Telltale Games have established themselves as a very particular niche in the industry in the last five years, creating licensed story-driven point and click titles. The company has been creating these titles from as early as 2005, but the team didn’t truly get their big break until the release of The Walking Dead Season One in 2012. The game was revolutionary with its stream-lined puzzle design and heavy focus on character interactions and choices. Four years later, we received the 400 Days DLC and Season Two, and now we have a new mini-series set around the popular comic and TV character, Michonne. This series is set to be a three-part story featuring a new cast, new locations and new main character, Michonne. The game will be focusing on both Michonne’s past and her separation from Rick’s group, delving into her character and giving players plenty of tough new choices.
I am going to be honest with you, I have no knowledge of Michonne as a character. The only interest I have had with The Walking Dead universe has been firmly cemented in the games, with everything else about the franchise I know through cultural osmosis. This being said, Michonne did interest me right off the bat, with one of the better introduction sequences in Telltale’s history. The game opens on a surreal dream/action sequence, flashing from Michonne’s troubled past to future day, where she is slashing through zombies left and right. From here, the game sets up Michonne’s life on the sea, with a sailing crew as her new group, attempting to find lost crew members and stay alive, while attempting to investigate a radio distress signal. The use of the ocean is a new take on the usual The Walking Dead survival formula, offering plenty of interesting problems for the survivors. Apparently walkers are remarkably good at trudging through deep water.
One crowning achievement that The Walking Dead Season One pulled off was its characterisation. The group of survivors was expertly crafted. Though many may argue that cast quality has dropped since then, with many disliking the Season Two cast, I would argue that they were far more interesting than this present set of characters. Michonne, played by Samira Wiley (Orange is the New Black), is a tough, comforting and silent character, with a surprisingly good performance in any emotionally taxing moment.
While Michonne is a good main character, the game does not do a good job of setting up most of the side characters, many times only showing them in a single scene and never mentioning them again. For example, at the beginning of the episode, three sailor friends are introduced, and then never seen again after leaving the ship. They are mentioned later and the game acts like the player should care about them, but without any actual characterisation or depth, you don’t. The other characters worth discussing are Pete and Sam. Pete is Michonne’s only real friend throughout the episode, and while he is a welcome comedic element, he bears too strong a resemblance to Lee from the original series. Sam, on the other hand, is introduced half way through the episode and is set up to be somewhat of a little sister for Michonne, but the issue with her is that the narrative pushes you to instantly feel sorry for her and want to protect her, yet so far there’s been no sequence to really effectively warrant it. She also reminds me far too much of Max from Life is Strange, right down to her character design.
A big element to The Walking Dead: Michonne‘s choices are trust and the truth. Telling the truth won’t always work as you want it to, as sometimes the truth may not sound right to a new character. Lies act as truth, character allegiances can change in an instant and there’s a general feeling of a far more complicated story underpinning everything. You are pushed into picking sides very early on without a whole lot of set up or explanation, which, while some may find this fun and frantic, I found it frustrating and poorly explained.
Telltale seems to have learned a lot through their break from their The Walking Dead series with Game of Thrones and Tales of the Borderlands, as combat is now better than ever. New introductions to these sequences are black borders for a more cinematic flare, with slow downs for impact and stylistic camera angles. QTE prompts are also given some new life with the inclusion of new three-button sequences, prompting you to push three buttons in a row, mimicking a combo. These new changes to combat mix things up surprisingly well and add a good amount of depth, though fighting in close quarters still results in some pretty rough animations and glitches.
Visually, The Walking Dead: Michonne looks about exactly what you would come to expect from a Telltale game at this point. A comic book-style, with jagged animations and lacking an overall quality of polish. The Telltale engine is really showing its age with this one, as small things like boat animations or slashing a zombie’s neck all look a little clunky. There are attempts to change up the stylistic elements we know so well, with the introduction of more scene-building transitional shots and occasional first person segments, but aesthetically it is still just more of the same The Walking Dead world. In terms of a soundtrack, nothing really stands out other than the Tarantino-style opening credits set to Dorothy‘s ‘Gun In My Hand’ and the ending credits song, First Aid Kit‘s ‘Wolf’.
The main issue for me with The Walking Dead: Michonne may end up being its length, as my other critiques have always been present in the The Walking Dead series, but they had time to flesh characters out more past one episode. This time around, we have three episodes but, with a fairly lukewarm ending that really didn’t seem to add any impact at all, I am worried that this series might drown in Telltale’s own existing formulaic problems.
The Walking Dead: Michonne is available on PS4, Xbox One, PC, Xbox 360, PS3, iOS and Android.