The Walking Dead: Michonne Episode 1: old dog, some new tricks

Reviews

Reviewed on: PC

It’s no secret I’m a fan of Telltale Games’ Walking Dead series. It’s dark, intense, makes you anxiously squirm with some of the decisions it throws at you and will deliver a swift gut-punch to your emotions at a moments notice. Now while many of us are anticipating The Walking Dead Season 3, given Season 2 left us in a very interesting situation, Michonne is a mini-series departure from the story of Clementine and more in line with the graphic novels in which the game is set.

Now, I’m going to review the series as a whole once it is all out, so think of this more as a review in progress. As such, they’ll be no score at the end but I’m going to put up a SPOILER WARNING here since I’ll discuss the plot of Michonne, but also parts of the Walking Dead graphic novels and therefore potentially the TV show (assuming they stick to the storyline of course).

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Anyone who saw this week’s episode of the TV show will know they like to change the storyline…

The first of three episodes, titled In Too Deep, begins with Michonne wandering the woodlands alone following her sudden departure from Rick’s group once the war against a group called The Saviours was won. Grappling with the guilt of losing her daughters at the beginning of the zombie outbreak, she is taken in by a group of sailors travelling the coast line in search of supplies. A few weeks into their journey, a sudden radio call brings Michonne and Pete, one of the crew, to an abandoned ferry where they encounter a brother and sister on the run from a larger group they just stole supplies from. Suddenly Michonne and Pete find themselves stuck in the middle of this feud as the angry group arrives and takes them all back to their on-water camp.

Do we lie to protect these thieves we only just met? Is this group as dangerous as we’ve been told? That’s essentially the issue at the heart of this first episode.

Loading up The Walking Dead: Michonne, it is clear that Telltale have taken a lot of what worked in their recent game Tales from the Borderlands. There is extensive use of more cinematic camera angles, slow motion shots and the button prompts in action scenes are more stylistically placed within the thick of things. The graphics quality of the Telltale engine has been revamped, albeit subtly, with texture detail being slightly higher, adding in motion blur as well as an overall improvement to character movement. Heck, they even give Michonne an amazing opening credits sequence, set to a rocking soundtrack and using a blend of game footage and comic panels to create an almost True Detective like intro sequence.

I mean, check it out:

Tell me you weren’t tapping you foot through that…

But not all the cinematic changes are welcome though, as Telltale have decided changing the aspect ratio to highlight certain moments was a good idea when really it is just jarring. Giant black bars would suddenly creep from the top and bottom of the screen to create a movie cinema aspect ratio before later, often during the same sequence, they would retract back to full screen again. There were no obvious reasons for them to do this, and as soon as I noticed it it just took me out of the whole thing. It was like The Dark Knight’s blu-ray release all over again.

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“I could be wrong, but I think the removal of the lower half of his body is what killed him…”

In terms of gameplay, this is a Telltale game through and through so we all know the drill. Point-n-click exploration, quick time event combat and branching dialogue trees where our decisions alter the course of events in subtle ways. By now you either love this system or hate it, and me being in the former camp I say “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

The only major problem I have with the game (so far of course, later episodes may fix this) is that the story just isn’t very gripping. While it is great to get a closer look at Michonne and her past, and she is played excellently by Orange is the New Black’s Samira Wiley, the characters around her just aren’t established enough for the situation to have actual stakes. Anyone who is up to date with the comics from at least a year ago will know that Michonne and Pete will survive this mini-series, meaning the only tension to be had is what will happen to the new supporting cast. And quite frankly they just aren’t strong enough in this episode, neither the new friends or enemies. There were hints to there being more to these people than we were seeing, but nothing substantial enough to make me agonise over what my actions will mean for their fate. And that is exactly what makes Telltale games so intense, so to be lacking it in this instance was a shame.

But having said that, and given the episode ends on the edge of chaos, I am very curious to see where this mini-series is going. Now that the exposition is out of the way, maybe Telltale can bring out the big guns in the next two episodes and really disturb me with my choices. Because they set the bar with how bleak I felt by the end of The Walking Dead Season 2, so I’m keen to see if they can do it again.

Pros: Classic Telltale gameplay, strong performance from lead actor, awesome opening credits, more stylistic improvements to the visual design

Cons: …almost too many stylistic changes, low stakes narrative, shallow supporting characters so far.

Tom will remember that you followed him on Twitter: @tomdheath. For more gaming news, follow LoadScreen on Twitter, @load_screen, and like on Facebook.

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