. It doesn’t really know if it wants to be its own thing or something closer to the MCU version or a more strict interpretation of the comics. That identity crisis creates an often shaky and only occasionally intriguing story.
Technically, it should be based on the comic series, but there are distinct elements that muddle the delineation between that foundation and the movies. Characters look far closer to their Hollywood counterparts than those of the page, for instance. (Star-Lord is an especially noteworthy departure.) And the deeply infused musical schtick of being named after a Bob Dylan song and featuring silly moments to the tune of The Buzzcocks and Hall & Oates.
Given the massive success of the film, it’s not all that surprising that these inspired bits work the best. Running up a close second, however, is when the game chooses to eschew the silver screen entirely and do something different. Throwing Thanos (yes, the Big Bad of the entire MCU) immediately at the gang and making him, more or less, the genesis of the broader story is attention-grabbing and fantastic.
It puts upfront the drama that unfolds by putting this group of loosely tethered semi-heroes together. Each one has individual gripes, and those laundry lists of personal grievances shift into an albatross around each person’s neck. This is where the episode really shines in terms of storytelling. It lays out separate stakes and motivations naturally and clearly, propping up the rest of the season as well as this diminutive arc.
The problem is it is an interminable slog to get there. Walking between crew members just to initiate conversations is exhausting, let alone the entire preamble where a protracted investigation and exciting-turned-tepid showdown feel perfunctory—strangely punitive at times, in fact. It’s something Telltale has struggled with for almost its entire existence. When does its desire to make games get in the way of telling a story?
This is especially true of those classic Telltale moments when you see that someone will remember that. There’s a moment when you have to choose between two bickering teammates, but the choice doesn’t make a lot of sense. Any reasonable person would see that addressing either individual would be a losing proposition. It feels forced in a way that is entirely unpleasant.
And that’s a serious shame because there’s a lot of meat on these bones. These characters are way different from their innately charming MCU iterations, but Telltale found a way to make them relatable and likable quickly and effectively. And seeing their threads pull away from each other is almost inexplicably heartbreaking, pushing the momentum forward into the next episode. Whether or not that carries into the rest of the season, we’ll just have to wait and see.