‘Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series — Episode 1: Tangled Up in Blue’ review: A mix-tape full of static

First episode in Telltale’s newest game off to a rough start

By the time I finished the first episode in Telltale Games’ latest release, “Guardians of the Galaxy,” I had two basic questions.

One: When is Telltale going to finally update its engine? I can’t believe it’s 2017 and I’m still making the same graphical and technical complaints I made when I played “The Walking Dead” in 2012. And two: Just what is the Eternity Forge, and what does that green-hued chalicelike ­creation mean for our motley crew of heroes?

As you can see, “Tangled Up in Blue” has me conflicted. Yet again, Telltale creates a story that’s compelling enough to make me want to play future episodes in the series. (Per normal, the series consists of five episodes that all should be released before year’s end.) But, as with several other games that forget that they’re actual games and not movies (I’m looking at you, “The Order: 1886” — read the review here), “Guardians of the Galaxy” plays so much better when the player isn’t actually playing the game.

“Tangled Up in Blue” mostly serves as a setup episode, taking most of the game’s 90-minute runtime to introduce characters and the overall story arc. The main cast is probably familiar to most: Star-Lord, Gamora, Rocket Raccoon, Groot and Drax. Something to note: This story line is disconnected from the film version, taking place in a world more similar to the comics. Also, Star-Lord looks nothing like Chris Pratt, and it bothers me. But I digress.

If you’ve seen the trailers for the game, you know our unlikely heroes find themselves up against the scourge of the galaxy: one incredibly purple Thanos the Mad Titan. To say much more would spoil, but it shouldn’t surprise that the outcome of that quick-time-event-heavy battle propels the story forward.

I’ve made my complaints of Telltale’s illusion of choice before, and I think it’s still warranted here. Telltale tends to offer false choices that almost always circle back to basically two major outcomes, one of which is generally chosen in the later episodes. I’m not sure how the major decision in this episode is going to matter in the long run; to be honest, I’d be surprised if it did. The whole episode seems to run as if I weren’t there anyways.

Which brings up another issue: With a character as established as Star-Lord, it’s hard to make your own choices when you do have the option. Instead of moving forward the way you would instinctually, you’ll find yourself thinking, “What would Star-Lord do?” Some may like that aspect, the ability to make the choices the way you the protagonist would. But I found that restricting, basically resulting in me bickering with myself over what Star-Lord would do versus what I wanted to do. Since the character we control really isn’t ours in a story sense, choices regarding what he does feel disjointed. But maybe that’s just me.

The humor was a mixed bag for me, but not because it wasn’t funny. As is the Telltale style, dialogue is a choice you make, and talking with other characters gives you a slate of answers or follow-up questions. The problem with humor is that once you see that zinger pop up in text before the character you’re talking to has finished his sentence, the punch of that joke already has dissipated. As usual, the writing is phenomenal, but unlike in “Tales From the Borderlands” (read the review here), too often the punchline was our answer rather than the retort from someone else. So you’re stuck between two unenviable choices: Slam the joke answer quickly and miss out on more dialogue, or let the dialogue play out and let the tension for the joke peter out. Either way, the humor comes with a price.

And also as normal, Telltale’s buggy engine makes itself known loud and clear. From glitchy audio to shuttering frame rates to texture loading so jarring you’ll actually wonder if your game is heading toward a crash, “Tangled Up in Blue” is a prime example of Telltale needing to update its graphic engine. It’s clearly unable to keep up with what the designers are trying to create visually and pacing-wise. I mean, as a whole, I have more trouble with Telltale games in general not working properly or crashing outright than just about anything else.

In the end, “Tangled Up in Blue,” the first episode in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” contains one gem while being bogged down by an engine that needs a major revamp and pacing issues that Telltale clearly knows how to work around (think “Borderlands”). I find myself fascinated with how the story develops, but I’m also not expecting to have too much choice about how it unfolds. But hey, this episode didn’t crash, so that’s a hero-sized plus, right? Right?

Two “Am I supposed to laugh here?” stars out of five.

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