NOT DEAD YET
Telltale Games has most notably built its name on games like Tales from the Borderlands and The Wolf Among Us, amongst a few others more recently. One franchise Telltale has returned to more frequently than the rest is its Walking Dead series, and that’s no surprise considering the critical and commercial success the developer has found in that zombie-ridden-verse. So for some, the release of a mini-series set far away from the characters in Telltale’s established plot may seem like a cash-grab. When we notice that The Walking Dead: Michonne is only three episodes long, as opposed to the five to six episode seasons we’ve become accustomed to, brows start to furrow in dim expectation.
Well, I’m here to tell you to buy The Walking Dead: Michonne. Okay, don’t buy it if you aren’t a fan of The Walking Dead (specifically, the comic books) or aren’t yet tired of Telltale’s quicktime heavy, dialogue-driven formula. If you identify with the above and agree that Michonne is a criminally underdeveloped character in The Walking Dead comic book series, then yeah you’re going to want to pick this one up.
In the beginning, it’s a little unclear exactly when Michonne’s story is supposed to sit in the comics’ timeline. There are a couple of hints dropped for those with a keen eye (she doesn’t have her katana or her zombie pets), but the game never explicitly shows us that Michonne has already met with and subsequently left the Grimes group in Alexandria. I don’t know why inserting a little exposition would have hurt the first episode, but that slight confusion doesn’t mean the season doesn’t start with a bang… Or lack thereof depending on what you choose.
If you’ve read the comics, and I recommend that you do before playing The Walking Dead: Michonne, you know that Michonne is one of the series’ most iconic characters, but as time has gone on, the books’ attention on her has waned. Granted, there are some pretty important things going on with the other characters, but she is one of the series’ best and little has been done to delve deep into who she is. That’s where this game comes in.
Unlike most of Telltale’s previous games, Michonne has players take on the role of an established character. This can be a tricky way to develop a game that allows players so much choice over her actions. After all, as people who have gotten to know her over the years, we like to think we know Michonne a little. Telltale navigates these waters well, allowing players to become Michonne without creating situations that would force the character to act differently from what fans expect. It’s true that some dialogue choices sometimes feel a little out of place, but most of the decisions players face offer options that are in line with our understanding of Michonne. The character’s aforementioned underdevelopment in the comic book series also helps a bit, so there are still opportunities for her to surprise us.
Michonne also benefits from some great voice-acting. Although this may not have been a conscious decision, Michonne is shockingly not voiced by Danai Gurira (Michonne in The Walking Dead television series) and that’s a good thing. Maybe she was unavailable, uninterested, or perhaps Telltale just couldn’t afford her, although the latter seems a little unlikely with Telltale’s previous casting decisions (Lena Headey and Peter Dinklage in Game of Thrones). Still, choosing to cast Samira Wiley (Orange is the New Black) helps to set this game apart from the popular television series, forcing players to realize that this is a different Michonne.
In this mini-series, Michonne is a deeply troubled woman. Vets of the comic series can probably come up with a few reasons for why, but it seems that the loss of her two daughters continues to haunt her most of all. From the season’s start, it’s clear that Michonne is grappling with severe depression and thoughts of suicide. Throughout the game, she struggles to remain on this side of sanity. For Telltale, this is a welcome shift in tone and attention to issues that plague society even when it’s not terrorized by the ravenous undead. For video games, it’s one more title that shows this medium is far from finished growing.
I just wish that I could say that Telltale innovates in gameplay as well. Anyone who plays Telltale games knows to expect the formula. To some degree, it’s a comforting prospect, but mostly it just feels overused at this point. Game performance is usually a low point for these games, but this one does show that its developer is learning from past mistakes. The art style that was clever in The Walking Dead: Season 1 is now familiar. It doesn’t hinder the overall experience, but it’s one more example that proves these games could look a little nicer.
What is worth noting is how the game’s animations are slightly improved from previous games. Action feels more fluid, sometimes intentionally slowing to give players the chance to savor an attack’s results, and quicktime icons float in the air in three dimensions (ooooh… aahhh…). It’s enough where this title looks stylistically different from other Telltale games, and it avoids feeling like a one-off distraction. It feels like a true series, albeit a little shorter than the rest of Telltale’s library. With the improved animation and performance, Michonne’s combat scenes are effective at portraying her as a skilled warrior; I just wish Michonne were swinging a katana around rather than a machete. For continuity’s sake, I get it, but if I’m going to be Michonne, let me be Michonne.
Of course, as is the case in every Telltale game, there are a plethora of morally ambiguous decisions. Telltale has made an art out of allowing players to feel like their choices matter just to land everyone at the same climactic conclusion. Again, not much has changed here. However, that doesn’t mean these decisions don’t carry some significant weight. Many are simple dialogue choices that hardly affect the way the plot plays, but there are a few that will really stand out to players as opportunities to paint Michonne with a little more detail. One decision in particular is probably the most difficult I’ve ever had to make in Telltale Games’ history.
The Verdict: 8.2 out of 10
Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead: Michonne is short, but well worth the $15.00 asking price for anyone who finds themselves fans of The Walking Dead comic book series. While it doesn’t stray far from Telltale’s previous endeavors, there are some new stylistic choices that the developer’s fans will notice and appreciate. The game’s alternative subject matter is almost enough for me to suggest this title to a non-fan of The Walking Dead.
More than anything else, this game gives us a much deeper understanding of what it’s like to see the world through Michonne’s eyes. She is a strong, tortured woman. It’s a refreshing step to see her in a new medium and in a new light.
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Jordan Loeffler is Editor in Chief for MONG who drives a 2006 Pontiac Vibe with Minnesota license plates even though he lives in Portland, OR. She’s seafoam green, and she drives like a wave. You can also follow him on IGN and on Twitter.