As exciting as the first episode of Telltale’s Guardians of the Galaxy was, it confirmed a major fear I had about the general format of the narrative-based gameplay model. With ten years of film, television and game spin-offs under their belts, it was becoming clear that the decision-channelling gameplay ultimately, Telltale’s trademark feature, was becoming inconsequential in worlds where beloved characters will not deviate too much from their plotted course regardless of the actions of the player. So as we delve into Episode 2 and see if Telltale have any other tricks up their sleeve, consider that what you are about to read may contain spoilers of events that have occurred previously.
Episode one had its fair share of surprises as far as the story was concerned. The death of Thanos, one of Marvel’s most iconic baddies, provided the Guardians with a smoking gun of sorts in the form of a Kree artifact that could recall memory and even raise the dead. By keeping Thanos very much dead (for now), Telltale have allowed the universe in which our ragtag team of space heroes inhabit to breathe and show off some of the other dangerous delights this galaxy has to offer. As much as he’d like the entire Marvel universe to revolve around him, there are plenty of other threats out there other than the Mad Titan.
On the other hand, the fake out death of Peter Quill offered little in the way emotional impact. Marvel heroes have a history of dying one week only to be resurrected the next, but by bringing Quill back to life before the end of the episode felt like a wasted opportunity. After all, who wouldn’t want to see a chapter in the story depicting how the Guardians would have coped without Starlord keeping everyone in check. At least, for a little while anyway. However, thanks to a plot device that brings the characters’ memories to life, episode two offers up some of the best character development from Telltale to date.
Picking up from the exact moment the previous episode finished, Under Pressure begins with the Guardians on the run from a Kree warlord, resurrection artifact in tow. An early but crucial decision offers two diverging paths. While eventually colliding head on as one would expect, these two paths force the player to decide between making an emotional decision or a rational one. If the gameplay stats that feature during the credits are anything to be believed, it’s good to see hearts winning out over minds, even when playing a computer game based on sci-fi comic book characters.
The emotional route puts the focus on Rocket Raccoon, a surprising turn for a character known normally for having a big mouth and even bigger weapons. Told for the majority through a playable flashback, Telltale are successful in showing a side of the character that we rarely see in the comics, let alone the films. Although a little light on the action side of things, the frantic scene showing Rocket at his most vulnerable climaxes with a powerfully emotional ending that will without a doubt influence your attitudes toward him later in the game.
The alternative route takes you on a very different path altogether by reintroducing us to Gamora’s bloodthirsty sister Nebula. While it remains to be seen if there’s more to this character than revenge and angst, her appearance in the game coincides with some rather satisfying space combat. While it doesn’t differ that much from any other Telltale combat sequence at first, being able to engage in rail shooting dog fights while outmaneuvering streams of missiles makes for a thrilling ride.
Putting these two scenes side-by-side demonstrates one glaringly obvious problem with Guardians of the Galaxy and indeed most other Telltale adaptations. The decisions of the player have little consequence. Whether you help out Rocket or pursue Nebula first really doesn’t seem to matter, aside from some occasional nasty looks from other members of the cast. The story will always find a way to wriggle its way back on track.
The same can be said for some of the small conversational choices that play out through the game. An early encounter with Guardians favourite Yondu offers plenty of humorous dialogue options to choose from, but ultimately don’t really have any major impact on the story. His inclusion in the game feels forced, acting as filler to stretch the story out as much as possible. Similarly, a frank and open discussion with Nebula about her father loses any relevance the moment the scene shifts and she’s awkwardly acting like her old self again.
Before you know it, the episode ends on the obligatory Telltale cliffhanger and you can’t help but feel that much of the events that unfolded amounted to nothing beyond filler. Forfeiting plot progression for backstory and lore, episode two offers some fascinating new shades to some of Marvel’s most beloved characters without the surprises that we were treated to in episode one. What adventures await the Guardians in episode three? Let’s hope it’s a bit more exciting than this one.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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