I would be lying to you if I said I was anything other then worried when Telltale Games announced that they would be breaking from their own Walking Dead series of stories to bring us one starring Michonne. Iconic and badass in a way that requires little explanation for fans of either the comics or AMC's TV show, her hardened mix of emotion and cold steel seems like a perfect fit for video games, and the farthest from anything belonging in Telltale production. Given how well their engine has held up to even the most minimal of action in the past, I imagined it breaking down into tiny codelets just trying to render Michonne's katana in motion.
I kind of feel like I am jumping ahead with this, especially with my predisposition to focus on story, but the under the hood feel of the graphics engine was a pleasant surprise. I take that back, pleasantly surprised is a supreme oversimplification of my feelings on the matter, and really for reasons that have very little to do with Michonne herself, and a lot to do with a certain superhero focused game Telltale has lurking in the belfry. Gone is the stuttering, almost puppet like motion of the characters as they move around the screen, as well as the near constant frame drops and choppy look. The action itself also flows better, showing more attention to the characters' position and blocking in space.
This new found proclivity for portraying movements that look like probable bodies in motion instead of a nightmare blending of the Crypt Keeper and the Thunderbirds, is really on display when Michonne is beset on all sides by the actual walking dead, moving between zombies with an ease befitting the world weary heroine. It would be less impressive were this a game more akin to Devil May Cry, but given where Telltale has come from on action, it shows worlds of improvement and adds to the overall feel of the product.
Storywise, Michonne feels more focused then some of their previous efforts. Maybe it's the tighter pace necessitated by the shortened episodic structure, or maybe it's the use of a character that's part of the main storyline told through Kirkman's comics. Whatever the reason, this miniseries starts hard, joining Michonne in the middle of both an ill timed Walker Party and a slight nervous breakdown. Reliving the abandonment of her daughters while simultaneously fighting through a group of walkers ends the only way something like that can, with the working end of a revolver loaded with a single bullet pointed at her temple, and the rather grim choice of whether or not to pull the trigger left up to the player.
I'm going to be honest and tell you that I don't know what happens if you say yes. I imagine, as she is uniquely important to both this story and The Walking Dead in general, that I don't think they let you pull the trigger. Or if they do, the gun is knocked away at the last second by Pete, a down on his luck boat captain that Michonne manages to help during the action that shares time between her present and her apartment in the past.
Missing from her present is her katana, which has been replaced with a machete. Nice, but nowhere near as cool. I'll admit to not having read up to the point where these events are situated, between her disappearance from the books in issue 126 and her reappearance in 139, but something serious must have taken place to rip that blade from her possession. Regardless, the rest of the episode, starting directly after one of the most kick ass opening credit sequences Telltale has done, finds Michonne and Pete making their way down a river on his boat, completely with salty sailor crew, looking for some of his friends, until they are naturally, forced to search a seemingly abandoned river boat for supplies and clues.
Things go south from there, as circumstances bring them to a floating city made of boats, which is lead by Norma, a sharp spoken metal hammer of a woman, and the rusty nail that is her psychotic brother. At risk of spoiling anything else, I'll leave the plot synopsis there, but it's filled with plenty of tension, and a lot of pointed dialogue that does a great job of placing you in the moment. It also manages to solve the dilemma of a main character that's not allowed to die by making the stakes the lives of those around her. In rather short order, I was able to really invest in a lot of the side characters, especially Pete, whose humor tempered optimism is a welcome relief amid the dire nature of, well you know, the end of the world and all.
Thankfully, the only real negative I ran into with the game had nothing to do with the playing portion of the game itself, but rather, a nasty save bug I ran into right after it's 86 minutes had passed. I am not sure if it's because I am using a pre-release copy supplied for review, or if it's an actual problem, but my save games all show as empty, despite having worked my way through episode 1, credits and all. It's not horribly upsetting, as the episode is something that can easily be completed in an evening, and the chance to see some of the decisions again will prove a little less taxing now that I know what I am in for, but it's an inconvenience and one I felt needed to be mentioned.
If this episode is any indication of what's to come, this short form adventure could prove to be some of the best work that Telltale Games has put out since the amazing first season of The Walking Dead. With improvements coming through graphically, and the story telling showing strong against the quickened pace of a half season, this small package has a lot going for it. Here's hoping that it continues.
Reviewer and Editor for Darkstation by day, probably not the best superhero by night. I mean, look at that costume. EEK!