Cards on the table, I have yet to watch a single episode of The Expanse television show, this is despite the constant nagging of my nearest and dearest about its soaring calibre. So perhaps while I’m not the best person to review a licensed adaptation of what seems to be one of the best hard sci-fi television shows ever, I would say that I have played enough narrative adventures – not to mention all of Telltale’s output to date – to offer up an opinion on The Expanse: A Telltale Series all the same.
The Expanse: A Telltale Series Review (PS5)
Telltale Games Returns In Fine Form In A Roundly Enjoyable Hard Sci-Fi Adventure
Taking place across five episodes which in turn unfold from a third-person perspective, The Expanse: A Telltale Series follows the exploits of Camina Drummer, the Executive Officer of the Artemis, a scavenger ship filled with all manner of folks looking to escape the conflict between Earth, Mars and the disparate colonies of the Belt to seek out their fortune. Without spoiling the narrative setup too much, it isn’t long before a McGuffin of significant value appears and as you might expect from a crew filled with scavengers, loyalties are soon split as ambition and greed begin to take hold.
If you’ve played any of Telltale’s previous narrative driven offerings, you’ll have a fair idea what to expect here. That said, it’s worth noting that even though The Expanse: A Telltale Series, is actually a jointly developed effort between Telltale Games and Life Is Strange: True Colors developer Deck Nine, the design DNA of The Expanse: A Telltale Series is a Telltale game first and foremost (as if the title wasn’t a strong enough clue).
What this means is that you’ll be guiding Camina around the corridors and crew quarters of the Artemis, talking to the crew, discovering their histories, uncovering logs which provide additional substance to the story of The Expanse and naturally as this is a Telltale game, making decisions and dialogue choices to steer the narrative down one avenue or another. Certainly, Telltale fans will get a chuckle from the previously meme-able “[INSERT CHARACTER HERE] will remember that” notification after a branching choice is made, while just like the Telltale games of old, you’re also presented with a breakdown at the end of episode, showing what decisions the rest of the community made at key points in contrast to your own.
Oh and before I forget, QTEs (Quick Time Events) also make a return in The Expanse: A Telltale Series, though in comparison to other Telltale fare such as The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us and Batman: A Telltale Series, there are far fewer of them here. Put simply, if you were hoping for any sort of dramatic departure from the traditional Telltale Games formula, you’re going to be disappointed. The Expanse: A Telltale Series is classic Telltale, for better or worse, from beginning to end.
In truth, the relatively fewer number of action scenes and QTEs speaks to the much more ponderous and slower pace of The Expanse: A Telltale Series. Being a game based on The Expanse, when you’re not chatting to your fellow crewmates you’ll be spending a whole heap of time in zero G, exploring long abandoned spacecraft as you twist and twirl through the vacuum of space courtesy of your handy jetpack looking for salvage and uncovering lore pertaining to the wider universe of The Expanse.
Taking up more than half of what you’ll be doing across the five episodes of The Expanse: A Telltale Series, the prominence of these sections will likely heavily weigh your overall opinion of the game in one direction or another. Again, these sections tend to not just be ponderous, but they’re also very long – sometimes too long – and so folks looking for more action-packed fare might well shy away from the more decidedly plodding beats offered up by The Expanse: A Telltale Series.
Beyond the incentive to strike up another playthrough to explore other potential story avenues, it’s also within these zero-g sections that The Expanse: A Telltale Series hides some of its replay value. This is because very often the ships and areas that you’ll be exploring, especially in the second and third episodes, are generously built with all manner of collectibles stuffed in nooks and crannies that you might well miss on your first playthrough. Speaking of episodes, it’s also worth mentioning that the final episode of The Expanse: A Telltale Series is disappointingly short – clocking in at around just an hour or so. As such, the final act feels almost like an afterthought, which is absolutely not what the climatic episode in a saga like this should feel like.
If there is one thing that has caused Telltale Games previous offerings to remain long in the mind though, it’s the characters and the quality of writing that often underpins them and I can happily report that The Expanse: A Telltale Series also excels in this regard. Stuffed with a largely great cast of characters, it’s really Cara Gee’s frankly fantastic turn as Camina Drummer, the same character she portrays in the much heralded television show of the same name, that anchors the entire experience from beginning to end.
More specifically, Gee’s portrayal of Camina Drummer is (based on the opinions of friends that have seen the show) absolutely spot-on, showcasing a seemingly hardened exterior that is at once tempered by bouts of acerbic wit that is also underscored by a simmering rage whenever Drummer’s origins or history come into question. It really is an intense performance that is so deftly layered it soon becomes unforgettable. Beyond Drummer, the pilot of the Artemis, Tran Kahn, is also a highlight. Being absolutely filled with bile and snapping the heads off of anybody that seemingly comes near her, Khan’s overwhelmingly aggressive exterior belies a vulnerable core which also cements her as a character written with real depth and sophistication.
As someone who was previously completely uninitiated in the universe of The Expanse, it’s fair to say that I found the pull of its hard sci-fi setting to be rather irresistible. There are no aliens (seemingly), no space magic or anything like that – just a gritty, hard-nosed conflagration of conflict across our solar system as the people of Earth, Mars and the Belt all jostle for survival. To say that The Expanse: A Telltale Series also works as an effective on-ramp for non-fans into the television show and books for which The Expanse is chiefly known, would certainly be something of an understatement.
From a technical perspective, it’s clear that the use of Unreal Engine 4 has essentially resulted in The Expanse: A Telltale Series being the best looking title Telltale have ever made. With much improved facial animation coupled with a much higher level of geometric throughout – not to mention some genuinely gorgeous zero-g set pieces that I won’t spoil here, this is arguably the best Telltale has ever looked. The only drawback to the visual presentation of The Expanse: A Telltale Series is that various elements of the environment suffer from low texture detail when viewed up close, though this is easily forgivable given just how good everything else looks.
The Expanse: A Telltale Series is a hugely enjoyable analogue to both the beloved television show and series of books that it is based on, and one that shows that Telltale Games is still very much capable of putting out involving, episodic stories with a cast of characters that are effortlessly engaging. With Cara Gee’s thoroughly excellent performance as Camina Drummer anchoring the whole package, only an emaciated final episode and divisive plodding pace tarnish this otherwise triumphant return to form for Telltale Games.
All episodes of The Expanse: A Telltale Series are out now on PS4 and PS5.
Review code kindly provided by PR.