The Walking Dead: Michonne is a frustrating game, not because it’s hard or it’s bad, but because it comes so close to being as good as Season One, but has too many shortcomings to be called great.
The Walking Dead: Season One is one of my favourite games of all time, so one could argue I hold a certain level of bias towards Telltale Games and their work. However, I am of the belief they have never managed to reach the emotional or artistic heights of their most successful game. The Wolf Among Us came close, The Walking Dead: Season Two missed that additional interactivity the first game did so well, Tales From The Borderlands is the next best from Telltale, but since that game was more comedy-centric, I didn’t expect to care too deeply about the characters. With The Walking Dead: A New Frontier coming out very soon, I finished this up to get back in the mood and, after finishing the third episode, I can at least be cautiously optimistic, which at this point is a huge deal.
The first two of the three episodes in this package are not great, plain and simple. Poor pacing, cliched storylines and technical issues galore create a rushed, thoughtless cash-grab of a game, if anything. The writing wasn’t too great either, which was a huge disappointment. This is especially saddening from a Telltale game, where writing has always been a strong point. The water textures weren’t great either, which was a constant distraction, fighting sequences always felt sluggish and slow and to top it all off, the runtime of both episodes was abnormally short. For the scope of the story they were trying to tell, the runtime had to be longer. Its short length meant characters weren’t fleshed out enough to evoke any empathy or connection.
Naturally, I went into the final episode rather disheartened and bitter. I desperately wanted this to be great but there was certain recurring aspects of the two prior that prevented that kind of hope. And yet, against all odds, this may have been one of the best episodes from the Walking Dead games, or any of Telltale’s games for that matter, that I’ve played since the finale of The Walking Dead’s first season.
For the first time in a while, a Telltale had optional dialogue that actually developed the characters as opposed to having them spout something predictable and therefore pointless. In a very short space of time, the player, if they so wish, is allowed to learn more about the characters they are preparing to fight to defend. Thus, we begin to empathise with each individual without the development sounding forced. As these characters are under severe pressure, with their lives threatened, they are naturally more open to Michonne, a person they barely know. As a result, they are each given distinguishable traits and arcs in a very short space of time, but these flow beautifully within the dialogue to assure it doesn’t sound forced, and remains believable.
The story and the drama the characters are facing in this episode is more fitting for its length, as opposed to the plot being briskly shuffled along in order to get it finished. The pacing is fantastic, and it never drags or goes too fast, which was incredibly refreshing when compared to the episodes this follows. The plot feels broad, yet concise, and while there wasn’t many big surprises to be found, it still remains an engaging and entertaining narrative.
However, there are issues which prevent Episode Three from being great. Some of the choices definitely felt meaningless, whilst some were non-existent. In certain scenarios, there would be obvious choices that the player should be able to make, but they are forced to play it the way the game wants, as opposed to how they wish it. This sounds petty, and I suppose to some it is, but there were at least two big occasions which called for more variety in choice, but they are unable to veer off and take the beaten track instead. This is a shame, since the writing does pick up and the game makes the “bad guys” more human and understandable, and the actions of our protagonists more grey and ambiguous in morality. Obviously, the technical issues are still noticeable, but they become less obvious once the plot becomes more engaging.
One big problem that spans the entire series is Michonne’s hallucinations of her past, particularly her daughters. While it is important to give Michonne some sort of motivation and arc, the potentially interesting backstory is muted by the cheesy jumpscare sound effects and horror-esque take on flashbacks. This in-your-face approach only serves to kill the pacing and patrionise the player, which could have been easily solved by simply being more subtle about it.
The Walking Dead: Michonne resembles a brilliant, yet lazy, child – you know they are capable of revolutionary things, but they’re just not quite able to reach those staggering heights and get that A grade they have worked so hard for. If you have a spare £11 lying around and are looking for something fun to pass the time, this will certainly suffice. Don’t expect anything immensely hard-hitting like the first season, but if you power valiantly through the sewage pipe that is the first two episodes, you might just find a hidden gem of a finale at the end of the tunnel.