[Review] Telltale Games' The Walking Dead: Michonne Episode 1
After what seems like almost an eternity, the most recent installment of Telltale Games' The Walking Dead series staring Michonne -- a favorite character of both the TV show and comics -- released today. Being a rather large fan of the games, and The Walking Dead universe as a whole, there was little doubt in my mind that I'd be picking this game up. In fact, it's been marked on my calendar for a while now.
For those unfamiliar with them, the Telltale The Walking Dead games are a series of interactive story games based mostly on the mechanics of making some really tough choices. The choices you make can affect small things like... you know, who lives and dies, whether or not people will listen to you or try to kill you later on... tiny things like that. The games are based on the comic book universe rather than the TV show, and has featured some well known characters as cameos before. But this is the first time that any character from the comics has had their own Telltale game.
So, it's well worth a look to see how it will stand for fans of the games and comics alike.
It's all about the story. (Don't worry, this is spoiler free.)
Telltale Games are ALL about story. It's what they're most known for. They're pretty much the company who made episodic games a thing. Whether that's good or bad for gaming, people have yet to decide. I tend to think it's okay as long as they're doing it right; like Telltale generally does.
The Walking Dead games take place in the universe of the comics, with the first game starting as the apocalypse happened. By the time we reach TWD: Michonne, a good amount of time has passed. We catch up with the titular character during a period in the comics (between issues 126 and 139) where she's left behind Rick, the group, and her trusty katana to go for a kind of walkabout and deal with some issues from her past.
Of course, no one stays alone long in The Walking Dead. They either run into friendlies and team up for a while or they run into trouble. As with Lee and Clementine in the previous TWD games, Michonne does both. It takes no time for Michonne to run into trouble on a hunt for supplies, both of the human and walker kind.
While TWD: Michonne is part of the entire Telltale Game TWD universe, it is a standalone, so players will not have to worry about having played the previous games to understand what's going on. Having read the comics might help a bit though...
For those who have played the previous games, you will notice a pattern to the story -- lone hero hooks up with a group of mostly decent, well-meaning people. Group runs into trouble with another group of less decent people.
I should probably note here that the first episode of the game was only about an hour and a half long; so I haven't decided if the other group is all bad or just one or two people are. But this is the way the apocalypse goes.
One of the things that make Telltale Games work as well as they do is that they work closely with the creators of the IPs to make their games. In this case, the development team worked with The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman to make sure they've created a story that fits the universe -- and in this case, one very well known character.
It is perhaps the treatment of this character that will draw more critique than anything else. With the exception of Glenn Rhee and some time spent at the Greene farm (both before Rick would have encountered either) the Telltale games tend to keep away from pre-existing characters; and even these were not main characters in the games or around for long. So, fans likely didn't spend much time paying attention to them. However, in Michonne's case, she is the main character and players will spend all their time with her.
Since she's the primary character of the game, fans of the show and comic may find her a little uncharacteristically chatty. During a lot of the decision making moments in the game, I found myself inclined to have her say nothing; I'm so used to Michonne being more of a strong, silent, watcher type.
For those that may be fans of the show rather than the comics, the choice in voice actress may also seem a little odd at first. Telltale Games tapped Orange is the New Black actress Samira Wiley to voice the character and she comes off a bit less... wary... than Danai Gurira does when playing the character in the TV series. This may, however, be necessitated by the dialog-based gameplay.
Another thing that may catch TV fans off guard are some of the references to her backstory. Just roll with it and remember... comic book Michonne.
Pretty standard Telltale gameplay.
Gameplay wise, the game is pretty standard to what we've all come to expect from Telltale. It mostly revolves around dialog choices with QTE combat and activities scattered throughout. Due to the length of the episode, I can't really tell exactly how big of an impact choices will have this time around. I played the game through twice and changed some of my options, but they didn't seem to impact any major points of the story.
The QTE combat makes use of six keyboard keys: Q, W, E, A,S, and D. Q and E will pop up as little key looking icons while the other four will appear on the screen as arrows sweeping up, down, left, or right. They don't appear quickly enough to be impossible, so if you're paying attention, combat is easily doable.
That said, there are a few fights that involve a lot of opponents and you need to have your eye on the screen and your fingers on the keyboard, or you'll be lunch.
QTEs are also used for some out of combat actions, but I found that if you don't manage to hit the key in time for some reason, the game just does it for you anyway. (That only happens out of combat. In combat, if you miss, you'll be eaten right away.)
There are also a couple of mini-game type actions you can take. One involves trying to tune a short wave radio; potentially mildly annoying, but nothing major.
Definitely Telltale graphics.
I'm fairly certain we're all familiar with the Telltale Games' art style by now. It hasn't changed. Personally, I'm totally okay with this. They've found a style that works for the kind of storytelling they're doing. And honestly, I'd much rather these games that all take place in the same world keep the same feel.
Everything ran smoothly for me. I did notice one hitch in the game while playing but it cleared itself up quickly.
That soundtrack though...
Perhaps one of my favorite things about Telltale games is their choice in songs for opening and closing credits. TWD: Michonne opens with a solemn, bass-y, country piece titled "Gun in My Hand." When you get into the story, you'll see just how well it fits.
The same can be said for the "Wolf," which is featured in the closing credits. Performed by a group called First Aid Kit, the song could be used to describe the true personality we've all come to know from Michonne.
Before we end, there's one more thing I'd like to address. Players will notice a small annoyance in the menu system. For the most part it operates fine. But it may confuse some people a bit when they don't get an option to save their settings where they changed them. Don't worry. It is there. The settings save option pops up when you're attempting to leave the menu.
Telltale Games' The Walking Dead: Michonne is a solid TWD game and very in line with what we've come to expect from the company. It doesn't do anything new or innovative. It might be a tad short. However, it does offer fans of the series a look into one of their favorite characters.
As a complete standalone, I'm not 100% sure how it does. I'm personally inclined to believe that players more familiar with the comics will get more out of it. That said, what the game does, it does well. It gives The Walking Dead fans just a little bit more of the universe they love.