Episode 1, In Too Deep: February 23, 2016
Episode 2, Give No Shelter: March 29, 2016
Episode 3, What We Deserve: April 26, 2016
Developer: TellTale Games
Publisher: TellTale Games
Genre: Horror, Survival, Interactive Story
System: Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One (Reviewed), Steam/PC
Overall time spent – 3 hrs 15 minutes
In our everyday lives, it’s hard not to find ourselves being reminded of the ghosts we’ve tried to leave behind. Whatever shape they come in, these ghosts will cling to any pangs of guilt within us, haunting our every fiber. They continue to reside in our minds, mocking us even to the point of madness. Worse still, these ghosts often encourage us to isolate ourselves and keep our secrets to ourselves…deep down, we don’t want to put the burden on those around us to feel the need to protect us. It’s easier to hold the pain to ourselves than to put the burden on someone else’s shoulders. The ghosts of our pasts are sometimes calmed by a sense of closure, or a resolution to deal with the pain and guilt of our mistakes. This can be done in numerous ways: confronting our demons head on; accepting their existence; letting go. Sometimes, there may not be a chance for closure, and the only way we can move forward is by embracing the fact that these shadows are never leaving.
As a character, Michonne has been one of my favorite (and I’m sure many fans’ favorite) characters on the series The Walking Dead. One of the things that has made her such a likeable character is the tough, calm exterior she presents juxtaposed with the soft, empathetic heart at her center. There’s a contrasting image that is all too relatable and familiar. More importantly, she comes off as one of the few characters who helps keep the group’s composure in the worst of scenarios. Throughout the show and comics, there are many instances that show the depths Michonne will go to protect those around her, even to a fault. However, it’s hard not to notice that there’s something else that fuels her motivation to protect those around her. Delving into the psyche of a person requires a delicate balancing act, especially the oftentimes fragile as glass or strong as stone one within Michonne.
The Walking Dead: Michonne Mini-Series is a heartbreaking experience, one that leaves you in a space that offers little to no comfort. It’s a story that weaves together past and present to flesh out who Michonne is and what she’s been through. The story is engaging and immersive, and forces the player to pick some very tough choices along the road. In fact, it’s the first time in a while I’ve found myself having to purposefully break out of the experience and take some time to think on the choices I had to make. Most of the time, I’d barely made a choice before the timer ran out. And the ending…without giving too much away, it left me wondering if I’d made the right choice. Not the right choice for me, but for Michonne as a character.
Overall, the game could be argued as the second strongest entry into The Walking Dead series, and it deserves such recognition. However, the technical hiccups that have always plagued the series, a rushed tone, and its brevity take away from the experience. That said, it’s a worthy investment for fans of the series and Michonne and will definitely leave players with the heavy feeling in their heart.
For this review, I’m going to do a mini review of each episode to look at what was executed well, good things that could have been better, and elements that detract from the experience.
Episode 1 – In Too Deep
“I left so many people that I loved behind…so many that I can hardly remember them all. But there are two…just two that I can never forget.”
Immediately after hearing these words, players take control of Michonne as she’s taking down the walkers that surround her. During this quick-time event sequence, Michonne is recalling a traumatic event. After finishing off the last walker, a man (later identified as Pete) sees her and thanks her for killing the walkers around her. Michonne looks through him, her eyes full of dread and remorse. She takes a pistol she’s kept on her side, and places a single bullet in. Does she take the shot, or does she let it go?
The Walking Dead: Michonne starts off on a haunting note that sets the tone for the series. This is Michonne in her darkest hour, plagued by her demons coming in full droves. It becomes clear this game is more than just about surviving this new world: it’s going to be a personal journey for her.
In Too Deep perfectly sets not only the tone of the game, but effectively sets up the many threads that will create the story. The intertwining of Michonne’s flashbacks with the present tell us this is not going to be just a physical journey, but an emotional one as well. This is Michonne at her lowest, when she can no longer take the demons inside. Is it easier to run away or pull the trigger, or is it worth fighting to survive?
TellTale and Samira Wiley (the voice of Michonne) also do a superb job, delicately handling Michonne’s turmoil in every facet of her character. From the deft mixture of cold or optimistic dialogue choices, the defeated but hopeful look in her eyes, even her body language and the complex emotions within her voice, every facet comes together to rise and take on the challenge of telling Michonne’s story. There is a selfish strength and fragility that laces every word spoken, and at any given moment any of the two feelings could dip into the other. There’s the drive to want to believe that she believes she can push past these ghosts, but the assumption that everything she’s doing to keep on living is futile. The effect is brilliant, and often very sad.
The game’s tone, frequently cold and harsh, can be seen and heard within the gameplay as well as the dialogue. Each hack from Michonne’s machete is met with the sound of bones cracking, the ringing of the blade after cutting through its target, and the thud of bodies dropping. It is felt in the environments Michonne traverses in the first episode, and it is felt especially in the tense conversations players will have with the future antagonists Randall and Norma It’s also reflected in the game’s deft handling of pacing: the smooth transitions from moments of suspense to sheer horrific depravity are executed phenomenally. TellTale’s writing has always been consistently strong, but In Too Deep feels like it’s a step above a lot of their work.
I also really enjoy how improved the Quick Time Events feel; this was the first time I genuinely felt myself rapidly trying to get the right buttons pressed while my heart was pounding hard. Almost all the events felt fast, fluid and unrelenting. By the time each event was over, I could feel my body loosen and my heart rate slow down. This was also complemented by a cool new look to the Quick Time event buttons: instead of the buttons being in the center of the bottom portion of the screen, the button prompts would be facing Michonne and could be seen in different angles. Pressing the button at the right time ended up getting the button prompt covered in a little bit of blood.
Everything has a purpose in this game, and for the most part it’s executed well. Unfortunately, the usual issues for TellTale are also on full display. One of the biggest issues I tend to have with any TellTale game is how little characterization the majority of the cast is granted. In the case of In Too Deep, it feels like the plot is inconsistent in its pacing and strength. The moments that are strong are followed by weak or lulling points that only serve to push the plot forward without any deeper meaning.
The setup for the story to be told also feels like a typical Walking Dead scenario: a scavenging hunt for supplies goes bad, the protagonists fight off walker hordes, there’s a misunderstanding that later serves to create the storyline. While scavenging for supplies aboard a vessel named the Mobjack, Michonne and Pete run into two kids named Greg and Sam. They also run into a man named Randall and his crew, who have been on the hunt for Greg and Sam since they stole supplies. Randall also mistakes Michonne and Pete for being part of Greg and Sam’s crew, capturing them all as hostages and bringing them back to the floating city of Monroe for interrogation.
However, the last one I can forgive because, although the story is mainly happening in the present, the story feels like it’s only meant to help Michonne’s personal story. It’s a forgivable problem that doesn’t detract from the overall experience, and the events were necessary to move the story forward.
My other problem with this game is the the obvious foreshadowing of Sam being a reflection of Michonne, particularly in the events that are happening to her. Sam is brash, cold, and for the most part calculating. She’s doing what she believes is necessary, but it comes at a cost. In the end, she ends up losing her brother Greg in the midst of an interrogation. Knowing that the guilt of her brother dying is going to tear her apart, and how Michonne’s own personal story is similar in the guilt and regret makes it too obvious how they’re reflective of each other.
The one thing I cannot forgive, and my biggest gripe, are the always consistent technical hiccups TellTale games continue to have. There are three problems I commonly have: the game freezes in the middle of a quick time event, screen tears during cutscenes, and parts of the game not rendering. Normally, these hiccups come in minimal doses that hardly affect the game’s flow. In the case of In Too Deep, however, the game has major freeze times and a couple of screen tears. When it happened, I found myself taken out of the experience and feeling frustrated.
I have a major problem with this because of how often this has happened in TellTale games, and yet they’ve never taken the time to decode the bugs to fix them. These bugs can end up being game breakers (that happened to me during The Walking Dead: Season 2) that force players to restart their console. Given how often this has happened, it’s certainly expected for a developer to take the time to work out the bugs within their game engines to improve their game, especially with a studio that has as high a caliber as TellTale Games.
Overall, aside from this major issue, all of the components of In Too Deep come together to create an experience, not just a game. In Too Deep may be a set-up episode, but it certainly does a good job of setting the tone of the experience. This is going to be a hard, cold experience that requires both Michonne and the player to face her demons. The question becomes quite clear: will Michonne conquer her demons, or will they consume her? Similar to how I felt with The Walking Dead: Season 1, I can’t wait to see what’s left in store.
Episode 2 – Give No Shelter
“Taking someone’s life…that changes you forever. Avoid that burden as long as possible” – Michonne, Give No Shelter
When it comes to writing a story, I feel like writing the sequences between two major plot points is the hardest part. These moments take on the bulk of the weight of the story because they not only have to push the plot forward, but provide characterization, foreshadowing, or even some background into what is going currently. Especially difficult is the ability to maintain a consistent tone and pace that matches the introduction while moving smoothly into the finale. Unfortunately, the difficulty of accomplishing this feat often overpowers writers’, with these moments sometimes feeling rushed, muddled, or lackluster.
Give No Shelter, while still being a decent transition from In Too Deep into the next episode, is an example of how difficult it is to take on this challenge. It continues to push the plot forward, but at the same time feels funny in its awkward pacing and poor characterization. A lot of the times characters feel very cookie-cutter, one-dimensional, and are only there to serve as background to Michonne’s personal plight. While I understand the intention the writer’s had, and why it makes sense, it gives little reason for players to care for the fate of everyone else around her.
For example, a lot of the dialogue from Pete tends to feel too altruistic, even in the direst of circumstances. In the ending sequence of In Too Deep, players have a choice in how they want to escape the city of Monroe. Do they allow Pete to negotiate them out of the city of Monroe, or will Michonne fight her way through? If players choose to fight their way through, Pete will consistently try to tell you he could have convinced Norma and Randall to let them escape. He continues to hold this over Michonne’s head for the first few minutes of Give No Shelter.
The episode also struggles to find the balance between the Michonne’s personal story and the present. In fact, while it thematically feels like it makes sense for the present story to take a backseat to allow room for characterization of Michonne, it feels too weak and light in comparison. There’s very little going on, and when something does happen, it’s only to push the plot through the motions to move towards the finale. Even then, the events that happen end up feeling like players have been through it before. It feels like it tries to cover up the empty parts with some action or suspenseful sequence. These sequences are well done and somewhat necessary, but they feel forced and unnatural in how the cast arrives to those moments. The focus of the first episode on suspense and tension is replaced with action and dread. It works, but it does not mix well with the expository scenes.
However, the moments that shine in Give No Shelter are superbly well done. One of my favorite sequences also happens at the beginning of the game. After having barely escaped the city of Monroe unscathed, Pete and Michonne are told by Sam that her family’s home isn’t too far from here. However, to make it there they have to get through a wall of walkers in front of them. When Michonne remembers using walkers on chains helped her get through tough situations before, she finds two walkers that she cuts the arms and jaw off of and then binds them in rope. Keeping Pete and Sam next to her, they’re able to make it through the herd safely.
Another moment that was supremely well done was the ending of the episode. I don’t want to give away too much, but what I will say is this: it effectively rattled me to my core, and the choices I had to make left me reeling with disgust. There were no right options to choose from in this moment, but truly a lesser of two evils. This was in large part due to the voice acting by both Samantha Wiley (Michonne) and Derek Phillips (Randall). The conversation that plays out allows Randall to mess with Michonne terribly, attacking her weakest points to fuel her rage against him. Sure, this type of character has been done before and will always be done again, but it does not mean it cannot be done effectively. Phillips brings out not only the worst in Randall, but the worst in both the player and Michonne. Again, there was no right or easy choice to choose from…either one was going to leave a sinking feeling in the player’s gut. He was the perfect foil to Michonne.
Give No Shelter also provides more backstory to Michonne’s current mental state, and does a stellar job of doing so. Instead of hinting at what might have happened, players are thrown directly into the flashback and forced to play through it. Having to examine the scene mixed in with Michonne’s fragile voice makes it a heartbreakingly tough part to get through. I could feel Michonne’s pain in having to relive the sequence, especially seeing her trying to figure out what went wrong and what she could have done to not let this happen. Everyone knows it’s too late, but that’s what makes it so relatable. This is something we’ve all done before, and it’s something we’ll probably do again in our lives.
Give No Shelter also feels like it’s conflicting in its view of death, given the tone of the game and the high body count. Immediately after making it to Sam’s home and barely saving Sam’s life from getting shot by Randall, players have to deliver the news to her family that Greg died in Monroe. Minutes after telling that story, Michonne and Sam’s father John have a talk about the death of their mother. During the conversation, John gets shot in the head by Randall and his crew while they storm the house. It feels contrived and problematic given how delicately the series has been handling the concept of death. Each death the game had so far mattered, and while this one did, it felt completely forced and unnatural. Also, given how recent players had just found shelter in the house until this moment showed just how rushed the plot felt.
However, my biggest gripe I have with this game is how the cast feels more like plot devices than they do people. This is particularly true with all of Sam’s family, particularly her little brothers James and Alex, who are representations of Michonne’s demons in the real world. More importantly, Sam is a reflection of what Michonne was once like. We’re seeing Sam going through the same pains that Michonne once experienced, and yet we’re powerless to stop the transformation.
Again, Give No Shelter falls into the technical hiccups that TellTale games fall into; game freezes, screen tears, and screen tears. This took an experience that was already hard to be immersed in and made it nearly impossible to stay tuned into.
While Give No Shelter serves its purpose well, it highlights the difficulty of trying to write the moments in between the two major plot points. There’s certainly a lot of characterization for Michonne, but it fails the do the same for the rest of the cast. They all end up feeling cookie-cutter and one-dimensional, becoming more plot pushers than people. GIve No Shelter also feels uneven in pace, to the point where it feels like it needed extra episodes to tell the story properly. Overall, it feels like a step back from what players got from In Too Deep. Hopefully the next episode makes it all worth it.
Episode 3 – What We Deserve
“Girls…listen to me…I have to go…I just have to go…Goodbye, I’m so sorry.” – Michonne, What We Deserve Dialogue Choice 1
For the first time in a long while, I couldn’t move from my seat even after the credits finished rolling after completing the game. That’s because I could not stop contemplating whether or not the ending I chose felt like the right choice. Each dialogue option I chose felt at direct conflict with what Michonne would have wanted, but it also felt like she would have too. Was it too altruistic? Was it too selfless? Or would the other route have felt too selfish for the sake of closure? Normally, the choices I’ve made in-game I have felt content in doing so, but this is different. In the end, I can’t tell if I made the right choice as much as I want to believe I did. It definitely left a sour taste in my mouth to where I feel like I need to replay the game again and see what the difference is in payout.
What We Deserve is less of a story and more of a visual-stream-of-consciousness and finally settles into the story TellTale wants to tell; this is a story about family, about learning how to cope with loss and if it’s all worth it. What I love even more about this game is how much of a different person Michonne becomes at the end of the game. Instead of being cold and guarded, she’s now a mother that’s trying to act strong in the face of dire circumstances. This is her chance to do it right this time, and even if it’s overcompensating, she’ll do everything she can to protect the current family she has. This can be seen in the moment where Michonne goes to talk to Alex about the death of his father. While talking to him about it, she tries to protect him by handling the situation as delicately as possible. As the moment ends, there’s a feeling that Michonne has finally opened up to the idea of being warm.
However, the biggest strength of What We Deserve is that the focus is less on surviving in a world full of walkers, and centered on the both the human drama and the concept of family. In this regard, the story feels tightly reined in and focused, never missing a beat or idea TellTale was trying to grasp. Keeping the focus on Sam’s family, then to Michonne’s own personal trauma was a smart choice by TellTale that clearly shows they knew the point they wanted to make.
That said, the game certainly ended the way any story arc tends to end in The Walking Dead; violent, bloody and an insanely high body count. While Give No Shelter could serve a clue as to how the tone was going to be for the conclusion, What We Deserve certainly ups it even more to the point where it’s 90% action, and 10% dialogue. However, the difference between Give No Shelter and What We Deserve is that the amount of action in this episode makes sense contextually to what is going on. Based on the events of the previous two episodes, everything that is happening is a product of their results.
Also, the action does not slow down Michonne’s personal story and actually bolsters it. The moment the two storylines intertwine together makes the ending sequences all the more compelling to get through. It’s in these moments that we see Michonne unravelling we learn of the strength she has for carrying such a burden. However, it’s also her worst flaw that almost comes at a cost.
This episode particularly highlights Samantha Wiley’s (Michonne’s) superb range as an actress and her ability to capture the essence of her character. I felt like I could feel her pain with each passing second through the final sequences of the episode, so much so that I had to pause for a few moments to step away from the game. The final third of the game is a very powerful sequence that is uncomfortable. However, for both Michonne and the player the sequences felt very necessary for any sort of closure.
That said, while neither good or bad, I want to emphasize that this game is very, very heavy handed. There is a lot to take on and process, as well as a lot of choices that will often leave players second guessing the choices they’re making. However, there are moments where the exposition can feel too heavy and that there could have been some lightheartedness to provide a break from the feeling. Also, a lot of the characters continue to feel more like plot devices and less like people. It’s a little infuriating even if it makes sense in a contextual sense.
Unfortunately, What We Deserve is also the episode of the mini-series that suffers the worst from the technical hiccups that plague TellTale games. With how many characters are on screen at any given time, or how much is going on, the engine will sometimes slow down to an almost grinding halt. There have also been several moments where it just froze outright and took a little while to pick back up to speed. Also, not to be severely nitpicky, but there was a rather funny misspelling that had me laughing at how it got through without being caught.
What We Deserve is a strong but imperfect episode that makes up for the doldrum that was Give No Shelter. It valiantly tries to conclude both stories on a strong point, and while it does so for Michonne it certainly feels the opposite for the second concurrent plot. It’s an episode that felt like it had enough episodes to tell Michonne’s personal story, but not enough for the second plot. If anything, it left me feeling like the game needed five episodes to tell the full story. However, the story that it ends up telling is powerful enough to be a satisfying ending.
The Walking Dead; Michonne Mini-Series
Overall, while it’s true that The Walking Dead: Michonne Mini-Series was only meant to be a stopgap between The Walking Dead: Season 2 and Season 3, it’s a strong return to form for TellTale. The story is very engaging, and powerful in the themes it wants to explore. Using Michonne as a catalyst was a solid choice that not only helped bolster the immersion, but allowed fans to get to explore what makes her as a character. For the most part the game deftly handles mixing in moments of tension, horror, suspense and action.
However, I feel that the game did the cast around Michonne a disservice by not allowing them to break out of the purpose or one-dimensional personality. The game feels like it mishandles the tone and pacing, feeling overall uneven in the experience. Based on the story told in the three episodes, it feels like there needed to be a couple more episodes to provide more fleshing out of the story. At the same time, the game does look gorgeous and the overall design feels like it complements the story being told.
Essentially, every Walking Dead game TellTale has produced has ended up being an experience, not just a game. The Walking Dead: Michonne, aside from its flaws, kept me glued in and immersed from the very beginning. It’s a powerful story that gives Michonne a moving backstory that shows how fragile she is underneath the guard she puts up. It’s a game that ends up feeling stronger than The Walking Dead: Season 2 and should be played in preparing for Season 3. This is an experience meant to be in your library as a fan of the franchise.