Telltale’s Guardians of the Galaxy episode 4 review: Death on two legs

Telltale Games, Marvel
Telltale Games, Marvel /

Destined to kill the momentum and goodwill of its predecessor episodes, Guardians of the Galaxy episode 4 left me wondering what went wrong.

Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Platforms: PC (version reviewed), PS4, Xbox One, iOS and Android devices
Release Date: October 10, 2017

To cap off my episode 3 review, I left feeling optimistic about the series’ back half. The Telltale Games narrative formula had become repetitive, familiar and grating by the final episode of their flagship series, The Walking Dead: A New Frontierso I was glad to see a Marvel property do well to right the recent wrongs.

By the end of Guardians of the Galaxy episode 4, “Who Needs You,” I felt like everything from the pacing, writing, gameplay creativity and narrative design fell flat, as if a bunch of high school students copied their homework off of the internet haphazardly and turned it in as their own. It was an almost amateurish satire of a bog standard “Telltale Game,” and I’m nothing if disappointed by the results.

Guardians of the Galaxy episode 4 picks up immediately after the events of the previous episode, with the Guardians facing the consequences of the major decision made moments prior. What should have been a systematically dynamic story difference is flavor text, as both options see the party flying down a chasm into the unknown and away from Hala, who still wishes to cause destruction to the galaxy.

Guardians of the Galaxy episode 4 Mantis
Telltale Games, Marvel /

What follows is about 90 minutes of a shot-for-shot recreation of the preceding episodes, although only now does it become blatant in how telegraphed the Telltale Guardians of the Galaxy formula is.

Peter Quill has a flashback memory, Peter wakes up, the Guardians find themselves in a predicament, the player has to talk to everyone, a split path gives the player a minor choice, the narrative changes to focus on a character’s backstory (hopefully mirroring the active plot), Peter uses his jet-boosters to navigate a simple exploration area, a tense moment is backed by a classic rock track, a make-or-break choice produces one or two dramatically different results (even though it doesn’t actually affect the main story in future episodes).

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Guardians of the Galaxy episode 4 is so patently formulaic, yet even though it follows a tried-and-tested Telltale narrative strategy to a T, it still plays out so oddly paced. For example, this episode dives into Drax’s past, but comes at such an odd moment in the story that it feels forced by some executive that reminded the writing team, “Hey, we promised one episode per Guardian, remember?”

Not only that, but it does little to advance Drax as a character. We know about his daughter and his wife and how they’re a driving force back from episode 1, yet whatever moments are covered here do little but to show Drax, the dad. It’s a touching moment, nonetheless, but its insertion into the moving plot seemed like they had to tack it on somewhere, and that was the least offensive place to do it.

Guardians of the Galaxy episode 4
Telltale, Marvel /

Even at its most actionable moments, Guardians of the Galaxy episode 4 drove as low stakes a story as possible. After the opening credits and the final moments of escape, the Guardians were tasked with very little to combat, manipulate or think through beyond a bunch of rock snakes and dialogue options between characters.

It took four of out five episodes to become thoroughly disappointed, which is quite a remarkable delay these days.

It’s a huge disappointment because of what the series has built up to before this episode. Players were questioned about the ethics of manipulating life and death and the existential questions involved in living in the past, yet episode 4 took all those interesting story beats and replaced them with whether or not to call your pet rock snake “Blue,” “Hungry” or something else meaningless.

The concluding moments to set up the finale were just as superficial, even when dressed up as a disappointing fracture. No matter your experience-defining “major choice,” you’re left with a shell of a concluding force with different people left behind. It can’t matter because Groot remains the focus of the series finale regardless of what you do, and someone will find umbrage with your actions no matter what.

Guardians of the Galaxy episode 4
Telltale Games, Marvel /

Telltale Games hides this brilliantly with the repeated fact that Guardians of the Galaxy, along with recent franchises, don’t let you easily rewind scenes to find out how the narrative branches. Instead, you have to completely restart the entire 90-minute debacle (which I did) just to find out how things are different. I’ve brought this issue up before, but especially in the superficially “high-stakes ending” to the episode, once you see what little difference your choice makes in the end from multiple perspectives it just reminds you how badly the team screwed this crucial episode up.

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What may be the most disappointing aspect about Guardians of the Galaxy episode 4 is just how disappointing the writing is from a comedic standpoint. Sure, the characters often give one-liners in seated trope-ish manner, but it was certainly a bit more cutting than video game standards and was often cued well with the cinematography as if it was a comedy film. Here, the jokes were dull and drastically uncreative.

Everything that was meant to set a tone was a total misfire. A particularly emotionally manipulative moment during the escape was undercut by Guardians hijinx and banter seconds later. A moment where Peter and Drax attempted to bond was undercut by a sudden, jarring action scene out of nowhere. I laughed once during the entire episode, and it came from Mantis miming karate chops; that’s it.

I had high hopes that Guardians of the Galaxy would be the series to help things turnaround at modern Telltale Games. It took four of out five episodes to become thoroughly disappointed, which is quite a remarkable delay these days. How Telltale handles the Groot episode will determine if they can save face after a series-altering dud.

5.5. After weaving an excellent buddy adventure story in the first three episodes, Guardians of the Galaxy episode 4 brings the series to a screeching halt. A meandering plot, a formulaic, by-the-numbers gameplay flow and contextually redundant choices undo the good work and story built up to this stage, leaving players asking how could so much go so wrong, so quickly.. Telltale Games. . Telltale's Guardians of the Galaxy episode 4

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.