The biggest problem with the first episode of Guardians of the Galaxy was that the whole thing felt like a pale imitation of the James Gunn movie of the same name. The game isn't set in the same continuity as the movie or any of the comics, and that strategy can be used to great effect as Telltale demonstrated with its Batman series, but with Guardians, it felt like it was trying to ape the hit movie while at the same time enjoying the freedom that comes with remaining a separate entity; a disappointing case of a studio trying to have its cake and eat it. Episode Two, Under Pressure, suffers from the same issues, but some stronger story moments result in a better episode overall, and an indication that the series might come into its own by the time it's all said and done, providing it plays to its strengths rather than its weaknesses.
Picking up right after the end of the last episode, Star-Lord and co. are struggling to come to terms with the power contained within the ancient artefact they found in episode one, while simultaneously being hunted by the villains that want to get a hold of said power. A couple of the gang have different ideas on how they should proceed - whether that be learning more about the artefact or just throwing caution to the wind and trying to use it for their own ends. The main narrative thrust of the episode isn't particularly original or intriguing, and by the time it's over with, the story has barely moved on from where we were at the end of the previous episode. The overarching tale of Guardians of the Galaxy is exceptionally threadbare so far, but that's fine as long as there's something else to back it up.
Tales From The Borderlands succeeded despite the lack of a truly compelling central narrative because it was legitimately funny, and the characters were a blast to spend time with regardless of what story they were involved in. Guardians still doesn't find the right comedic tone in episode two, with the jokes falling flat more often than not, but it does manage to find success in some surprising areas to keep things interesting. As with the Guardians movies, '70s music plays an integral role in setting the tone for Under Pressure, and despite the episode not actually featuring the song you might think it would based on the title, it does contain a fairly audacious action scene backed by Sparks' glam-rock classic, This Town Ain't Big Enough For Both Of Us, that will likely leave you grinning if you have any affinity for tunes from that era.
The biggest success of Under Pressure is in the smaller character moments, chief among them a sub-plot involving Rocket Raccoon that is genuinely touching. Rocket is brash, selfish, and morally ambiguous, but the glimpse we see of his tortured past goes some way to explaining how he wound up that way, and it's easily the stand-out sequence of the series so far. Nolan North is doing a wonderful job voicing the short-tempered raccoon, and his work in this episode is practically worth the price of admission alone. While most of the characters feel like little more than diet versions of the Guardians you'll see in the movies, Rocket Raccoon is consistently amusing, and his story provides the series with some much needed heart.
The standard Telltale jank is here as per usual, with scenes occasionally juddering or momentarily freezing fairly frequently across the two hour running time. We also ran into a strange issue where, having made a choice that removed Rocket from the group temporarily, the next scene had Star-Lord talking to an empty chair where, presumably, Rocket would have sat if we'd made the other choice, with Rocket's disembodied voice talking back to us. The technical issues are no worse than you'd expect from one of these games, and they're pretty much par for the course at this point, but worth mentioning nonetheless.
Poignant character moments and some impressive use of pop music make Under Pressure a better episode than Tangled Up In Blue, but still nowhere near the lofty heights that we know Telltale is capable of. There's enough good work here to indicate that by the time the series is over it'll have given us reasons to care about the cast and what they're up to, but if you're on the fence about whether or not to pick up the season pass, you're probably best waiting a little longer to make that decision. The series has potential, but whether it'll ever manage to escape the shadow of the movies it is so desperately trying to recreate remains to be seen.