In its first episode, the new Guardians of the Galaxy game from creator Telltale features much of what you’d expect from an adventure starring the sci-fi superhero group. There are retro-futuristic spaceships gliding across colorful skies that look like something from a Flash Gordon movie and mysterious ancient weapons with the potential to enslave the universe. Of course you have Star-Lord in a leather jacket dancing to Hall and Oates with his super cool 80’s moves. It’s the same blend of adventure, humor, and classic sci-fi style that made the first movie a breakout hit, and the game has it in abundance.
The experience excels when it emulates the movie, but immediately and largely falls flat when it puts you in control. The first episode, called “Tangled Up in Blue,” opens with the team responding to a distress beacon from the Nova Corps, the space police force seen in the first movie, after an attack from an unknown super villain. Star-Lord – while moon walking in his bedroom – agrees to help and the ensuing battle mostly involves the Guardians’ ship being pummeled by enemy fire. While their craft is about to be blown out of the sky, the five heroes spend as much time bickering among themselves as they do fending off the onslaught. That’s how you know they’re really close, just like in the first movie.
Guardians of the Galaxy is developed by Telltale Games, and much like the studio’s previous work such as The Walking Dead, Batman, and Minecraft: Story Mode, Guardians plays out as an interactive drama. Much of the time you’re watching events unfold, but the story is broken up by dialogue selection and action sequences. The most important part, though, is the focus on choice. At various points in each episode the player needs to make critical decisions that will shape how the story plays out. When done right, this combination of elements can make for some striking and memorable games.
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The game quickly falters when it gets away from its interactive drama core. After the initial space battle, the Guardians crash among the ruins of an alien planet. Playing as Star-Lord, you first need to find a path through the ruins, before locating the evil villain who is presumably up to no good somewhere deep inside the abandoned temple. None of this is enjoyable. There’s an investigation scene that involves searching the corpses of the fallen Nova Corps in order to find a security code. This is followed by what is supposed to be an intense encounter with the supervillain who turns out to be Thanos. You control all five members of the crew as they brawl with the brawny titan; Star-Lord fires his dual pistols, Rocket ducks behind cover, while Gamora swings blades with ninja-like efficiency. It looks cool at first, but when you play the action set-piece, it is devoid of any sense of danger or excitement. The underdeveloped action is disappointing because the rest of the experience is so solid.