The first episode of Telltale's Guardians of the Galaxy series sets the action-packed, sarcasm-filled stage for what's to come. It has just the right amount of exposition to keep things on track and establishes its characters without over-explaining things for those who are familiar with the comics or film. But while its two hours are paced like a movie and consistently engaging, its more game-like elements of choice and exploration remove you from the story rather than keep you grounded in it.
The episode starts strong, immediately diving into some action. The Guardians get a call from the Nova Corps, who need help fighting Thanos; soon enough, their ship is crashing and they stumble into battle. It might feel a little abrupt if you're unfamiliar with Guardians, but bickering among the team fills in most of the gaps with their personalities and dynamic. The whole episode feels true to their characters, especially how they're portrayed in the movie, and it's a good introduction to what they're all about without relying on lengthy exposition.
Before the actual fight begins, though, you first find the Nova Corps decimated by Thanos--and you have to do some exploring to figure things out. It's the first of several point-and-click adventure sections that feel out of place in the episode's movie-like structure. Since it's not immediately apparent what you're looking for, a section that would take maybe a minute in a movie can take 10, and things come grinding to a halt. It almost feels as if your participation is just the episode checking to make sure you're paying attention, when it was doing a fine job of being interesting on its own.
The fight itself picks things back up. Switching between team members to try and take Thanos down fits Telltale's quick-time events style well, and it's also a critical setup for the real conflict at the heart of the episode: rising tensions between the Guardians. Most of your important decisions revolve around siding with one team member over another. After the kind of bonding experience only fighting a genocidal maniac can achieve, not being able to make everyone happy is a little heart-wrenching, and those decisions have weight to them.
Less-important dialogue choices can reveal some backstory, but a lot of them can get confusing given that Star-Lord has such an established personality. He's snarky and sarcastic most of the time, but when you have options, you can choose to say something a little more mushy about friendship and family. That by itself works fine, but as the episode goes on, it can feel like you're choosing between acting the way you'd think Star-Lord would act and saying the things you'd actually want to say. In certain situations, it's jarring to have choices when the decision Star-Lord would make seems obvious, especially given the episode's cinematic format.
After the kind of bonding experience only fighting a genocidal maniac can achieve, not being able to make everyone happy is a little heart-wrenching.
Because of that characterization, though, jokes land more often than not, and even less-important interactions serve to build out the team. That and good voice acting balance out a few rough bits of dialogue (Rocket making a "your face" retort and following it with, "That was terrible," for example). Quiet, intimate moments between characters are what Telltale does best, and this episode strikes a good balance between Guardians-style snark and conversations with a little more meaning to them.
The episode has one majorly important decision toward the end, but I was only able to experience one of the two options. When I replayed it to see what would change, the only scene that was really different had no sound. It's the only bug I encountered, but its timing was more than inconvenient. From what I can tell, it's a decision that will more greatly affect later episodes than this one.
Even without that one scene, the episode sets up an important conflict and serious questions about the galaxy going into Episode 2. Some more game-y elements can take you out of the experience a bit, but this is also a compelling introduction to the series that captures the unique charms of the Guardians--plus, there's some kickass music.