Telltale Games and Marvel Studios recently announced that they will be collaborating on a new console and PC series that is set to launch in 2017. Many people have called for Telltale Games to take on the superheroic task of adapting Marvel’s new “first family” into a proper game that doesn’t focus as much on gameplay, but rather telling an impressively interwoven narrative that could last and be released over the span of a year.
It’s seemingly a match made in heaven. Telltale Games has been looking to break into the public eye and gain a similar amount of attention that studios such as Rockstar and Bethesda have attained. Since The Walking Dead Season 2, many of their releases have been geared toward the wants and needs of the general public (Game of Thrones, the upcoming Minecraft series), as well as some more obscure entries for pop culture nerds to enjoy in the confines of their own community (The Wolf Among Us, Tales from the Borderlands). At Telltale’s disposal, the developer will have some of the most famous movie and comic book characters in recent memory as well as the marketing whizzes that help Marvel Studios and Marvel Games run. This partnership with Marvel Studios has to be the best news they have received in months, plain and simple.
However, it’s even more interesting for consumers and pop culture nerds, such as myself, who love to analyze and pick apart every bit of information announced. While the studios may have only just made the announcement, several of Telltale Games’ past installments can help fans understand how Telltale will be bringing about characters such as Iron Man and Black Widow to the big screen. Then again, there are also important questions to ask ourselves. The S.H.I.E.L.D-hellicarier sized question I keep coming back to is if the question of such a game is a good idea.
Honestly, I think there are a lot of pros and cons to the recent announcement of a Telltale-Marvel game. Sure, there are a fantastic number of pros and cons to any announcement, but this is one of Marvel’s biggest developments in a while. It may be even bigger than the news that Spider-Man will be licensed out to Marvel by Sony.
There is an important “pro” to this announcement, and it is the level of storytelling that Telltale has become known for over the past few years. The developer can craft mature installments peppered with personality. Many superhero licensed games do not have a sufficient story to back them up. The overarching plot often times involves a group of villains conveniently teaming up to stop your favorite superhero for the sake of sales and level structure. There isn’t a whole lot of pathos involved, and it just isn’t up to the Asgardian standards of storytelling that we expect from developers nowadays.
At this stage in the game, with the early reviews from Age of Ultron ranging, “Marvel’s best” to “Kinda disappointing, but still a really good movie,” it’s safe to say that Marvel brand is still a hot commodity. Everything they lay their repulsor blaster armored hands on seemingly turns into vibranium (….or gold.). For instance, last August, the studio released Guardians of the Galaxy, a very obscure comic book group of superheroes that had many thinking if Marvel is scraping the barrel already to find original stories to tell. Film critics and popular audiences generally agree that Galaxy rivals Avengers and Iron Man as the studio’s best film. Marvel studios is telling everyone worldwide that you want to see whichever characters we put on screen and you’ll fall in love with them all the same.
Despite the critical acclaim they have deservedly wrought over their previous installments, Telltale games are not the action packed affair that Marvel Studios’ films are. While Telltale often creates action sequences that feel dynamic, they are virtually quick time events. I don’t feel as in control of my actions as I do in comparison to the Batman: Arkham series or even the Deadpool game. They aren’t the fast paced and precise action affairs such as the Batman: Arkham series and God of War series. You actually feel like you’re Batman or Kratos through Santa Monica and Rocksteady’s respective masterpieces. Marvel Games Studios should aspire for this precise action as it allows for the player to feel empowered. I’d relish the opportunity to throw around Captain America’s shield and beating down baddies of all kinds of different power levels. Doesn’t it sound much more fun to actually fight the battles out yourself than watch them while hitting a few buttons?
Moving on from the combat system, which should be a part of any Marvel game from here on out, is the very realistic concern of the size of the universe. This is where fans can examine Telltale Games’ previous installments and see how the developer has balanced the vast amount of canon in order to tell a strong story. Fables and Game of Thrones are the two biggest universes brought to life by the developer. Their respective lores fill entire encyclopedias and the developer has experience in balancing their meaty stories and tones. While Telltale delivered arguably their best installment with The Wolf Among Us, Game of Thrones did not jettison out with the same confidence. I feel Telltale shouldn’t have tried so hard to tie and replicate their own game with the television show and books. Telltale Games has proven on more than one occasion that they can craft expert dialogue in order to flesh out their own unique and original stories. Why try to replicate a formula that has been specifically made for television? Why not try to go beyond that?
The Marvel Universe is substantially bigger and better known than it was before Robert Downey Jr. and Co. avenged the Chitauri in Avengers. People loved that film, but also fell in love with the characters and continue to do so time and time again. There will be quite a bit of pressure for Telltale to deliver an optimal Avengers game, if they choose to go down that route. However, I think that in order to make this game work and allow it to stand on its own two big, green feet, the creators will have to shed light on characters that do not have the screen time or presence that some of the more mainstream incarnations do. They’ll need someone who doesn’t have a solo movie franchise that smashes into theaters every time it releases. It should be a character with an interesting backstory and appeal that allows the players to transform their experience into Telltale’s multilayered system of storytelling and decision making. However, the writers shouldn’t be afraid to burst out of any prescribed notions of the game beforehand and deliver us an experience that blends the intimacy of videogames with the bombastic nature of the Marvel Cinematic Universe all while retaining that niche comic book appeal.
I’m talking about the Hulk.
The Hulk would be a perfect character for Telltale Games to adapt into their similar click-and-point games as his adventures often run parallel with other more famous members of the Marvel Universe. The various adventures of Bruce Banner could be depicted and used in a similar way to Bigby in The Wolf Among Us. He could come across numerous other Marvel characters in a way that it doesn’t feel forced or unnecessary. The Hulk could venture out into space and meet up with various Inhuman and Guardians of the Galaxy characters. He could also stay grounded on Earth and run across various members of the Avengers as well as the Defenders and characters that haven’t been introduced into the MCU, such as Moon Knight.
However, there were several news articles on the subject that stated the series will be an “Avengers” game. I don’t think the current incarnation of the Avengers would be a good fit for the studio, as half the fun of watching those movies is taking in the bombastic action sequences. There have to be different Avengers stories out there to tell. What if Marvel and Telltale went back in time to the 1950s and examined Agent Carter and Howard Stark in the early days of S.H.I.E.L.D. The pair could team up with Jarvis and attempt to form their own version of the Avengers, albeit not one filled with Asgardian gods and giant green Hulks.
Finally, there’s the reality of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that has been blissfully ignored over the past few years. Joss Whedon has served as the godfather for much of the development of the MCU, but unfortunately he will step down in order to make way for Joe and Anthony Russos, the director-writer team responsible for Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War. Whedon isn’t just a huge reason for the lighthearted tone and overall fun attitude of the MCU. He is the main reason. He’ll come in and doctor most scripts, shoot scenes, and even help actors change their performances in order to respond better to the MCU.
The scripts aren’t as witty or punchy without Whedon. Many directors, with the exception of James Gunn, want to explore a darker, grittier MCU than the one established over the previous two phases. It just doesn’t seem as fun without the super-fan lending his guiding and confident hand. A Whedon-less MCU slightly scares me, but Telltale Games surely knows the importance of wit and comedy as exhibited through Tales from the Borderlands. Telltale can tap into a comedic style that also has some heart under its Arc Reactor, but can some of the most famous Marvel characters fit into this world without Whedon? It’s an important question no one is attempting to answer right now.
It will be interesting if Telltale Games is ambitious enough to craft their own Marvel Cinematic Universe with Marvel Games. Hopefully, the storytelling and medium allows for enough originality that gamers and fans of the MCU alike should be able to feel as if Telltale Games is flexing their creative muscles in order to craft something marvelously unique.
Liam Crossey is an executive features editor for The Game Bolt who would love to see a proper Marvel adventure game made by Telltale. Follow him on Twitter for a heck of a ton of retweets.