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All episodes of The Walking Dead: Michonne are out now on PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and Android. Our Alan Stock is here to review the PS4 version for the official ComiConverse review.
“That one there. Michonne. She’s the one to watch out for.”
Michonne, a legend of zombie franchise The Walking Dead. Wielding a samurai sword and trailing two zombies for company, she joined the fiction’s group of survivors as a quiet, mysterious and troubled soul who would slice her way through walker and human alike if they got in her way. She quickly became a fan favourite in both the comic and TV series and her character developed as more of her humanity revealed itself. In the comic storyline Michonne left the group for a time – and filling in that gap is this short, 3 episode game from Telltale Games, makers of The Walking Dead game series. It should be noted that the game character of Michonne is based on the comic book – the story of the TV series Michonne differing slightly. Aside from cameos, it’s the first time that one of the main comic or TV Walking Dead characters has played a big role in the games.
The Walking Dead: Michonne
As the series begins we find Michonne living on a sailing boat with a small crew. Her trademark katana is gone (she gives it away in the comics), replaced by a machete, but right from the start we see her wielding it just as effectively in the kind of brutal and gorey fight scene that we’ve come to expect from The Walking Dead. Of course, a cushy boat life won’t last forever in this post-apocalypse, and things start to go wrong almost immediately. From here on in, the story becomes a pretty standard Walking Dead affair of survivor conflict, with the zombies shambling into proceedings from time to time.
The game looks good, keeping the trademark comic book style that the previous Telltale series employed. Art direction in the menus and intros is particularly well presented, it’s really stylish and has some nice nods to the comic. Unfortunately, whilst the overall graphics hold up to previous Walking Dead games (i.e. nothing special but complimenting the art style), the animation is a bit inconsistent. Occasionally the characters move really suddenly or robotically, which can really jar the immersion. On the PS4 version I also experienced some technical issues, with some framerate stuttering, which also broke the flow.
Gameplay follows the tried and tested Telltale interactive graphic novel formula. Watch cutscenes, explore and chat, fight zombies, and make tough, story-altering decisions. Choose from multiple responses in conversations, provoking different responses. Action sequences still rely on quick-time events – a button or movement flashes onscreen and you must press the relevant control quickly to succeed. You’ll be seeing plenty of them in this game, there’s quite a lot of combat, with plenty of clichéd slow motion to show off Michonne’s brutal fighting style. It’s quite cool but doesn’t fit well with the realistic vibes the other games pushed, it feels like the game is trying to be a Hollywood movie instead of a gritty story. In keeping with the Walking Dead legacy, the game is very violent and Michonne spends half the time splattered in gore (which mysteriously cleans itself up in minutes).
Of course, the main reason you’ll be playing is for the story, and it’s here that the game’s a letdown. The situations and locations that Michonne finds herself in are nothing we haven’t seen many times before in The Walking Dead. Characters are as well-constructed and voiced as ever, but caring and investing in them is a real problem. They’re all new, and there’s a lot of them. There’s just not enough time in this short series to invest or care about them much. The main villain, for example, is particularly shallow, laughably nasty for nasty’s sake, though the game does use him to provoke certain reactions. The lack of character depth really affects the core of Telltale’s games: difficult life or death decisions the player must make. It’s hard to feel much tension in these situations when you’re dealing with characters you’ve only just met, and we already know that Michonne survives to continue the story in the comics. Previous Walking Dead games did a much better job of fleshing out the characters and making you care about them. And there’s still a lingering feeling that regardless of what you decide, the story and scenes will unroll in pretty much the same way, something I can confirm from watching Lets Play videos, although there are a few surprises.
Whilst the plot rattles onwards, Michonne’s troubled past catches up with her. She still struggles with the loss of her daughters, and this manifests itself in the game through her hallucinations. It uses some really cringeworthy clichés to get this point across: her daughter’s dark, ghostly figures appear to her in the real world. It’s supposed to be creepy but it’s so tired it’s just groan-worthy, they even use those creepy whispery child voices and jump scare horror screeches that you’ve seen a thousand times before. Michonne also experiences playable flashbacks where she’s back at start of the zombie outbreak. These tropes all get old quickly and don’t teach us anything new about the character. Although there’s sometimes a glimmer of real feeling, the overall approach is so clichéd and heavy handed it undermines any sense of empathy you should be feeling for her. So disappointing.
Despite the whole game carrying her name, we don’t really get any new insights into Michonne. She’s chatty enough and even cheery at times but doesn’t talk much about herself. You do get some influence over her character though, choosing how brutal she is during some key decisions, and these moments are strong. But it’s a shame we don’t get more out of Michonne – fans who bought the game just because of her may be wondering why they bothered.
So, Walking Dead: Michonne is entertaining enough, but there’s not really anything new here. The gameplay isn’t that engaging because the choices don’t feel like they matter as much as usual, and it’s really disappointing to see no new ideas, especially as Telltale’s last series, Tales From the Borderlands, added a bunch of variety to the old formula. The story retreads old ground and the characters are too numerous and briefly seen to care much about. The themes, setting and storylines of this franchise are starting to feel a little tired, stuck in an endless cycle. If Telltale wants to reinvigorate things for Walking Dead: Season 3, they need some fresh ideas, player choices that really make a difference, and most importantly new stories and characters we can invest in. And please, no ghost children. Newcomers to the Walking Dead games may find this mini-series ok, but Telltale fans will surely be disappointed with this outing.
Have you played The Walking Dead: Michonne? Are you thinking about picking up this title?
Let us know in the comments section below.
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Fine – but disappointing for fans of the game series; thanks to a lack of new ideas and low character investment.