It’s hard to believe that Telltale’s first season of The Walking Dead made its impressive debut almost four years ago, and with the follow-up season also completed in 2014, it seems about the right time for the developer to return to the franchise that both opened them up to a wider audience and shaped the mechanics of all their subsequent series.
However, while a third season has been confirmed and we’ll likely get more details on it later this year, fans are receiving something a little different first in the form of the miniseries The Walking Dead: Michonne, a spinoff compacted into three episodes instead of the usual five, and focusing on an existing character from the franchise instead of a new one created for the games.
Telltale tried a similar experiment with the solid but brief 400 Days DLC in 2013, but Michonne definitely seems like a middle ground between that and previous seasons in terms of how much they’re packing in.
The choice of lead character is an interesting one, because while the games do exist in the continuity of the original Robert Kirkman comics, they’ve generally been standalone experiences except for a few cameos in the first episode of the series. Telltale has stated that this game has been written in a manner where those unfamiliar with Michonne herself will still be able to follow the plot with no issues, and after finishing In Too Deep, the first episode in the series, this is definitely an accurate statement.
The series chronicles what happened to Michonne (voiced here by Samira Wiley of Orange Is the New Black fame) when she left Rick Grimes and company for some unseen adventures in the comics, and starts out with her as part of a small boat crew led by fellow survivor Pete, who is making it his goal to search for other survivors despite numerous warnings that point out the risks involved. Things kick off when the crew receives a faint distress call and their boat gets stuck, which leads Michonne and Pete to trek to a nearby abandoned ferry in hopes of locating the sender.
The ferry initially only provides them with a look at the grisly aftermath of some sort of confrontation, complete with Walkers to fight and a concept that’s grim even by this series’ standards. It isn’t long until numerous other characters enter the picture, and the pair soon finds themselves prisoners of a nearby colony of survivors on the water. From there, Michonne gets to know certain captives a bit better, along with the danger in dealing with the leaders who have imprisoned her.
Starting up In Too Deep, I was a bit curious to see if Telltale could inject some new flavor into the series with Michonne, or if it would feel like a retread while attention was focused on the third season. The first third of the game didn’t do much to convince me, as after a prologue filled with the usual QTE-heavy Walker fights, the introductory scenes on Pete’s boat and ferry are slow and uneventful.
Thankfully, once the rest of the characters are properly introduced, we start getting more interesting conflicts. While the idea of organized shelters run by sadistic leaders is nothing new in any version of The Walking Dead, our first taste of the brother and sister duo running things does a good job of making us both fear and hate them, as well as leaving plenty of room for additional confrontations. I just hope we get more exposure to them than with Season Two‘s Carver, whose limited screen time I felt was a missed opportunity.
The episode’s most effective section by far takes a concept that was toyed with in the series’ first episode and ramps up the effectiveness through Telltale’s trademark dialog choices. When Michonne is interrogated about her intentions and background, players can choose to be as honest, dishonest, or vague as they want with each question. Not only will this get varied reactions between Michonne and her captor, but when another prisoner is thrown into the mix, your answers have some very immediate reactions. The writing, voice acting, and tension in this section are top-notch and stand out as a definite highlight.
The only real downsides from this point are the length and ending. I’ve complained about episodes of The Wolf Among Us and Minecraft: Story Mode feeling too brief, and with this clocking in at barely an hour and a half, it’s definitely guilty of the same problem. I also thought the end felt like it could have used one more scene.
Still, these issues didn’t leave me quite as disappointed as those previous examples. It definitely feels like there’s a lot packed in here in terms of plot, characters, and even the general scope, and the final cut to black, though premature, still manages to feel not quite as jarring as the first episode of Season Two.
There are also a decent amount of action scenes to be found in the game, and while there are a few interesting twists, like Michonne’s reliance on machetes that results in some of the series’ most visceral kills, I’m hoping that some more inventive fights are being saved for the remaining two episodes.
It’s also worth noting that Michonne has multiple hallucinations centered on the daughters she lost in the early days of the zombie apocalypse, which I found a bit jarring after the more grounded nature of the first two seasons. That being said, they generally don’t last long enough to drag the whole experience down and are only a minor complaint.
In terms of presentation, the voice acting and writing remain as solid as ever, though none of the background music stuck with me afterwards. There doesn’t seem to be any significant graphical advancement compared to previous entries, but considering that Telltale is still releasing Michonne on older platforms, we may have to wait for them to fully commit to modern hardware before seeing noticeable visual upgrades. The game also easily has my favorite opening credits sequence of any Walking Dead episode, going for a more stylized and creative approach than before.
It’s worth noting that this is the first Telltale game I played on the PC in ages, as I played the previous Walking Dead games and everything since on home consoles. While I can’t confirm the same for any of the console versions, the technical performance is a definite step up. Even with maximum graphical settings at 1080p, there was a lot less of the constant brief freezing and stuttering I experienced in the first two seasons on PlayStation 3. There were still a few weird instances of characters ‘warping’ from one position to another, though.
Issues like the length and early pacing mean that I can’t give In Too Deep the same rating that I gave many other episodes of The Walking Dead, but when this outing starts developing its main conflict and cast, it does deliver a lot of the qualities I’ve come to expect from the series. While we’ll have to wait and see if the rest of The Walking Dead: Michonne can bring us quality storytelling and a satisfying conclusion, this is certainly a promising introduction and one that fans should check out immediately.
This review is based on the PC version, which was provided to us.
Despite the burdens of a slow opening and short length, The Walking Dead: Michonne Episode 1 - In Too Deep expands on Telltale's established methods in clever ways, and delivers a promising start to the franchise's first miniseries.