Tales from the Borderlands turned out to be Telltale’s biggest surprise.
For a franchise that never should have worked in this format, it captured the series’ ridiculous, off the wall humour, gave us some memorable characters – Loaderbot, anyone? – and even managed to tell a convincing and interesting story along with it.
So when a Marvel partnership was announced and Guardians of the Galaxy along with it, I could see the potential. I think many of us could. And after playing Tangled Up In Blue, I can say that at least say some of that potential is realised.
See, Telltale have nailed the characters’ writing. You don’t have the original movie cast but the voice acting is fairly spot-on, and the soundtrack is masterfully pieced together. This feels like a Guardians of the Galaxy experience in Telltale form. The problem is the Guardians Vol 2 trailer gave me more to laugh about in 2 minutes 22 than the entire 2 and half hour episode.
That’s not to say that this isn’t funny. Drax’s dead-pan dronings and Rocket’s quirky quips are the highlights of this first episode, as well as one particular scene with a certain tree, but the game feels like the writer is trying too hard to create character chemistry with some of the dialogue rather than let those laughs come organically.
It’s quite common to see Telltale slow-build their series, though, and there’s enough set up in Episode One to make the rest of the Season appealing. The opening thirty minutes are actually pretty dramatic and genuinely send shockwaves through the Marvelverse TTG are building. Telling you what happens, however, is venturing into massive spoiler territory.
Each character does get their moment to shine in this episode, though – some more than others. You’ll get to see Rocket’s engineer skills at work, as well as Star Lord’s over-inflated ego, and Groot’s incessant need to introduce himself again and again.
There are also some tweaks to the established TTG formula. The entire episode is played from the perspective of Star-Lord, but at some points, you’ll be able to communicate with the rest of your team using an intercom system. By tapping the left trigger, you can get some hints for the journey, find out more about the characters or just have some back-and-forth banter. Rather than having all the cast onscreen at one time as is often the case with these games, this allows teammates to split off from one another and potentially sets up some interesting narrative opportunities in the episodes ahead.
There’s also some new QTE fighting combinations, meaning you’ll need to tap multiple combinations of buttons at one time or move the stick while pressing a button. Telltale have gradually been making these tougher with each new IP and considering the action-heavy nature of Guardians, it’s little surprise to see these a bit more technical and fast-paced than usual.
My other issue with this episode is that the decision-making felt flat and overly weak. Perhaps it’s because I’m used to the Telltale formula now and recognise that certain decisions will lead to certain consequences, but I don’t think I spent more than five seconds on any one decision – even the episodes’ most significant.
Comparatively, I had to pause the recent The Walking Dead episode at least once to properly consider my actions and have done it at least several times this season already. Telltale games are at their strongest when they’re really challenging me to think about what I’m doing, not when I’m mindlessly clicking through decisions, so I really hope future episodes give me more to think about.
Narratively, there is an interesting story brewing here and it’s taking a path you certainly wouldn’t expect, though it is very difficult to say anything without spoiling it. There are also some tweaks and changes here for people who have only followed the movies. For instance, how Peter Quill came to be Star-Lord and the relationship with his mother and extended family.
On that note, it is important to say that the narrative direction is not related to the MCU or Guardians verse James Gunn is crafting. This is a separate entity but does fall somewhere between the comics and the movies as there are some clear influences from both properties. It does make you wonder, though, how deep the relationship with Marvel and Telltale goes, and if their own universe will eventually allow for other heroes to show up. It’s best to look at their recent run with Batman to get an idea of how they’re handling this.
But on the whole, this is a mostly strong first episode. Not as strong as some first TTG episodes and not as bad as others. The characters are nailed, the right balance of introduction and familiarity is achieved, the soundtrack is solid, and it feels authentic to the source material. It’s just not the game I was expecting, as it is perhaps more serious in tone than light-hearted, and the story they’re taking us on manages to both baffle and intrigue me.
I come out of the other side of Tangled up in Blue both optimistic and concerned for the rest of the season.
+ Great characterisation and voice-acting
+ Fab soundtrack
+ Appropriate mechanics for the IP
– Not many laughs
– Decisions feel light
– Story is a mixed bag
Guardians of the Galaxy – Tangled up in Blue
7 out of 10
Tested on PC