Telltale Games' series are always more like playable movies, or comics, than actual games. That formula hasn't changed much with Guaridans of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series. The first five episodes of Telltale's Guardians are called Tangled Up in Blue, and they really do take major cues from the film. Notably, the soundtrack. The team is also the same as the film roster, but that's not particularly surprising. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 was the introduction for many to the Guardians, so keeping the team the same makes a hell of a lot of sense.
Here, we have a similarly irreverent Peter Quill, who loves 70s pop music as much as the rest of us, an incredibly literal Drax, a fully grown-up Groot, a less-clueless Gamora, and Rocket. While Drax in Telltale's series looks nothing like Dave Bautista, the character is pretty similar to Bautista's version. Rocket is also similar to the character played by Bradley Cooper, while Peter Quill here lacks Chris Pratt's charisma he still seems familiar. But that's about it for similarities.
Telltale's game is not a direct tie-in to the film or the comics but does borrow from both, so there are a few odd moments. The Guardians here are together to take down Thanos, which follows after the film, but then run across a nemesis who takes her cues from the comics.
While I will keep most of this review spoiler-free, the major nemesis from the Telltale series is not, in fact, Thanos. In fact, Thanos isn't in a whole lot of the first episode. Sure, he's there, but not really. You'll see what I mean when you play it.
Because Marvel Games and Telltale didn't want to make this series an origin story, we get no introduction to the Guardians, and so the differences in characterization can be very jarring. We don't get an introduction or even really any time to see the Guardians act as a team. The episode starts with in-fighting that you, predominantly controlling Peter Quill, have to step in about, often without a way to mediate.
Because your choices can directly impact the story, though not too much, the immediate drama we get thrown into in Episode 1 is… perhaps not the best start. Sure, episodes of TV shows often start with that sort of teammate drama, and indeed so do issues of the Guardians comic, but as a first impression it's a bit sour.
My biggest struggle with Telltale games is that, well, there isn't a whole lot to do. For the most part, you sit back and watch the cast do things. Maybe you choose a dialogue option here and there, but generally the action is out of your hands. Episode 1 of Guardians is a lot like that. Sure, there's two action sequences, a few quicktime events that pop up out of nowhere, and two investigation areas that allow you to move around the game map, but with a fixed camera location and limited control, the gameplay in Telltale series' is always a bit lacking.
But if you love story and your favorite part of a game are the interactions between yourself and a series of npcs, well, Telltale games are right for you. Because that's what they do well. Especially when given a great property to work with. Telltale's The Walking Dead is a longtime favorite, and the Batman season did well. I can't imagine Guardians not doing well, what with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 set to hit a few weeks after the retail release of the Telltale series. Financially, anyhow.
The game has several drawbacks which will hurt critic and likely user reviews. It's the same Telltale formula with nothing changed, and a confusing backstory. That "is this from the comics or the movies?" game starts to get frustrating after about the third time you think it.
With slight spoilers, we'll discuss the multiplayer aspect. Do take that as a warning – minor spoilers ahead – The multiplayer Telltale experience is kind of a weird one, since you don't interact with other players at all. But at the end of an episode you can view a breakdown of what percentage of players made which choices for those big story points. At one point in the game you get to chose one of your companions to take with you on a mission, and it seems like we all had a very clear preference. Granted, the sample size while I was playing was rather limited. But, I will say, the games press, streamers, and the assorted other VIPs who got an early access code for Guardians overwhelmingly chose to take Gamora with them. I can't imagine why.
Alright, now for the major spoilers.
Still with me? Cool. So, first off, the game makes a pretty critical error in killing of Thanos pretty early on. Yeah, Thanos is dead. But this is a Marvel property, so that may not be permanent.
Then, you end up with Thanos's body on board your ship and are in the moral conundrum of "who do you sell his body to?" You get two choices, the Nova Corps, or the Collector. When you talk to Rocket about his desire to sell Thanos off to the Collector, you get to ask "so who is this Collector?" Which makes sense for Telltale to include it. There is no previous canon so they have to assume you know nothing.
Except that we never get an introduction to any of our characters. Weird how that works, isn't it?
When you interact with the Nova Corps early on in the episode, you have the option of withholding aid until they promise to revoke any outstanding arrest warrants against your team. Except that, well, we never get an answer to why those warrants would still be around for, well, anyone except Gamora.
See, we get the most backstory on Gamora, which makes sense. We are going after her father.
And then there's our new nemesis. She's a Kree with a desire to steal the ancient Kree artifact that you managed to take from Thanos's corpse. That artifact? The Eternity Forge.
So we've already got our world-ending MacGuffin. And we've gotten to drink out of it, because that's just the kind of guy Peter Quill is. It's also likely to be an important story element, with the entire season likely revolving around it.
But our villain is a Kree from the Accuser Corps, and no, there is no reference to Ronan. Now, the Accuser Corps never made it into the films despite Ronan's appearance in the first Guardians film, but now we get to see another member of the Accuser Corps, Hala. When she tracks us down, Hala is on a desperate mission to use the Eternity Forge in order to bring back her people. Mostly though, it seems like she's trying to bring back her son. And since the Guardians now have the Forge, well, she's after our collective heads. Hala is a character from the comics canon, which helps with that whole "what is continuity" confusion I was talking about earlier.
Ultimately, Telltale's failing with Guardians is a familiar one. They made the critical failing of not adhering to comics or film canon, while also not making much of their own. Too much is taken from the films, with just enough from the comics to confuse the hell out of us. And I know that the whole "making our own canon with the games" thing is a direct order from the top, but it has gone a long way to hamstringing Telltale's Guardians.
All of that considered, I've given episode 1 of Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series a 7. It's just too much of the same in terms of formula, and not enough leverage from the property to make it stick despite that. Sure, I'm interested in seeing where the story goes, but not that invested in the stakes. Will I care if Rocket really leaves the team? Probably not. But I'll be playing it anyway.