Saturday, 09 April 2016 00:00

The Walking Dead: Michonne - Episode 2 Review

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After playing Episode 1 of Michonne, I had hoped there would be some improvement in the storytelling for Episode 2.

... Nope. This episode picks up right where Episode 1 left off. You're given the usual "Previously, on the Walking Dead" intro, showing some of the events leading up to your situation, and then it kicks you off precisely where you had finished before. Immediately after beginning the episode, you're rushed from timed conversation choices, to timed peeks over railings, to Quick Time Events (QTEs), to more peeking over rails, to more QTEs, and so on throughout the episode. All these timed events get pretty mind-numbing, since you get very little chance to stop and think at all. Peeking over rails seems to give you the most time to think of all the timed events, since the timer is for while you're peeking over, not while you're ducked down. Still, the time ducked down in between peeks provides nothing of interest to think about, so that doesn't help.

As in Episode 1, there is a section where you are very briefly allowed to look around an area. There's a smattering of objects to look at—most of which will elicit either a single word from Michonne, or nothing at all. Actually, there a quite a few of these objects that do nothing more than give a quick glance with no reaction at all. I was surprised to get three words out of her on one of them. You're given a choice of answering a ringing phone or chasing after a mysterious character at the end of it. This seems to be a totally irrelevant decision, since the mysterious character doesn't look to be connected to the story in any way, so I definitely recommend answering the phone. That choice at least gives you a little bit of story relating to Michonne, despite having no other apparent connection to any of the episode. It's not much, but it's... something to feel a little more invested in her.

At least one decision from Episode 1 does seem to have carried over and made a little bit of a difference. If you had let Sam kill Zack at the end, he will be dead, and this slightly alters how you escape from your captors in the beginning of Episode 2. This is a very short-lived difference, as it only affects anything for a minute or two into your escape, but his death does give you a somewhat emotional moment. So, oddly, killing the nice guy seems to make it a better, more engaging story. You are left with a couple of other actual decisions to make this time around, though only one seems likely to make a significant difference in Episode 3—whether you let Pete go or stop him to take him with you. Otherwise, every other choice you could make seems to be very much illusory. Even when a choice is trumped up as though it will make a significant difference in Episode 3, it manages to feel like it's going to go the same way, anyway. And it probably will. Or, of course, you can fail to talk and get killed in some conversations, but any response at all seems to leave you in the same situation as any other response. The QTEs likewise might kill you if you fail to press a button, which will simply leave you repeating the section until you hit it right.

However, sometimes those QTEs don't do anything. I completed a second playthrough of the episode, to test what could be changed and see what could happen. I skipped a large number of the QTEs by taking my hands off of the keyboard and mouse, letting the scene play out, and a lot of times nothing changed at all. If I was supposed to duck, Michonne would duck whether I pressed the button or not. If I didn't press the button to jump on Sam and get her down on the ground—Sam got me on the ground! At one point I even got distracted, failing to notice I was in a QTE with a zombie, and Michonne handled it just fine without me. I mean, sometimes I really did have to hit the buttons, but those times where I didn't have to look at the screen really killed any sense of immersion.

A lot of the characters act like complete idiots, too.

When Michonne knocks Randall down as he is about to shoot her or sound the alarm—you get no chance to kill him or his sister Norma. It's treated as a given that you're not going to kill either one of them, despite the fact that they behave as though they're getting ready to torture and kill you for fun. And once they're both on the ground, Michonne doesn't take their guns, she doesn't tie them up, she just walks away. So naturally, they sound the alarm to send their whole town into a frenzy to look for you as you're calmly walking away like nothing's wrong. This one sequence alone seems insane to me. Just before this, depending on what you have to do, Michonne may comment about getting ONLY a flare gun to use from one of the people on the boat. If she wanted something better than a flare gun, she could have taken Randall's AK47, or Norma's pistol, but she just hung onto her machete and left. Not only was she leaving them to do as they pleased as soon as they got up, she was leaving herself extremely poorly armed when she had better weapons right in front of her. Was this the best that anybody could think of? Come on, at least have her tie them up, and let somebody else stumble along to let them loose again. That would have been a lot more believable and a lot less stupid, even if she was leaving the guns.

Then they make a point of doing Michonne's signature thing—turning a couple of zombies into pets to get other zombies to leave her alone, but they get killed just a few seconds later and she's apparently done with the idea for good. They start running through the zombies like it's nothing, and never speak of it again. Not even when they wind up with a bunch of zombies around coming towards them and no other danger! It's like they only wanted to put that in there for a second so they could use it for marketing screenshots.

Even worse, you wind up with a particular someone inside of a walled yard deciding to get rid of a zombie's arm that's lying around—but he doesn't just throw it over the wall like a normal person would do. No, he opens the big heavy gate he has set up to protect them, and stands there in the opening for a while feeling sad. I was actually yelling at my screen because I knew exactly what was going on and I was PISSED. Not pissed at what happens, but at the setup and intent for this ridiculous moment. I didn't even actually know the guy. He was a distrustful jackass with me almost the entire time he was around, which was pretty short, by the way, so am I supposed to be upset about him getting killed? And then having the little kids burst into tears, trying to force it to be some gut-wrenching moment... That has to be the absolute cheapest thing Telltale has ever done to try to get an emotional reaction out of players. You know exactly what's going to happen the entire time, and any sane, semi-intelligent person would be saying "Hey! Shut the damned gate, you idiot!" But it's passed off as some huge shocking moment. Things like this make me want the characters to hurry up and die so I don't have to deal with their stupidity anymore. So much for any hope of caring what happens to people.

The thing is, the pacing is way too fast for anything to feel believable.

Everything happens at a rate you expect to see in a movie or TV show, where there are time constraints and a tightly fixed story to tell. That's a problem for a game. Games are all about you *doing* things, not just watching them. You choose what path you want to take, you develop whatever bond you want to with the characters, you figure out what you need to do to save the right people, you build up the skill to accomplish everything. In this case I've got very little choice, I've got no chance to develop any bond with anyone in it, I've got no reason to want to cause they've got people acting stupid and getting killed before I find any reason to care, there's very little skill involved since it'll do a lot of stuff for you—and I don't know what else would make me want to play. Even if I could watch it like a movie, it only took me an hour to complete this episode, when I was trying to explore. My second playthrough was even shorter, despite dying from intentional failures. It's surprisingly slim on content. The content that is there is repeatedly nonsensical in its execution.

On top of all that, I've been seeing a lot of bugs and graphical glitches with this episode. I really hope they get them fixed, but there was a lot of flickering and stuttering, animations going out of sync, controls getting interrupted for no apparent reason. At certain times, Michonne will reliably stop walking while you're holding the button, every time, and you have to tap it multiple times again to get her to continue on. I was also seeing a lot of slowdown—performance got really bad. A few times the game slowed until it froze, only to stutter back into movement about ten seconds later. Considering that Telltale is using extremely low-poly models and very little in the way of post-processing, it doesn't make much sense for this to slow down like Rise of the Tomb Raider on Ultra settings on my system. Their textures make things look great, as always, but the performance is just awful at times.

When things were working well, there were some very strange design choices making themselves known. Like in the beginning, during your escape, you climb into a small motor boat to get away, which zips around the water at absolutely ludicrous speeds. If it had gone plaid it probably would have been a hilarious, if out of place, bit of referential hijinks. As it was, it was little more than confusing, going through turns faster than most high-end sports cars could handle them on pavement. Flames moved in weird, unrealistic ways. Water splashes showed up as huge 2D decals on top of the water. Explosive barrels were placed on a boat with passengers solely so that you could blow them up. Seriously, why did they have explosive barrels on the tiny little motor boat with them, while they were slowly motoring around on patrol? They were still inside of the makeshift town where they lived, so it's not like they needed 110 gallons of extra fuel ON the boat.

Voice acting is still quite good, though. Sam in particular sounded... amazingly real in one part. Other times, not so much, but in general the voices were pretty much spot-on to what they should have been. Derek Philips sounded just a bit closer to his character's age, this time, which definitely helped him out. If only the writing could be on the same level as the voice work, I'd feel a lot better about this as a whole.


The Verdict

Sadly, Episode 2 proved to be more predictable, poorly made, paced and designed than Episode 1. I was already disappointed with the first, and now I find that it's moved further in the wrong direction... I miss Telltale's old Walking Dead games. Maybe I'll go back and play as Lee again.

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Eli Ross

Eli Ross is an eccentric dude who enjoys entirely too much horror. Photographer, YouTuber, gamer, maker of many random things at random times. He'll be just as likely to mix up an improvised cocktail as he is to tell you that his spoon is too big or that he lives in a giant bucket. He also cares not whether you get his references - he'll only silently judge you if you don't.