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The Walking Dead: Michonne Episode 1 Review - New Hero, Old Telltale

Marshall Lemon | 23 Feb 2016 07:01
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Developed by and published by TellTale Games. Released on February 23, 2016. Available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Android, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC (reviewed), iOS, and Mac OS. Review code provided by publisher.

Telltale's The Walking Dead was a true game changer, telling an emotionally riveting story without hours of action-packed zombie battles. Yet what was more impressive was it didn't involve fan favorite characters from the comic or TV series, like Michonne, Daryl, or even Rick. The Walking Dead: Michonne is finally changing that dynamic with an untold story from the sword-wielding Michonne's past. And while this first episode doesn't have the same highs or lows of Lee and Clementine's stories, it's still a worthy addition to Telltale's flagship franchise.Just don't expect any new gameplay to revitalize the experience.

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The Walking Dead: Michonne is set in the comic book continuity, although this first episode doesn't have any spoilers for those still catching up.The game picks up after Michonne left Rick's group of survivors following "All Out War". Still struggling with her guilty past, she is picked up by a ship seeking survivors and supplies on the coast of Chesapeake Bay. The captain catches a distress signal, and the investigation uncovers a floating survivors' colony looking to punish anyone who wrongs them. Lucky Michonne, always in the right place at the wrong time, happens to be a prime candidate for the community's wrath.

If you've played Telltale's previous Walking Dead games - or any current Telltale game - The Walking Dead: Michonne's gameplay won't surprise you. You'll guide Michonne across the post-apocalyptic landscape, meet interesting characters, and make uncertain moral choices which might come back to haunt you in unexpected ways. It's a formula Telltale already pioneered with great success in the first Walking Dead, and doesn't need revisions here. Where the game stands out is introducing fan-favorite Michonne as a playable character, and presenting the player with an especially challenging situation that Lee or Clementine never faced.

Michonne proves to be a perfect choice for a Walking Dead game, from a brutal opening sequence where she holds her own against multiple zombies, to quieter moments where she can abrasively dismiss the concerns of teammates. It's pretty clear this is Michonne's darker comic book version, as opposed to the more optimistic TV badass - which works really well for anti-social playthroughs. Never before has choosing the "silence" dialogue option felt more appropriate in a Telltale character, prompting withering glares at concerned friends and enemies alike. Even positive dialogue choices are tempered by her broken spirit, although Michonne does a fine job of letting rare moments of humanity slip through. Long-time fans may notice that Michonne has a different voice actor from the TV series, but Orange is the New Black's Samira Wiley proves a natural fit for the role.

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Where The Walking Dead: Michonne really shines is its new spin on Telltale's choice system. Without giving too much away, Michonne finds herself in a situation where telling the truth actually sounds less believable than any lie she could generate on the topic. Meanwhile, you have no idea how other characters will describe the same events. This puts you in the difficult position of telling just enough truth to protect your interests, while seeing the consequences your lies might have on others. Sadly this sequence is only limited to a single scene, but it's certainly the most nerve-wracking sequence of the entire episode. In other words, it's a great fit for The Walking Dead, and hopefully we'll see equally creative moments as the series progresses.

Most other choices fall a little flat in comparison, usually limited to dialogue choices various NPCs will remember later on. This would be fine if the characters were more interesting, but outside of Michonne herself there are only a few worth spending time with. Your compassionate captain, Pete, is a great foil for the hardened Michonne, but you don't spend enough time with the other crew members to care about what happens to them. It's not until you meet the antagonists in the episode's second half that things pick up, mostly because of the appeal of figuring out who to trust.

Still, this could just be a problem inherent with the first episode. Unlike previous The Walking Dead games, Michonne is structured as a full season story rather than linked standalone episodes. This means that means future episodes have room for much bigger payoffs, but you won't get any plot resolutions in the first chapter, and most of your choices don't seem to lead anywhere.That will certainly irritate players who must wait a month to find out what happens next, but since Michonne is only three episodes long, the payoffs should arrive sooner rather than later. If we're lucky, it will also allow for a tightly-paced story, but that remains to be seen.

Apart from narrative concerns, The Walking Dead: Michonne had a few technical and gameplay issues which pulled me from the experience. It feels poorly optimized, with even a slight fog in early scenes causing the cursor to stutter as it moved across the screen. Many colors also feel muted or faded compared to the lush contrasts of previous episodes.

Even more frustrating are the unnecessary tweaks to quick-time events. Michonne has a few harsh encounters where missing the timing by a fraction of a second will kill your character and reset the scene. One of these events happened during the tutorial. Since I never died in my playthroughs of The Walking Dead Season Two or The Wolf Among Us, it's a little strange to artificially raise the difficulty here. (Although perhaps it's connected to the optimization issues mentioned earlier.) Harder to explain is a single quick-time event combo, where you have to hit multiple buttons in sequence to complete a move which that usually takes one press. This happens once in the middle of the episode, and never came up again during my playthrough.

Overall however, The Walking Dead: Michonne's first episode is a solid opening to the mini-series. It has a great protagonist, a nice twist on the choice system, and the same Telltale formula which made the company a success. Its biggest weaknesses stem from being the first chapter of a larger story, as opposed to the standalone episodes which made titles like Tales from the Borderlands so appealing. If later episodes improve on this foundation, Michonne could be a return-to-form of Telltale's The Walking Dead. If not, it will still be a fun and serviceable Telltale game - just not the game-changer The Walking Dead Season One proved to be.

Bottom Line: The Walking Dead: Michonne - In Too Deep is a strong opening chapter, but the overall experience doesn't stray too much from past seasons. Future episodes will prove whether Michonne has an explosive payoff or is simply an average mini-series for passing the time.

Recommendation: If you love The Walking Dead's Michonne, you'll want to dive into the series right away. But if you're looking for emotional payoffs instead of cliffhangers, you may want to wait for the full series instead.

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