Telltale Games is an interesting enigma in double-A gaming. They’re too big to be your standard indie studio but not quite at that triple-A developer level in terms of the scope or quality of their games. They’ve found themselves a niche by making episodic, story-driven games. Their adaptations of The Walking Dead and Fables (as The Wolf Among Us) launched them into a prestige class above many triple-A developers. Everyone was beating down their doors to get them to make a game of their properties.
After The Walking Dead, Telltale made games based on Borderlands, Game of Thrones, Minecraft, Batman and Guardians of the Galaxy. The only problem is that Telltale has stretched themselves thin on both the creative and technical sides of their business. The Telltale Tool engine is suffering from regular performance problems while the writing quality has been sliding as more is heaped onto their writers’ plates.
The Walking Dead: A New Frontier, the third “season” in Telltale’s TWD saga, might just be a microcosm of the decline of Telltale over the course of just five episodes.
After a short couple of months, Telltale’s The Walking Dead: Michonne miniseries reaches its conclusion with Episode Three: What We Deserve. If you’ve read reviews of or played the first two episodes, you would know that Telltale is really struggling to capture the essence of one of The Walking Dead’s trademark characters. That’s still apparent in the final third of TWD: Michonne. To use an in-universe metaphor: It’s stumbling home like it’s a walker.
A while back, I wondered if Telltale Games had spread itself too thin. At that point in time, it had The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us, Game of Thrones and Tales from the Borderlands in the works. Since then, they’ve added Batman and Minecraft to their lineup along with this TWD miniseries before the upcoming The Walking Dead: Season Three.
The first episode of The Walking Dead: Michonne certainly seemed like evidence that Telltale had finally overwhelmed itself and its quality was slipping. Episode Two: Give No Shelter is an improvement on the first episode but we’re still a long way from the peak of Telltale’s ability.
Much like they did between Seasons One and Two of The Walking Dead, Telltale has another small adventure to bridge the gap between seasons of their The Walking Dead series. While their TWD story runs parallel to the comic series, The Walking Dead: Michonne actually forms part of the continuity of the main story.
Telltale’s last two efforts with beloved characters were a mixed bag with Borderlands fans loving Tales From The Borderlands while Game of Thrones fans were underwhelmed by Game of Thrones (though the treatment of the likes of Ramsay Snow and the Lannisters was the best part of the series). With Michonne being one of TWD’s most popular characters, how would this effort turn out?
Telltale Games had a bit of an up-and-down reputation prior to the release of The Walking Dead. That game completely changed the way that most thought of Telltale and many critics felt that they set the bar for storytelling in games. After the numerous game of the year awards for TWD and a critically acclaimed launch for The Wolf Among Us, Telltale’s second comic book adaptation, The Walking Dead: Season Two was one of the most hotly anticipated games of 2014.
The problem with a game with all that hype is that it occasionally bogs down under the weight. The problem with a sequel is that they struggle to balance the needs of new gamers to the franchise with the desires of people continuing the story. There were times when TWD:S2 caved to these pressures as Telltale tried very hard to copy what made Season One so loved but missing the emotional mark that Season One hit. However, once Season Two came into its own, Telltale had put out another stellar experience.
Coming into the second season of Telltale’s The Walking Dead, one of the big things people were talking about is how the game would be able to continue with Clementine as the protagonist. After all, she’s just a little girl. She couldn’t fill the shoes of Lee.
Well, literally, Clem couldn’t fill his shoes. Figuratively, once we got all the character introductions out of the way and got into character and plot development, this season took The Walking Dead to heights surpassing Season One. Sure, the episodes are shorter and maybe the illusion of choice isn’t quite as strong as the first season but amazing story and character writing made this game one of the highlights of 2014.
Now we reach the end of Season Two and boy, does Telltale give this season a spectacular send off.
One of the advantages of being behind on playing an episodic game like The Walking Dead: Season Two is that you can play multiple episodes in quick succession. I didn’t get into the first season until a random Steam Sale so I was able to go through the first three episodes at the same time. There’s something to be said about being able to keep the story rolling by binging episodes. It works for TV so why wouldn’t it for video games?
Once again, my habit of going contrary to the consensus critical opinion continues in this review. While critics rated it as the worst episode of the season, I have it as the second-best. So what did I see that no one else did?
The Walking Dead: Season Two – Episode Three (Spoiler-Free) Review: Survival, From a Certain Point of View
For some reason, my views of this season of Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead skews opposite of that of most reviewers. While I absolutely loved Episode Two, many were lukewarm relative to me. Then I look at Episode One and most critics liked it more than I did.
Episode Two introduced William Carver, the antagonist for this season of the game, and the story made a turn for the darker which is something that strikes a chord with me. The majority of critics called it the best episode of TWD Season Two when it came out. I won’t go that far but that doesn’t mean this isn’t a good episode of the game.
After establishing themselves as some of the best storytellers in gaming with Season One of The Walking Dead, Telltale Games certainly didn’t set the world on fire with either Season One’s 400 Days DLC or Season Two premiere All That Remains. While the pieces that made TWD great were there, the heart that made TWD special was missing.
Fortunately, despite having four games on the go right now, Telltale hasn’t bitten off more than it can chew. Episode Two of Season Two is a return to form for The Walking Dead series.
The surprise hit of 2012 was The Walking Dead. Given how often that licensed games disappoint and Telltale’s shaky track record before the release of the first episode of their The Walking Dead series, no one was expecting Telltale’s new game set in the universe of The Walking Dead comic books to be as great as it was. The first five episodes of The Walking Dead picked up dozens of Game of the Year awards along with seemingly hundreds of other awards in 2012.
So The Walking Dead: Season Two had a lot to live up to. Could the first episode of Season Two of The Walking Dead live up to the original or would it be underwhelming like the 400 Days DLC?