NOTE: This review is spoiler free of plot details.
Guardians of The Galaxy: The Telltale Series had a pretty consistent quality going with the right mixture of heart, humor and character development, that is, until the series’ fourth episode stumbled with a boring setting, poor pacing and questionable character motivations. Going into episode five, “Don’t Stop Believin'”, I was equal part excited and nervous: Was Telltale holding back something big for the grand finale or would the ending just be a repeat of episode four’s misfires? Episode five, in the words of Star-Lord himself in the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie, is a bit o’both in that it takes a while to get going, but ultimately concludes in the best possible way it could.
A big problem with Guardians of the Galaxy’s fourth episode was its uninteresting setting, something that similarly plagues the opening on this episode as well. Without spoiling the conclusion of “Who Needs You”, the series fourth chapter, it ended on a note that felt like it should have been in the first episode and then become the focal point for the rest of the series going forward. Instead that moment didn’t come until the conclusion of the fourth episode and then everything is packed unceremoniously into the finale, and not in a particularly interesting way as well. What was meant to be a powerful moment for one team member is brushed aside, and one could cynically think “oh that’s just comics” but given what Telltale has done with Batman, I would’ve loved to see the team live with what happened instead of just playing the whole thing off as a joke.
Each episode of Guardians of the Galaxy has put focus on a single team member, and the only team member that was left at this point was Groot. Those wondering how Telltale managed to use their trademark style of story telling with a character who can only say “I am Groot”, I’ll just say that they figured it out. The Guardians back story in Telltale’s series emulates that of the films (with the exception of Rocket in the excellent second episode), and as Groot’s origins haven’t really been fleshed (barked?) out in the films, Telltale instead opted to do an unspectacular retelling of how the Guardians got together. If you’ve seen the first movie, you’ll know what to expect, but that being said, it does have one of the best gameplay moments in a Telltale series ever that will most certainly put a smile on your face.
Since The Walking Dead: Michonne, Batman: The Telltale Series and now with Guardians of the Galaxy, Telltale has really upped their action choreography game and episode five, the series gets its best action sequence since all the way back in the series debut this past April in “Tangled up in Blue”. What really makes Guardians stand out above the last two examples is that the action gets to be divided up between five characters instead of one, and you can tell that Telltale must have a lot of fun in deciding how the different fighting styles of each Guardian will come to play in a battle.
The stand out moment of “Don’t Stop Believin” isn’t the big, final confrontation however, but how tastefully Telltale managed to conclude the episode. Like Marvel’s series of films, this season has struggled to bring any depth to the main antagonist, Hala the Accuser, and a lot of the time, you forgot that she’s still even in the picture. Hala won’t go down as one of the most memorable villains, but how Telltale managed to handle her in the end makes up for the lack of real depth she’s gotten throughout the premiere season of Guardians of the Galaxy. The ending is so strong even that it makes up for how slow the start of the episode really is and I’m glad that there wasn’t one point at all where they felt the need to try to be funny.
Despite having a slow opening that takes longer than what it should to get going, Telltale still managed to wrap up their first (and hopefully not last) season of Guardians of the Galaxy in a way that manages to satisfy those looking for a bombastic, comic book style throw down while still giving meaning to the conflict that has been the driving force behind the entire series thus far. Overall the season has been solid despite a lackluster fourth episode and a finale that takes longer than it should to really start. I hope that more people will either pick up the season now whether digitally or on a season pass disc if they’ve sat on it up until now. Guardians of the Galaxy doesn’t surprise or shock in the same way Telltale’s Batman series has, but it’s the closest anyone in any other medium has come to emulating James Gunn’s take on the team and is only a touch obnoxious at times with how hard it’s trying to be funny and quirky. Telltale has proven that Guardians of the Galaxy is a property that deserves to have a big presence in the video game space, and I hope it’s not the last we’ve heard of the team.
Oh yeah, and in true Marvel fashion, there is an after the credits sequence.