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I'm a big fan of Telltale Games' work, and my favorite series by far is The Walking Dead. While Game of Thrones and The Wolf Among Us were both fantastic experiences, it's the two seasons worth of adventures set in Robert Kirkman's zombie apocalypse that have provided the most interesting stories and fully fleshed-out characters. So when it was announced that Telltale was making a game centered around the katana-wielding Michonne, a central figure in both the television show and graphic novels, I was naturally very excited. The first of the three episodes, In Too Deep, dropped yesterday and it was a day one purchase for me. So how did the Michonne-centric choose-your-own adventure video game turn out? Honestly it's a mixed-bag.
Up to this point the only main character from the comics or show to turn up in these games (as far as I know) has been Glenn, who makes a brief appearance towards the beginning of The Walking Dead: Season 1. He plays a very small role in the story and his screen time is so limited that it would be a stretch to label him a secondary character. While it was nice to see a familiar face and Glenn is certainly one of my favorite characters, I wouldn't have wanted him to have a large impact on that game. Part of the fun was getting to know protagonist Lee Everett as you progressed through the game without having any preconceived notions about this new original character. I won't spoil anything here but the journey we take from when we're introduced to Lee all the way to the season's climax is a memorable one, and he remains one of my favorite characters in gaming history.
The problem with plucking an established character from the pages of the comic book or television show is that doing so robs the player of that sense of character discovery that helped make the first two games so special. We already know Michonne, and while the first episode does provide us with a bit more insight into what makes her tick, being familiar with her makes it harder for the character to feel like it's our own. When I played The Walking Dead: Season 1 I WAS Lee Everett whereas I felt like a voyeur while playing In Too Deep as I steered the same character I see on my TV every Sunday night through the environment and chose her dialog responses for her. Another downside to using a preexisting character is that the dramatic return is diminished. We know Michonne is going to survive episode 3, and just like the Star Wars prequels knowing the eventual fate of our protagonist takes a lot of the fun out of things.
The rest of the game is populated by a somewhat disappointing group of walking cliches. There's the token eternal optimist, the paranoid survivor, and of course one of the standard hit-first-and-ask-questions-later tough guys that seem to thrive in the anarchy of a zombie outbreak. These characters are fine and do a serviceable job of bringing to light parts of Michonne's personality, but overall they're pretty forgettable. I can name you almost every person from Season 1 yet I've forgotten nearly all the cast members that make up In Too Deep only hours after finishing it. Granted there's still two episodes left for Telltale's excellent writing to add some dimension to the game's supporting cast, but given the high mortality rate that exists in The Walking Dead universe I wonder how many of them will survive long enough for me to form a bond with them.
Gameplay-wise The Walking Dead: Michonne is standard Telltale, a cocktail of timed dialog responses mixed with some basic quicktime events. Michonne is a master swordswoman so there is plenty of timed button-mashing necessary as you stab and behead zombie after zombie, almost to the point of exhaustion. The action sequences are a nice way to break up the gameplay a bit, but they get old quick. Cutting through zombies eventually feels like nothing more than an obstacle you have to get over in order to get to the game's strength, which is once again Telltale's outstanding conversation sequences. Playing the sword segments makes me wonder how a Platinum Games-produced slasher starring Michonne would turn out, something along the lines of what they did with Metal Gear Rising: Revengence.
The game performs fine and looks as good as the last few Telltale games have. Their game engine has looked pretty tired for awhile now, so here's hoping that it gets a fresh coat of paint soon. The art style and animation quality is fine, but the usual bugs and long loading times are still present. Before the credits roll the familiar breakdown of important choices returns, which is nice as it's always interesting to see how your decisions stack up against those of your peers. A strong voice acting cast anchors the game's audio which a familiar, yes slightly tired-sounding musical score supports.
While it's certainly not Telltale's strongest effort, I still enjoyed the first chapter of The Walking Dead: Michonne. I definitely think it was a savvy move to make this a 3 episode series as opposed to the traditional 5 episode format that they've used in the past. Even though it's not perfect In Too Deep lays down a good foundation for the miniseries, and given the solid cliffhanger ending I'm looking forward to episode 2. If you're a fan of The Walking Dead show or comics this is a great way to enrich either of those experiences. Michonne is an interesting character and it's always fun to step into Kirkman's well-rendered world. Just don't expect the jaw-dropping standard set by the first two games.