What becomes of a person who loses their humanity?
That caring and compassion towards others – the willingness to spend time getting to know both the good and the bad within them... To truly understand. What happens when you make a game based on a story that's all about the loss of that humanity? What happens when the product also loses that humanity? Perhaps that seems like a strange way of thinking. It's what ran through my head as i tried to collect my thoughts for this.
You see, telltale has developed a reputation for creating what are essentially interactive stories, aptly akin to their own name. Many people have regarded their work as being exceptional. It has given ample opportunity to become thoroughly attached to characters and all their troubles, even as they were to be killed off. At times, that was the point – getting you attached to characters, to devastate you with their death. The first season of telltale's 'the walking dead' did this extremely well. Clementine and lee in particular really grew on a lot of people. There was much crying – very public crying – when lee died. It seemed to be a perfectly executed death sequence to not just tug, but yank on the heart strings of their target audience, at full force.
With all the practice they've had since then, it seems they may have grown tired of telling intimate stories of characters, at least from the feel of this first episode of 'michonne'. The story this time around is based on the character from the comics, and is stated to be based on a time period in which she was missing from a few issues – explaining what she was up to during that time. Based on that, i suppose it might be difficult to spend much time on characters for a plot that has to fit neatly between installments of a pre-existing storyline. Still, i find this change of style unfortunate.
Whereas previously you would be given ample time to have conversations with characters and get to know them, this episode was focused very heavily on quick time events (qtes) and timed conversations, forcing you into hastily making a string of what are supposed to be difficult decisions. Oddly enough, unless you get yourself killed, it doesn't seem to make any significant difference – essentially the same events play out regardless.
Some of your decisions are even flatly disregarded if they don't go with what was planned.
Without much time to breathe or interact with anything between these events, everything starts to bubble off into background noise. While running through qtes, i found i didn't really care much whether i succeeded or not. This actually made them much easier, since i was relaxed about it. I just kept pressing the buttons as they came up, waiting for the sequence to end. I only ever missed once, and it didn't affect the outcome. This certainly didn't help keep me interested in combat, so i wonder why they made such long strings of these.
Conversations, especially with hostile characters, were often frustrating at best. Not frustrating because of difficulty, but more because many conversation choices are far from ideal. More than half the time i chose to remain silent because none of my options jibed with how i would actually want to respond. Other times i chose not to respond because i was thrown into making a choice that i had no reason to care about yet. Do i try to help the person who just attacked me solely because they might actually be a good person in the end? I sure didn't feel like i needed to, not after they were ready to kill me for no reason. I stayed silent and let them continue on with the conversation on their own.
But perhaps the worst point in these 'choices' was the moment where i was given the option to go after this person who had been ready to kill me, or let them go.
I chose to let them go, because i didn't feel it was worth the effort.
I didn't feel like getting tangled up in their mess. For some reason, it still sent michonne running after them, to make it look like i was with them. Why? Why even give players the option not to pursue if you're going to go against what they choose?
The characters were all well-acted, though. Voices all had appropriate emotion, and were fairly believable, even if they didn't stand out as exceptional performances. The voice actor for one character threw me off a little – randall, played by derek philips, the voice of mr jefferson from life is strange. I keep hearing his voice everywhere now. If you play this episode, you may recognize him, and while he's a good voice actor i feel like he might sound just a little 'young' for this particular character. Seemed like he should have sounded a bit more ragged, but still, not bad by any measure.
Meanwhile, animations are a little stiff, as has been characteristic of telltale titles. They work, showing whatever expression they're trying to portray, but they look like they were manually animated in a 3d modeling program, rather than motion captured. They're much more linear than a normal person's movements. Texture work, on the other hand, is amazing as always. Textures have got to be telltale's specialty – the 3d models are flat and lifeless as can be in a modern release, but those textures make them look like they have far more definition and depth. They're still the signature comic-book look, and done beautifully. If only the animations could be brought up to the same level as the textures...
Generally speaking, the look and sound is superb.
They know what they're doing in that regard. That is their strong suit. However, their storytelling skills seemed to peak with the walking dead season one, and the wolf among us. Since those titles came out, it has felt like they're slowly slipping back. There's a strong focus on having tense moments as often as possible now – nearly everything is timed, nearly everything has consequences, and nearly nothing takes time for deeper character development. What makes a character's fate have real impact is spending time with them and developing a bond. But here, we're rushed from one tense moment to another, with a brief interlude early on, ending the game after only an hour and a half.
In the end, Michonne Episode 1 feels too short, too shallow, and too eager to put pressure on the player. I think it would have benefited from a bit of extra downtime to let me get a feel for things, and get close to the characters. After all, i don't play something that's supposed to be all about a story, only to have it skip over most of the depth in favor of qtes and timed conversations. Give me time to think about what i want to do, some time to feel something. Otherwise, i'd say this is a step back from what previous titles had going for them. I know it's a miniseries, but it shouldn't be 'mini' because it gets rid of the meaningful parts. I hope the other two episodes will get more personal.