Telltales Michonne is an empathy game but with zombies

Sep 1, 2019 kpzhojlh

first_imgWhen Telltale Games adapted The Walking Dead into an adventure game, they surprised players by downplaying the violence and action, in order to focus on the characters. Players occasionally got to shoot zombies, but most of the time they were playing diplomat among a group of survivors. The character Michonne didn’t appear in the previous Walking Dead games by Telltale, but she got a three-part episodic series this year that lets her star in a side story. In the comic books, Michonne runs around the zombie apocalypse chopping up Walkers with a katana, and players might have thought that this game would be their chance to indulge in some zombie slashing. However, Michonne’s game is even more character-driven than the previous ones, essentially being one of those empathy games where players are more concerned about Michonne’s psychological health than they are with skewering zombies.It’s not a spoiler to say that, right at the start of the game, Michonne is contemplating suicide. She is haunted by memories of her loved ones from before the zombie apocalypse, and the story is about her efforts to find motivation to continue living.Players are given a choice in the first scene: they can decide whether or not Michonne tries to kill herself. About 67% of players choose to keep on living, but that means over 32% don’t (according to Telltale’s statistics at the time of this writing). Of course, Michonne is just a fictional character, and players can assume that her death will result in no greater consequence than reloading from the last checkpoint, but these statistics show that about one third of players begin the game nihilistic enough to let the title character kill herself. The rest of the game is an experiment to see if the designers can change that outlook in players.Over the course of the three short episodes, players follow Michonne on a journey to find a reason to keep on living. Because players can choose what she says and does, Michonne might not complete this emotional journey. She’ll fight zombies and bad guys, inevitably emerging victorious over her physical challenges, but she won’t necessarily triumph over her inner struggle to let go of the past.Players don’t have much time to accomplish their goal as Michonne’s therapist. Each of the episodes is a little over an hour long, and the whole thing can be played in around three and a half hours. Players can rightfully complain that the game is shockingly short, even by Telltale standards, but the brief playing time serves the hidden goal of the game: to instill hope in players. People who play it now that the final episode is out can experience the entire story in one sitting.Players who don’t care about the mental health of fictional characters will find Michonne to be a slight evolution of the interface and storytelling techniques that Telltale used in the previous Walking Dead games. It’s still an adventure game with multiple dialog choices, and QTE combat, but it uses a more surreal style. The icons that represent which buttons the player should push are more stylized — they often appear at strange angles, as though the buttons are embedded in the background. Hitting them at the right time causes them to become splattered with blood, as though the interface itself is within the game world.Much of the story is told with flashbacks of Michonne’s pre-apocalyptic life, but these flashbacks are blended with the events of her present. She (and the Player) see aspects of both time periods at once. One moment she’s in a forest fighting zombies, the next moment the zombies are in the living room of her old apartment. People she knew in her old life appear as visions in the present. Michonne is loosing touch with reality, and players have to sort through what is real.Michonne has some companion characters; fans of the comic books will recognize Pete and Siddiq. Pete gets a significant amount of screen time in the game, and he’s in all three episodes for fans who want to see more of the character. The other people that Michonne meets were created just for this game.Michonne and her entourage fight a new group of villains, a town of pirates who scavenge along the Chesapeake. The group is led by a ruthless brother-sister team. Michonne and Pete accidentally get mixed up in local politics, and find themselves having to escape. The story isn’t so much about long-term survival in a world full of zombies, but rather the immediate dangers of human enemies. It proceeds at a fast pace; the protagonists are captured by the bad guys, they make a quick escape, and find themselves in a climactic showdown all within two days of in-game time.One of the weakest elements of the narrative is the abundance of minor characters who are never developed. The short playing time, combined with branching story paths means that many of these supporting characters only get a couple of brief scenes before they are unceremoniously killed off. Some of these characters arrive abruptly in the second half of the story, while others get a short scene in the first episode and aren’t seen again until their “tragic” death at the end. This applies to both the friendly characters as well as bad guys. Some of the minor enemies have their own subplot, but players only see these if they make the right dialog choices during the story. Otherwise, players will scream “Oh no! Not Whatzizname!” when a character they hardly spoke to dies in a scene that’s clearly intended to evoke pathos.At the end of the game, the player is once again given a choice. This is a symbolic choice about whether or not Michonne has gained the will to live. In the first episode, when players make a similar decision, nearly one third of players chose to make Michonne attempt suicide. However, when the final choice comes at the end of the game, only 7% of players choose to make Michonne give up. That’s an increase of 25% over the course of the story. Regardless of any faults as an adventure game, Michonne is a clear success in how to instill hope in players who enjoy the despondent settings of post-apocalyptic games.last_img

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