We all know the Telltale Games formula at this point. We know that when we start up one of their series we’re going to play an adventure game where people wear their emotions on their sleeves, where things in the world are falling apart, and where your actions (or inactions) will cause people to die. You know to expect to make some awful Sophie's Choice-esque decisions and try and ignore the sometimes stilted animation along the way because the characters are so damn compelling. You will remember this, because your choices matter in this game.
While we can never forget Sam and Max or Tales from Monkey Island (right, guys?), The Walking Dead was what really kicked things off for the studio, shocking people with an emotional, gripping story that saw you as a broken man finally finding someone to look out for, and a reason for being. Unless, of course, you play it as a complete prick. The choice is yours, you monster!
That led to tons of acclaimed episodic games that have all been great in their own ways, but here we are now at their third zombie game, Telltale’s first ever mini-series. The Walking Dead: Michonne is a three episode season focusing on what's arguably the fan favorite character. Note that this is the Michonne of the comic book series, not the show, which is a vastly different character, and thus this game takes place between issues issues #126 and #139 of the comic, when Michonne left Rick and Ezekiel (and eventually returned.)
At the start of In Too Deep, the first episode, we find her in a bad place. She’s off on her own and doing what she does best- dispatching zombies. But in the milliseconds between deaths she pants and stares off, covered in blood and exhausted, and she thinks of her children. She may not show much on the outside but we always knew this was a haunted character, and the abandonment of her children hasn’t left her, even with all her awful experiences with Rick and crew.
Thankfully for her she meets up with a captain of a ship, Pete, who has taken her under his wing after seeing her at her lowest point. Pete’s a good man with a solid crew, even if they don’t really share his beliefs. When Pete hears a distress call over the shortwave radio and his people want to ignore it, he’s upset. “If we don’t start caring about the people that are out there,” he yells, “we’re no better than the damn walkers!”
Of course, as we enlightened zombie fans know, it’s never smart to be a believer in the innate goodness of humanity when the dead have risen. That generally only gets you bitten and/or shot.
After the ship suffers an accident Pete and Michonne set off in a rowboat to scavenge parts from a nearby ferry and end up meeting up with a new crew of people and, well, the usual happens. It seems that everyone in the zombie apocalypse is afraid and groups are ruled by an iron-fisted warlord, and from all appearances that’s just what happens here. Pete and Michonne end up captured. Things get tense. People die.
So while the game might not be a continuation of poor little Clementine’s story from the first two Walking Dead seasons, Michonne feels like a natural progression. We watched Clem grow up in the first season and set off on her own in the second, choosing whether to believe in people or toughen up and abandon her humanity. Here, with Michonne, we see what happens to a woman who has (almost) completely adapted to this new world. `
With Michonne as the lead you better believe many more zombie brains are spilled, and the game isn’t even playing for a minute before you’re slashing apart gray matter. That of course means lots and lots of QTEs, but they’re pretty satisfying ones, as we all know Michonne is basically a samurai. The camera slows down many a time to let the audience appreciate this, and it’s definitely the only Telltale game that lets you feel like a verifiable badass just for tapping on the Q key on your keyboard. Course, the zombies are just the window dressing. We all know that they just overshadow what’s really going on, and the real monsters are the humans. After all, zombies only pick off a person or two during a movie or game until the very end chowdown sequence, right? It’s the people that kill everyone non-stop and do stupid things that put others in danger.
So the Telltale formula is familiar, the zombie formula is tired - the question here becomes how many more times can we play through similar situations before getting sick of it? Telltale has been remarkably strong at fighting off stagnation through the use of strong and memorable characters, as the absolutely brilliant Tales from the Borderlands has shown us. Here we have one of the absolute strongest and most tortured characters to explore and it's mostly a success in this short time we have with it. Some of the new characters feel like tired tropes but others feel new and exciting enough to make you want to learn more about them… if they survive to the end, that is.
As usual your choices matter but generally only in how you get there - I played through the game twice and got roughly the same outcome, although what happens can be vastly different, and can leave Michonne a much more broken individual. And it’s all about the journey, isn’t it?
For fans of the comic book or character, pardon the pun, this is a no-brainer. The next two episodes will be coming shortly - let’s hope they do the usual great job of sticking the landing.
The Walking Dead: Michonne - A Telltale Miniseries Episode 1 - 'In Too Deep' (yep, that's the full title) hits PC/Mac/PS3/PS4/Xbox 360/Xbox One today, with iOS and Android versions hitting shortly. A full miniseries pass costs $14.99.