Some fans groaned when they heard that Telltale’s next Walking Dead release was a side story rather than a continuation of Clementine’s tortured adventure, but soon they shuffled away to complain about something else gaming-related. While capping off Clem’s tale would be preferable, my interest piqued when I heard they were featuring one of Kirkman’s most popular characters: Michonne, whose past is clouded in mystery to TV viewers and comic book readers alike. Episode 1 offers small insight into her past, but seems primarily embedded in the comic book lore.
I say the emphasis is on the comic book because of the Michonne’s character artwork and the snippets of comic book panels throughout the game. Also, the description for the game on Steam indicates when in the comic book series this story takes place. Prospective players needn’t worry, however, as the episode can be enjoyed in isolation of any background. Although knowing Michonne as a character will likely heighten the enjoyment, Telltale does a fine job introducing her without expecting anything of the player.
Episode 1 begins in medias res as Michonne scours an arid forest. What could have been an action packed introduction instead takes the form of obligatory quick-time-events that serve as nuisances. At this point, fans of the series know what it means to press an arrow when instructed or to slam on Q before pressing E. If Telltale is to preserve the fanbase they’ve earned, they must innovate, and Episode 1 offers little in that capacity. One part of the episode demanded a specific key combination, which presented little more than a lazy modification to the tired formula. Oh, and don’t worry: Telltale brought back their timer bars that take players out of the experience by forcing immediate choices mid-dialogue.
After the bladed foray of whack-a-mole, Michonne finds a group of faceless nobodies who present as simple archetypes – so far. The story’s MacGuffin is yet another uninspired cliche, which leads to a predictable conclusion. Although the tropes remain stagnant, the dialogue and choices Michonne makes in interactions add necessary flavor. The writers did a serviceable job characterizing Michonne as she’s been developed in Kirkman’s work. On a couple of occasions, I had the sneaking suspicion that Telltale might be trying to subvert their tropes — which could catch fans off-guard depending on the delivery — but this has not yet been revealed. They have revealed a novel storytelling mechanic and gameplay device that raised an eyebrow, but so far it’s only whet my palate – we’ll see where they go with it.
The graphics seem mildly improved over previous Telltale installments, though this could be my imagination. Voice actors do their best to add depth to flat characters. Blade slices and squishy dead bodies will evoke internal responses, though the lack of music is noted yet again. Controls present some issues when looking around environments and trying to select commands, but these are minor annoyances that don’t substantively impact gameplay. I had difficulty closing the game and loading my cloud save, which forced me to start all the way from the beginning halfway through the episode, but my hope is that this is remedied upon its official release.
This three-episode series opens with a one-and-a-half hour installment at $15. I simply can’t recommend a purchase right now. Lacking substance and heart, I feel as if Telltale is going through the motions while cashing in on previous successes and Michonne’s popularity. Add old mechanics that few praise, and one has to wonder if the studio is reacting to input from fans. The series could take off in the next two episodes, but for right now, would-be buyers should keep their wallets sheathed.