As the latest Marvel blockbuster explodes onto screens, Jem Alexander contemplates the first episode of Telltale’s Guardians of the Galaxy and the importance of Marvel making a strong return to games
Imagine my delight when I realised I had an excuse to write about Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 in my op-ed this month. A film with the strength of narrative and heart that, in my opinion, eclipses the first in every way. The Marvel production line remains in full flow and yet this film manages to stand apart from it. It’s something fresh that isn’t bogged down or contaminated by the rest of the Avengers mythos, and I speak as a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and an unabashed Joss Whedon fanboy.
A hugely celebrated IP that is racy, spacey and Taserfacey. Colourful and fun. Heartfelt and intelligent. That’s so video games. Which is why when I first heard about the Telltale Games Guardians of the Galaxy series, I was excited. Tales from the Borderlands was so, so excellent and Guardians feels like the natural evolution of that. I love what this studio strives for.
Storytelling is incredibly close to my heart and I firmly believe that the surface of games narrative has barely been scratched. We’re at the tippy top of the iceberg. Just midway through the first ‘b’ of the beginning. Yes, I know there is only one ‘b’ in beginning.
But a story can only be as good as the technology supporting it. Right? As I type this, years of great game stories come to mind. Some featuring fully-voiced, motion captured animation. Some told through reams of text as 16-bit character sprites gyrate on screen. Stories that I love and characters with whom I’ve fallen in love and so I wonder why it is that isn’t enough anymore. We’re spoilt by the Uncharteds and the BioShocks and Mass Effects.
Tales from the Borderlands was so excellent and GOTG feels like the natural evolution of that
So it’s jarring to return to the Telltale fold after ignoring Batman and Minecraft and The Walking Dead: Season Three. No slight on those games, I just had no interest. That’s one of the great things about Telltale working with so many IPs; they cater to everyone, but not necessarily at the same time. But after two years of being away, it pained me to see a lack of evolution. I played everything from The Walking Dead: Season One all the way to Tales of the Borderlands and they all suffer the same issues.
The script for episode one of the Guardians of the Galaxy game is good, but there’s so little support from the rest of the game to make this a true Guardians experience. It has heart and intrigue and powerful character statements, but they’re coming from the flappy maws of dead-eyed puppets. Develop isn't about hating on devleopers, we're about celebrating the most creative industry on the planet, but my feelings about the importance of storytelling means I’m going to be more critical of those things I love that fall slightly short.
It’s interesting to read about the history of Milestone (as you can in Sean’s cover feature this month) where the studio heads discuss switching from an internal engine to Unreal. That ancient engine is what Milestone cut its teeth on. The studio figured out how racing games worked and created some of its most successful games on that tech, but they stuck with it for too long and it became like a millstone around the neck of Milestone, dragging it down. Now it is inventing proprietary technology to improve Unreal Engine’s ability to deliver world-class racing games, because that's what the studio makes and that's what it wants to be the best at.
Telltale creates intimate, story-driven experiences that react to a player’s choices and I want it to be world-class at doing that again. We live in a world where studios like Dontnod are aping the Telltale formula with Life Is Strange and doing it better. This need not be the case.
THANOS FOR THE MEMORIES
I’m still looking forward to the rest of the episodes of the Guardians of the Galaxy game. Telltale has done for episodic gaming what Buffy the Vampire Slayer did for TV. (Told you I was a Joss Whedon fanboy.) But I have another selfish reason why I wanted the Guardians game to be better.
Marvel has ignored games, or paid lip service to the medium, while competitor DC is bankrolling Rocksteady’s much-loved Batman games. I want Marvel to see success in Guardians of the Galaxy because I want more Marvel games. By Telltale, by Crystal Dynamics, by Insomniac. By anyone else who knows they can make an amazing Marvel game that delivers on the gameplay and storytelling the Avengers universe deserves. I know there are a lot of you out there.