Telltale Games seems to be in a hurry to conclude Michonne’s story, probably in preparation for the third season of the main series because they like publishing The Walking Dead games. The second episode Give No Shelter came out soon after the first one roughly a month before and I played through it a few hours prior to writing this.
I’m usually loathe to review episodic games one episode at a time. I told you my thoughts about The Walking Dead: Michonne when I reviewed In Too Deep and naturally, nothing important has changed on many fronts except the story, characters and some small details in the combat which I’ll touch on in a bit, so don’t expect this to be a long read. I think this is a problem with reviewing games in an episodic format (which isn’t to say that the format itself has problems), but I’ll do my best to not half-ass this, ok? Ok, let’s get to it.
The Walking Dead: Michonne. Episode 2: Windows PC [Reviewed], Mac OS X, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Android, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, iOS
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Release Date: 29 March 2016
Price: 14,99€ (entire season price) [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Developer/Publisher]
The Walking Dead: Intermission
The story picks up right where it left off as Michonne and her group need to get out of the situation they’re in and find safety. Therein lies another problem with revieweing a middle episode. I can’t speak about the events of the first except in extremely vague terms. Suffice to say, much to my disappointment, much of the moral ambiguity I found in the previous chapter’s characters has washed away and they fell neatly into their roles as misunderstood heroes and complete monsters respectively. This is a shame, in my opinion, as The Walking Dead franchise has always excelled at writing villains (especially the comic and the Telltale series) that are not clear-cut pure evil. With the notable exception of The Governor who was a sadistic monster (troubled past aside) most villains have redeeming qualities: The Saint John family in the first Telltale Season are simply looking out for their own, Carver in the second season resorts to fear and brutality to keep his followers safe and even Negan, in his own twisted way, strives for the safety of his followers and has a skewed, but strict code of honour. Sure, there’s a brief blink-and-you-miss-it moment where the villain attempts to gain our sympathy, but other than that there’s little in the way of character development. It remains to be seen what the conclusion of the series wants to do with them.
Last time I complained that Michonne’s combat QTEs do little to differentiate her from previous series protagonists which were less experienced and yet their combat sequences played out the same as Michonne’s hardened veteran fights. While the quick time events remained largely similar (seriously, Telltale, step up your game), they were cleverly enhanced by slowing time down to a crawl while you take your time to press the necessary buttons. This is in stark contrast to previous installments where your character usually struggled while you fumbled for the keys. Another disappointment was in how straightforward and on-rails Give No Shelter plays. Usually the interactive cutscenes are broken up by sequences where you walk around an environment freely, can choose to interact with items and have optional conversations with other characters. There is exactly one such sequence in Give No Shelter. The rest of the “movement” is strictly limited to holding down a key while you advance and occasionally switching the key you hold down because the camera changed perspective and thus the “forward” direction is different now and your character has awkwardly stopped.
I feel bad for complaining so much, but I feel like Give No Shelter is most indicative of Telltale just phoning it in at this point. There is no follow-up to the exciting moment in the first episode where I had to push a combination of buttons in sequence in order to pass a QTE, it’s the most on-rails experience Telltale has ever made and I think also by far the shortest. With so few optional things to do and discover, I completed the episode in just under an hour. Admittedly, it did come out shortly after the first one, but being so short it might as well have been released as a single five-or-so hour game. Last but definitely not least, I had some terrible performance issues that rendered the game unplayable. A bit of time spent on the forums revealed that many others were having extremely poor frame rates and responsiveness even in the main menu. The solution was even more mind-boggling, as it was apparently caused by my having my Xbox Controller connected. I turned it off and everything worked fine. For the most part.
I made the case before about Telltale needing an engine upgrade as the current one is getting on in years. The game is seamless for the most part with no loading screens which I appreciate immensely, but it does take a split second to load when switching “scenes” or when saving the game. When this split second freezes your gameplay experience for a split second exactly during the most shocking and startling scene of the game you’re dealing with some catastrophic immersion problems.
Telltale, we need to talk. I appreciate what you’re doing with this Michonne spin-off series. Taking the time to take us into the mind of one of the franchise’s more interesting characters and delving into her inner demons is laudable and very well executed. I wish the rest of the story were as engaging, but it’s difficult to relate to anyone when morality is so black and white. I won’t complain about the length of the game. I personally consider the practice to be gauche, but we, as gamers, require at least some agency beyond choosing an action or dialogue line. We need to be left free to wander the environment at least from time to time, at least for short spans of time. We don’t need or like having our hands held and being herded through a storyline we feel we have no stake in. I know I’m using a plural pronoun for my personal opinion but I wholeheartedly doubt that I’m alone in this.
An engine upgrade is overdue. I think you know it too. I bet it’s come up during company meetings. And please consider shaking up your QTE system. The three button combo in the previous episode was a very promising step in the right direction. The dynamic nature of the combat in The Wolf Among Us was exciting as well. You know how to make the most out of this genre you helped pioneer, I just wish you’d do it more often.
I know someone over there reads most or all of these reviews. I follow your Facebook page, I know you like to show your fans praise of your games. I don’t expect that, but it is my sincere hope that someone takes at least some of these criticisms to heart. I love your games. I really do. I just want to be able to continue to enjoying them.