Video Games Review: The Walking Dead: Michonne – Episode 1 (PS4, 2016)

It’s been a while since Telltale Games have visited The Walking Dead franchise, but they certainly haven’t been slacking off. It seems everybody with an established universe wants Telltale to, er…tell a tale using their signature style. The team were simultaneously delivering content for Tales from the Borderlands, Game of Thrones and Minecraft: Story Mode, with the latter still running.

Telltale enjoyed success with Sam & Max and Back to the Future but they didn’t know popularity until they rolled out the emotionally driven and wonderfully constructed Walking Dead: Season 1 in 2012. They nailed it again in Season 2 in 2014 and this year, while it is only a mini-series, they seem to be on the cusp of delivering something equally memorable.

The Walking Dead: Michonne follows the titular fan favourite and finally addresses the elephant in the room. Yes the Telltale Games series is tied into the comics in a very substantial way. Michonne takes place between issues #126 & #139 and explains what happens when she left Ricks group during that time.

Still distraught from the death of her children, Michonne is unstable, alone and holding a gun to her head. Suffice it to say, she doesn’t pull the trigger and the game jumps three weeks in time where she is working on a boat (the safest place it would seem) with four men. When the boat crashes, Michonne and the captain, Pete, go off exploring and run into more trouble than walkers.

There is one thing that needs to be said right up front. And I may just end up offering counterpoints for myself here. The great thing about the first two games and its DLC 400 Days was that Clementine and all of those people at the truck stop were created solely for these games. This meant that you didn’t posses a pre-conceived mindset of those characters – YOU defined who they were. The problem here is that if you have watched the show or read the comics (Michonne is actually a lot less sour in the comics initially), you know her and you have an idea of how you should be answering questions or behaving. It kind of spoils things because instead of having a character governed by YOUR choices, you now have one that is dictated by what you’ve seen and read, which pretty much makes each section with choices a glorified cut scene.

However (!), nobody knows what happened to Michonne during those issues so she can really behave any way she wants. The good thing is that even though your choices for answers and actions are plenty robust, they still funnel you into a believable course of action for her. I suppose thats why choosing Michonne works. (Apart from the fact that she’s a freaking bad ass). Because her character is ambiguous and she really isn’t the type to open up. It’s the first of these titles where silence is a perfectly valid choice.

There are some terrific moments in Michonne and staying true to their M.O, Telltale really make you feel for characters, whether that be with disdain or empathy. I don’t want to give anything away so I wont delve into specifics but there are choices you may regret when you see the outcome, people you’ll try your damnedest to give their comeuppance, and specifically, an interrogation that would have had me on the edge of my seat if I didn’t have to scrutinise my answers.

Regardless of how we play her, Telltale have written a beautiful and haunting narrative for Michonne that deals with her grief and guilt. We don’t get enough fleshed out Michonne arcs despite her being just as troubled as anyone else, so it’s fresh to see her hurting and trying to fix herself.

Technically, Michonne runs well. Visually things haven’t changed but the cel-shaded graphics still continue to surprise me with how well facial animations and contusions and wounds look.

The camera is a hell of a lot better now, panning as you walk and the UI is great as it shows you all all the things you can interact with from a distance so you don’t have to walk everywhere.

A very cool addition, and one that’s almost mandatory when you consider the star of the show, is the new look action screen. Occasionally Michonne will run into trouble and be forced to fend off a room of walkers. When this happens, bars at the top and bottom of the screen appear and present a cinematic view. Fights are gory, tense, and messy as Michonne – through quick time events – swathes through enemies with a machete or anything at her disposal.
Its a fantastic and well implemented inclusion. As soon as those bars drop in, it feels as though its separating fights from the slower pace of the rest of the game.

The Walking Dead: Michonne – Episode 1 isn’t a difficult game, it isn’t even much of a point & click adventure. But I feel as though Telltale have moved beyond that, drawing difficulty from how we react to certain situations and dealing with the consequences. Although having a pre-existing character in a choice based game hurts things a little, it’s a treat to get a detailed Michonne story, and when I look back at my short stint, I’m still affected by the answers I gave and decisions I made.

Review Score: 8 out of 10
Highlights: Nice to have a Michonne arc; Choices are crucial; Invokes a range of emotions; Fighting is now a major element as well as fun
Lowlights: Not having an original character affects the way you play; A little too short
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Released: February 9, 2016
Platform: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, X360, PC, iOS, Android

Reviewed on PlayStation 4