Platforms: PC (reviewed), Mac, PS3, PS4, Ps Vita, Xbox 360, Xbox One, iOS, Android, Kindle Fire
The Walking Dead is arguably the game that catapulted Telltale into the adventure game spotlight. It defined the genre of choice-based adventures by forcing players to make tough decisions that could very well lead to their death. It’s a profoundly disempowering experience that has served us well through two seasons of this award-winning zombie franchise.
But Telltale’s latest release, The Walking Dead: Michonne, is a whole different animal, a caged animal ready to kill as one of the game’s characters put it. It comes at the concept of zombie media from another angle, asking “what are the burdens of the people who are strong enough to survive?”
Enter the game’s titular character Michonne. If you haven’t been following the graphic novels or TV show, Michonne is the closest thing The Walking Dead has to a badass anime samurai. She kills walkers efficiently, usually with melee weapons instead of guns. She travels the apocalyptic world, never staying in the same place long and never letting false promises of security get in her way. She never gives in to threats and faces adversity head on.
She’s obviously a fan favorite.
Too Good For This Apocalypse
Seasons 1 and 2 were about how ill-equipped Lee and Clementine were to handle the zombie apocalypse, stumbling around from safe haven to safe haven, hoping to find some peace in a world gone mad. But since Michonne handles the zombie apocalypse quite well, putting her in the same situation would break character. Thus, The Walking Dead: Michonne doesn’t focus on the danger zombies pose to Michonne, but rather the danger Michonne poses to others.
Taking place between The Walking Dead comic issues #126 and #139, the story picks up after Michonne leaves Rick Grimes and the rest of the group and ends up on a house boat (another fan favorite method of zombie survival). She gets a call on a radio for help and while she seems skeptical, her boat mates decide to check it out and she tags along. She later finds a brother and sister pair of survivors as well as a whole floating colony which, predictably, is run my morally unscrupulous characters. You can pretty much assume what happens from here if you have ever seen a piece of zombie media in your life.
Unlike previous seasons of The Walking Dead, you never feel disempowered while controlling Michonne. She’s the type of person who, when her arms and legs are bound, headbutts someone to death. You’re never afraid your choices are going cause Michonne’s death, but the people around you are far less strong, barely able to hold a gun right and still soft to the world. Anger the wrong person and it’s not Michonne who will get shot, but one of her friends or allies. This is the key emotional choice that is presented to you through The Walking Dead: Michonne. As a player and possible Walking Dead fan, you want Michonne to go into every situation blades swinging, but doing so is bound to get someone hurt. You end up walking this dangerous line between intimidation and feigned helplessness exclusively for the sake and safety of others.
A Shambling Pace
You are going to see the same old tried and true Telltale gameplay here. It’s a point and click affair, guiding Michonne with your mouse pointer or analog stick and clicking on objects until you get something to happen. Once again this is an “adventure” game in title only, as the usual trappings of puzzles and inventory management, are minimalized in favor of dialogue. Once again, the real draw of this game is seeing how your choices affect the story, and most of these choices will be made through explicit dialogue options or through the success and failure of quick time events.
And this game loves its quick time events! There at least three major quick time event sequences to deal with and many smaller button prompts scattered throughout the game. Note, that The Walking Dead: Michonne Episode 1 was shorter than most Telltale episodes, only about an hour long, so it’s a bit disappointing that you spend so much time playing the “press X to not die” game. Heck, the game even starts with a totally unprompted quick-time event which, I kid you not, turns out to be just a dream.
This affects the game’s pacing in some pretty harsh ways. You’ll feel like you are walking around doing nothing, and then all hell breaks loose out of nowhere. This could make otherwise tense situations seem farfetched. For example, there is one scene where you walk into a room and get held up at gunpoint, and just as you talk down your would-be shooter, a larger group of people with larger guns walk in to hold both you and your previous enemy at larger gunpoint. They swear that you and your previous assailant are allies but anyone with common sense could tell that we were at each other’s throats just a second ago.
Improved But Slowly Decomposing
There isn’t much else to say about The Walking Dead: Michonne. The U.I. has seen some improvements, becoming more dynamic like Tales from the Borderlands and Game of Thrones before it. Subtitles and dialogue choices are crisper and easier to read. Quick time events pop up as huge colorful buttons and arrows, making it clear what you have to do, and always popping up exactly where your eyes are looking. Unfortunately, the “success” graphic is a red blood splatter and the “failure” graphic is a full red overlay so it’s hard to tell if you actually succeeded in a quick time event, unless Michonne gets eaten by a zombie or something.
Camera controls have been tightened up and there are far fewer graphical issues than there were in previous Walking Dead games. But there are still odd points of instability that pull you out of the experience. Quick time events seemed to be less responsive than they were before, requiring an inordinate amount of button mashing and seeming to ignore stick inputs at random times. The game crashed twice over the course of my playthrough, exiting to Steam for no good reason. These aren’t the worst bugs in a Telltale release, but they tend to strike at the most inopportune times, usually during tense story moments.
While the graphics of the game do their job, it’s obvious that they are starting to become outdated. The PC, Xbox One, and PS4 versions don’t look any better than the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions, which is disappointing now that we have gotten used to high resolution high framerate graphics. This is extra important to cinematic games like this, where graphics aid in storytelling. It just feels as if something has been given up for the sake of massive cross platform support, and while it’s cool that you can play this on your iPhone, I’d gladly give that up to see Telltale experiment with some more complex graphical options.
It’s Not Dead Yet
But despite these flaws the story of The Walking Dead: Michonne is enough to keep it alive. While you never feel like you are Michonne, in the way you stepped into the shoes of Lee and Clementine in seasons 1 and 2, you are immediately invested in seeing Michonne survive. You know she is going to survive, because that’s just who Michonne is. The game, and more specifically your role as a player, is about how she is going to survive. Will she seek survival at the expense of everyone around her, or will she try to protect people weaker than herself? That’s up to you to decide, and it’s a deeply compelling decision.