The Walking Dead: Michonne, Telltale’s latest attempt expand their beloved undead choose-’em-up, nabs Robert Kirkman’s sword-wielding zombie slayer from the comic universe and drops her in a solo miniseries set between issues 126 and 139. She’s got a boat now, but she’s not on a pleasure cruise.
Telltale's previous undead outings made it onto our list of the best zombie games on PC.
It’s part exploration of Michonne’s tenuous mental state and her struggle to deal with some very serious trauma, which might have a bit less impact if you haven’t followed her through her undead nightmare, and part well-trodden survivor drama. If you like seeing zombies being re-killed in many grisly ways, though, have I got the game for you.
Michonne is entirely unlike Lee and Clementine, a teacher and a little girl respectively. Even before the comics, she had become an effective killer of zombies, and she gets to practise her skills plenty across the short first episode.
Zombies on a boat, zombies in the water, zombies on a bigger boat – she effortlessly knocks them back into the afterlife like a monster-hunting samurai. It’s a different style of action from Tales from the Borderlands, Game of Thrones or even the previous Walking Dead games. Underneath the blood and rotting monsters, it’s all very slick and quick, the kills of a proficient warrior.
The result is a series of action sequences that look great, are full of gross-out moments and hammer home the fact that Michonne is not to be trifled with. Unfortunately, she’s so damn good at dispatching zombies – she can clear a room full of them without much bother – that a great deal of tension is lost. They’re not messy fights to survive, they’re stylish scenes of slaughter. And ultimately, we know that Michonne’s fate is to live another day, and several more after that, because she returns to the comics after her little sojourn.
Aside from the tone of the action, though, The Walking Dead: Michonne is a bit by the numbers. It’s got some of the ingredients of a good Telltale game, but the first episode is exceedingly brief and a bit slapdash. New characters and flung into the story rapidfire as Michonne becomes entangled in someone else’s very familiar drama involving a community of survivors ruled over by a pair of bullies.
There are stand-offs and arguments and decisions that might lead to people dying, but surprises are few and far between, while the cast so far don’t have anything interesting to say. Michonne doesn’t, either. She’s a great character in both the comics and the TV show, but here, her stoicism and and bottled-up personal trauma make her a very distant protagonist.
That’s not to say that her traits and experiences aren’t interesting or worth exploring, but most of the first episode is more concerned with the problems facing a bunch of people she’s just met, leaving little room for Michonne’s own struggles. She’s a witness and reluctant participant in someone else’s story. This makes it rather impersonal, not helped by the fact that the game’s fast pace and brevity ensure that it’s impossible to get to know or really sympathise with this group of Rando Calrissians.
Events that could have had a big impact end up having none at all because there’s no real reason to care about the people involved. What should have been a tense climax near the end is instead hollow, and far from the harrowing crises of the previous games because it’s not happening to anyone that we’ve had time to form an opinion about. It’s often hard to make a call in a Telltale game out of fear of the repercussions. These big, meaningful decisions are terrifying, even when they’re slightly illusory, because there’s always the chance that something you decided will harm someone you care about. In The Walking Dead: Michonne, they’re hard to make because none of them feel like they matter.
The potentially more compelling story, Michonne trying to drag herself out of an emotional pit and deal with the truly awful loss that she’s experienced, has been pushed to the side in favour of a less affecting one. Maybe the tale of these boat-loving survivors will pick up over the next two episodes, but really, after only spending an hour and a half with them, I’d be happy to see them all get back in the sea so we can deal with Michonne’s troubles.
After Tales from the Borderlands, this really feels like a step backward for Telltale. There’s been no real attempt made to mix up the formula; this is exactly like the previous Walking Dead games, absent the compelling cast and gripping story. This makes it harder to overlook the game’s technical shortcomings as well. It’s a creaky game with stiff animation and a dodgy frame rate, which might be part for the course for a Telltale game, but here it’s even more noticeable.
The Walking Dead: Michonne is supplementary at best. It’s a sidestory that fills in a brief gap in a much bigger narrative. There are hints of more interesting things to come, but as of the first episode, this is far from essential for either fans of The Walking Dead comics or Telltale’s other episodic games. It’s a diversion, and not a great one.