Take me straight to Episodes Two and Three!
Episode One - In Too Deep
I’ve never been one for zombies. To me, they’ve always seemed like an overdone, boring concept. But when Telltale Games released their first season of The Walking Dead, I was hooked. Here was a gripping and powerful story that contained zombies, but at its heart was about the relationships between the human survivors. The people trying to get by in this devastated world and the way they interacted was what drew me in – their clashes, their bonds of blood. You probably know the tale, but for Telltale it sparked huge accolades and attention that their previous releases hadn’t garnered. And it was fully deserved, though it marked the beginning of the company’s move away from traditional gaming to largely story-driven content.
Fast forward four years and we’ve had two full seasons and one interim episode in total. Now comes the release of The Walking Dead: Michonne, a standalone trilogy that focusses on the titular character as she battles with demons both external and internal. Fans of the comic book or TV series will know who Michonne is, and the game purportedly explains the character’s absence during a certain period of the comic. But you don’t need to have any familiarity with the source material. I certainly don’t and it didn’t diminish my experience at all.
For those similarly not in the loop, Michonne is an initially steely, closed-off woman who is not to be messed with. In this first episode, In Too Deep, we meet her in a superb introduction sequence, where her past and present combine into one grand horror. Flicking back and forth between the wilderness and a dark apartment, Michonne dispatches walkers with her katana while simultaneously being haunted by a memory of her children. You see them playing, but they’re always just out of reach before running away. Though we’re not told specifically what’s happened, there’s clearly deep regret in our lead protagonist’s soul.
This sequence is a thrilling, intriguing opening that is masterfully produced. At one point a door appears in the foliage, which the player has to open, and it’s a clever juxtaposition. Once through and inside, you’ll discover a campfire present in both the wilds and the apartment. With cinematic camera angles and tense music used to great effect, it’s a killer way to become acquainted with this world and character – I instantly wanted to know more about this woman's story.
All the while you’re re-killing the undead, which involves numerous Quick Time Events. When indicated, you’ll need to tap keys, follow the directional arrows and move the mouse (or use the corresponding gamepad controls) under duress. If you’ve played a modern Telltale game, you know what to expect. Personally, I don’t mind them, and I think they help move the action along, but if you’ve not been convinced by this type of gameplay in the past, your mind won’t be changed here. The prompts are blended into the world, which is a nice touch, like being angled against the scenery or splattered with blood. There’s at least one moment where you have to quickly tap keys, but it’s nothing too taxing.
And then comes the first player decision. Back in the present day, Michonne looks around and sees walkers continuing to slump around. With a single bullet left, she first points it towards the group. But then, on her knees and coated in blood, the gun barrel comes up against her head. Is this really a life worth living? As the timer quickly runs out, the choice is yours: lower the gun or pull the trigger?
For me, this was one of the most meaningful choices of the episode, the other coming at the end. And not because it actually impacts anything – it obviously can’t, apart from a brief dialogue exchange later on. It’s not spoiling anything to say that you’ll still play as Michonne regardless of which option you select, but it instantly puts you up against a tough, gritty call. It completes the scene perfectly and dramatically sums up her desperation: This is a character who has obviously been through so much and we’re meeting her at one of her lowest points.
Choice is a device used in all of Telltale’s games, but they’ve still yet to overcome its largely illusory nature. It seems all the more pointless in some of the decisions you make here, because as of now the majority of them have little-to-no impact on the story either way. Perhaps they’ll pay off later on, but even if they do, without the standard five-episode story arc to pace things out like the main seasons, it would have been nice to see some more immediate consequences.
That’s not to say your selections are entirely meaningless, just that the results aren’t far-reaching. In one scene you have to decide how to enter a ferry, but ultimately you end up in the same place after a few minutes anyway. Later, in an intense situation where you can lash out or keep your cool, the actual difference in consequence is so minute that it seems like a choice was inserted just for the sake of it. Perhaps there’s something to be said simply for having options to do to things differently, but in this twisted universe you’re often stuck with an unwanted singular outcome, which isn’t much fun for people who want to experience unique replays.Continued on the next page...