I've been a fan of Telltale for a while now. Not a rabid fan that HAS to play everything they make - but a fan. And certainly they've made some great strides in bringing comic books to life over the years. I was far more interested in what was going on in The Walking Dead games than in the TV show for instance. And The Wolf Among Us made me realize that I had totally overlooked the Fable comics. But with these games I was smart and I waited until the season was done and I could play the "full" game over the course of a week. I've since recognized that this is the way I have to do it. I tried playing Batman last year as each episode came out, but found it less compelling in this way.
As excited as I was for a Guardians Of The Galaxy game, I knew I had to wait until the full series was done before I started playing it. And I was super excited. The two Guardians movies are among my absolute favorites in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. Ironically I went into the first film knowing almost nothing of the characters and being turned off by the kids-movie vibe I was getting from talking racoons and trees, but at least I had the good sense to trust James Gunn. Since then I've seen both movies multiple times. I've read some of the comics (I quite enjoyed the "Grounded" storyline that Bendis was doing before leaving Marvel). And I've totally lost my shit when the Guardians were officially revealed in the Infinity War trailer.
My first impression of GOTG is good. I mean don't get me wrong... at this point the Telltale engine is looking a little long in the tooth. Many Telltale games were already looking a little dated even by Xbox 360 standards. But whatever. I'm not playing an adventure game like this for the graphics. And I mean, that kind-of-sort-of cell shaded look works pretty well for the tone of a comic book adaptation anyway.
Speaking of which, this mostly does feel like a comic book adaptation. Sure the movies have been what got Guardians into the mainstream, but Telltale's take isn't totally based on the movies. Star Lord definitely talks LIKE Chris Pratt and Rocket totally talks like Bradley Cooper. But on the other end of the spectrum you've got Gamora who doesn't sport her hair down like Zoe Saldana and instead seems much more modeled on her comic book counterpart. This is cool, though. While there's definitely a bunch of feel-good 70's and 80's pop and rock on the soundtrack to make it FEEL like one of the movies, there's a definite respect for the original comics, which I appreciate.
Story-wise, not a ton of stuff happens in the first episode. I'm not saying that in a bad way, but it's basically a setup to acquaint you with the characters and systems. It's the same old QTE's and brief hunting for hotspots style gameplay mixed in with conversation trees. I honestly don't mind the QTE's but I'd prefer if "failing" one actually took the story in a different direction more often than just asking you to TRY AGAIN. Y'know? Think of the QTE's in the same way as the conversation trees. That'd work better in my mind. And those little hunting for hotspot puzzles? Get rid of all of those and I'd be fine. But see, these complaints are minimal. Because the story is so good. The story is why I play Telltale games.
IF YOU CARE ABOUT SPOILERS THEN STOP READING NOW BECAUSE I'M GOING TO TOTALLY TALK ABOUT SPOILERS RIGHT NOW... So pretty early on in the episode the Guardians kill Thanos. Now, if there's anything I know about comic books it's that dead characters don't stay dead. So whatever. But it's still an interesting conceit to start the story with. Like, remember that Gamora is still Thanos' daughter for better or worse.
The episode also ends with Star Lord getting murdered and brought back to life... and also somehow seeing a vision of (maybe) his mother back on Earth again. Let's just say that there's a lot going on in the story even if there's not much to the gameplay. And I'm fine with that right now. I know exactly what I'm getting into with a game like this, so I'm content.
Things are progressing here and the story gets even heavier. Yondu makes an appearance which is cool. This take on Yondu is pretty clearly based on the one in the movies. Oh and more importantly Nebula is now in the story, and that gets complicated as you might expect. Gamora and Nebula never got along, so the death of Thanos is certainly not going to help things.
But what really killed me in this episode was a flashback concerning Rocket. Ugh. So you have to play through a section that has Rocket remembering the experiments that were done on him. And that's pretty rough. But way WAY worse are his memories of Lyla, a lady-friend who he clearly loved and was also being experimented on. Their exchanges are sweet and as you may guess, Lyla does not have a happy ending in the lab. It's a pretty heart-wrenching scene, but one that serves a purpose: it actually does add something to Rocket's character here. Maybe it gives you more of an understanding of his gruffness or inability to get close to the other Guardians.
Either way, it made me feel like a total asshole since I had chosen to stick with the plan to track down Nebula that Gamora wanted me to do instead of helping out Rocket like I had promised. Having to go through this section of the game knowing that I had bailed on him just made me feel like shit as I tried to hold back some tears.
I forgot to mention how much I like the little "Next Time On..." things at the end of each episode. Instead of actually showing things that are coming up, these are little Real World-style video confessional journals of each character. They're just little snippets such as Gamora saying "...but what came next was even worse..." that will allude to SOMETHING. They're neat.
Some good stuff happened in this episode. For one thing we got to meet Mantis. And even better, I managed to get Gamora and Nebula on good terms. This felt good.
But then some bad stuff happened. Some really bad stuff. See, I had to make a huge choice. There's this device that can raise people from the dead and I had to decide to either destroy it (smart) or power it up (not smart). I went with the Not Smart option. Now in the defense of my own intelligence, I 100% new this was a not-smart thing to do as I was doing it, but I just felt so bad for Rocket because of the flashback from last episode. I really had good intentions here.
But yeah. Shit hit the fan. And I'm pretty sure that Gamora's all set with me now.
As easy as it is to point out that Telltale's engine for these adventure games can make characters look like they're in an early 360 title, I've got to say that a lot of the space stuff is really pretty looking here. Kind of a big deal to get the galaxy looking nice in a game with Galaxy in the title, eh?
Anyway the fourth episode is basically all about making me - the player - feel like garbage.
This time around we get a flashback to see Drax and his daughter. It's obviously touching stuff, but of all the flashbacks in this game so far, nothing has made me as sad as Rocket's. But it's really this episode that it's hit me just how much this game is about sadness. But not in a bad way. I mean... maybe "sadness" is the wrong word. It's about the things that we all go through - the losses or what have you - that are left unspoken, but shape us into who we are. In a weird way a game about aliens and racoons and trees is a game about the human psyche. Rocket can be a total dick. And even after knowing why he's such an emotionally unavailable dick, I can still think that he's being a total dick. But I also understand a bit better WHY he's an emotionally unavailable dick. Y'know?
As the episode went on, things got worse. Much worse. The death of (SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!) Nebula was really rough. It was also touching because at that point she and Gamora had mended their relationship - thanks to me. But Nebula's death was really the beginning of the end. It lead to a landslide of bad feelings.
By the end of the episode Drax had sacrificed himself for us. It was bittersweet. I genuinely felt like I did the right thing by not stopping him. It's exactly what he wanted to do. He was a warrior. He felt he had a purpose. He seemed happy. But it left the rest of the Guardians damaged. I had spend all these hours trying to help Gamora and make her happy, and she walked away from the team after Drax's death. Mantis and Groot would follow.
So here we are. Just Star Lord and Rocket: The Guardians Of The Galaxy.
Well the stakes didn't really stay too high for too long. I have to say though, "death" in this game certainly feels like a true comic book. Which is to say that almost immediately after starting this episode both Mantis and Groot had a change of heart and came back to the Guardians. And then we found out that Drax wasn't dead. And that helped convince Gamora to come back. So the implosion of the team didn't really last all that long.
But at the same time I knew the whole time that this episode was leading up to one big decision. Actually, I knew that pretty much the whole game. When a game is ABOUT family and loss, and there's a device that can bring back the dead, the big decision is obvious. And when it came time to finally make that decision, I had to pause the game and think about it for a bit.
The first two options were fairly easy for me dismiss. Bringing back Drax's family didn't seem like a great idea because much of the dialogue that I'd had with Drax had involved him pushing through his grief and feeling satisfied with his role in his new family (The Guardians). It just seemed to me like his story had reached a fitting conclusion.
Though the story of the game (and movies) heavily makes you aware of the pain that Peter felt - and still feels - for the loss of his mother, bringing her back just felt like the wrong choice to me. I mean, wouldn't it be weird for her to come back to life and now have to adjust to like... living in space? And having a superhero son? I don't know. Seemed like a weird ending to me.
The real decision for me - the one that was actually difficult to make - was whether I should bring back Rocket's girlfriend, Lyla or if I should bring back Nebula. I spent the whole game feeling like I owed it to Rocket to fix things for him. But ultimately when the decision had to be made I realized something. Star Lord is the leader of the Guardians and as such he must do what's best for the team. The same way that bringing his own mother back would do nothing for the Guardians as a whole, I had to realize that Nebula was the right choice. It wasn't FOR Gamora. It was for the Guardians. It meant that we'd have another member.
Hopefully I'll see her in the next game.