Telltale's The Walking Dead was a revelation when it first came out in 2012. It brought the story-driven episodic adventure to new heights, focusing more on player choice and decisions as opposed to puzzle-solving as the core mechanic. A second season launched, perhaps not with the same impact as the first, but nonetheless great, and now here we are reviewing the first episode of The Walking Dead: Michonne. A three episode mini-series that fills the narrative gap when Michonne left Rick's group in the comic between issues #126-139.
While Telltale have touched on some of the key characters in the comic in the past, they've never let you take control of one and Michonne is a brilliant choice. She has a lot of range from being very compassionate to a rather cold-hearted business-like attitude when need be, and so the player can play her as he or she sees fit depending on the situation.
While Telltale are staying true to their formula there are some minor changes here and there. Most notably the presentation is stellar, perhaps taking some inspiration from the more recent Tales from the Borderlands, albeit without any of the comedy. This indeed a dark story, and Michonne's own past will come back to haunt her multiple times as she struggles to remain sane through her ordeals. It is obvious that when things get bleak Michonne struggles to separate the present from her memories and this is something we get to experience first hand.
Early on in the episode Michonne joins with a group of survivors who are travelling the coast on a ship called The Companion. Out of the group, the captain (who is called Pete) seems the one who has kept his optimism and humanity most intact. Pete and Michonne set out in search of supplies, spare parts and possibly to save others in distress on a ferry and that lands them in trouble... as is typically the case in The Walking Dead. Things just don't stay peachy for long.
We're going to stop there as exploring the story and shaping your own narrative is what is most enjoyable in The Walking Dead, but needless to say your choices will have dire consequences. As you often find, the people who survived tend to lie in order to make themselves look better. Rick's questions "How many walkers have you killed?", "How many people have you killed?" and "Why?" would no doubt have been useful to ask all the people Michonne comes across, but whether she's at gunpoint or has her hands tied behind her back there just doesn't seem to be a good time to get to know them and ask these questions. She's forced to rely on her instinct, and she's forced to act quickly. In fact, almost all of the choices and decisions you make her are timed and it is also neat that you can keep quiet at times if you feel that it's your best choice (it usually doesn't help your case though).
This episode "In Too Deep" clocked in just over two hours of playtime, your average Telltale episode in other words, but it was also fairly linear without much to explore as it was very cinematic and tightly controlled with just a couple small areas that you could explore at your own leisure. It is a format that fits the narrative and the franchise, but if you're the kind of player who enjoys making idle conversation and exploring side content, then you won't find much of that sort of thing here.
We noted the great presentation, and that's not just the visuals (the facial work here is some of the best by Telltale to date), cinematic camera angles, voice and music, but even the menus are rather neat. Our only gripe on the technical side of things is that the loading times (played on PC) are a bit longer than what we feel is warranted. The load times should be minimal and they're not. As usual you can compare your decisions to other players and you'll be privy to a preview of the next episode at the end.
The Walking Dead: Michonne is off to a strong start. Seeing as it's a mini-series the pacing is a bit different than what you'd normally see and you're thrown in with what we expect will be your main group of characters rather quickly, and the villains of the story are also established, or perhaps they're not villains. We suspect there will be twists and turns ahead. But let's just stop right there, we're getting ahead of ourselves and we promised we wouldn't do that.
Samira Wiley does a great job voicing Michonne here, and for those who are fans of the TV series she sounds close enough to Danai Gurira's Michonne that it won't be too confusing or off-putting. And perhaps Michonne is the best reason for playing this mini-series - she's quite simply a great character - and while there's not much new to be found in the formula, the fact that she's a character we already know and like means no time is wasted getting to know her. It's a great thing that Telltale has promised to drop the next two remaining episodes in March and April respectively as we cannot wait to see how this story ends.
Episode Score: 8
Episode 2: Give No Shelter
The second episode of Michonne's ordeal slash mini-series sees her escaping captivity with a young girl in tow, and it is this girl and her family that takes centre stage in the episode, along with Michonne's continued hallucinations where she keeps seeing her children.
As you're running, trying to escape both humans and walkers for much of the episode, it comes across as fairly linear. Plenty of QTEs and a few dialogue options, that is until you reach the young girl's family house and things get a bit more psychological, and a lot darker.
The pace here is kept up to the same level of intensity as the first episode, perhaps even more so. And this makes the whole thing come across as a little undercooked. And if the first episode was short by Telltale standards, this one is even shorter. Just over an hour or so of playtime.
Much of what gave weight to the original two seasons of The Walking Dead was that you grew to like the characters, there was time to pause and think about them and their lives. Here things move a little too quickly, and you're faced with mourning one loss after another. The setup is great, and the tragedy of what happens to the family and how it mirrors Michonne's own is truly a brilliant concept that makes for some tough choices, especially when it comes to dialogue.
The final scene of the episode is perhaps one of the most gruelling we've ever encountered, and it's one of the rare moments where we found ourselves not thinking about the consequences of our actions and how it would affect the rest of the play-through, but rather our emotions got the better of us. But if that moment was a high, then it was balanced out by the customary field medicine mini-game, and the sense that it felt like we really only played half an episode.
Episode Score: 6
Episode 3: What We Deserve
After a short and somewhat underwhelming second episode the third is off to a great start as you're faced with the consequences of some of your decisions early on. There is some added context and the pacing here is much better as you're given one or two breathers during what is an action-packed episode. Once again it's shorter than most Telltale episodes we've played, not quite as short as the middle act, but under an hour and a half. It's something worth noting, as the full season is less than five hours long, which is significantly shorter than what you'd expect from three episodes of a Telltale series.
There are some great emotional pay-offs here, and while the narrative is fairly linear throughout, your decisions certainly shape the way in which events unfold (we tried a couple of different choices). The title of the episode is What We Deserve, and at the end of it we're left wondering whether we actually got what we deserved, and whether those who died deserved to. Some certainly didn't. Others likely deserved to have died sooner.
There were some strong characters in the game, sadly most of them weren't fleshed out to the degree they could have been. There is a flashback early in the final chapter with Oak on the ship where he and Michonne talk for a bit, and while it was a nice break, it was obviously a setup for a decision you'd have to make or an action that would have consequences later. Of course, the idea here is that this is only an intermission in Michonne's quest, where she was separated from Rick and his group, and perhaps this explains why we're not invited to grow more attached to the set of characters.
Episode Score: 7
As a whole, this mini-series is a weird experiment and it worked for the most part. If you're looking for a Telltale experience with rich narrative and emotions, but less exploration and a higher pacing, this may be something for you. Ultimately, for us, it didn't have the same impact as the first two seasons and that is in spite of the fact that we really like Michonne and enjoyed being able to scuplt her persona, softening some of her edges compared to her normal self. There are some great themes and concepts explored here, and once again The Walking Dead excels at telling stories where good people do bad things, and how that changes them, and how having something bad happen can change you deeply.