The Woman with a Name.
Set during a period in The Walking Dead‘s comic book timeline when Michonne left the group (and her katana sword) in an attempt to sort out her own personal demons, Episode One: In Too Deep starts off with a dream sequence. Haunted by the two children she left behind years ago, Michonne cuts past painful memories while cutting down about a half-dozen walkers in real life. Using flashbacks as a way to get viewers invested quickly has been done countless times in movies and television so why not a game’s tutorial, right? Anyone that's played season two of The Walking Dead will easily get up to speed with the now standard left-stick movements and quick-time events.
Still, as a return to one of the best adventure game series of the past few years, things start off awkward and rather dull. Seeing ghost kids haunt our fearless hero is not at all emotionally grounded, and the gameplay feels antiquated. Worse, the curved motion prompt used for the left stick is still very inaccurate. I kept dying over and over, and as a result, had to see the opening cut-scene over and over. As I said, not off to a strong start.
But my frustration melted away once the actual story began. Michonne joins a new ragtag group led by the optimistic but (probably) naïve Pete aboard The Companion, a tiny boat with an even tinier crew that’s traveling down the Chesapeake Bay. Pete, looking for a few lost mates, has been listening to a radio for any type of signal, but it’s Michonne who hears a woman’s faint cry for help. Searching for the source of the transmission leads both Michonne and Pete on the most basic of Walking Dead assignments: a supply run.
There they encounter two young thieves, get captured by a bully named Randall, and are brought before a new foe: the tough but seemingly fair Norma. To say more would spoil the plot too much, but to be honest, In Too Deep is hardly deep at all. Even a passing fan of the mega-successful zombie franchise can tell where this is all heading. So the question for this Michonne spin-off is twofold: Is the iconic katana-wielding character strong enough to sustain her own three-episode arc, and if so, does she get a story worth telling?
The answer to the first part is a resounding yes. Michonne works great as a lead character. Samira Wiley (Orange is the New Black) voices her, sounding so similar to actress Danai Gurira from the AMC TV series that I had to check IMDB to make sure it wasn’t Gurira. I tend to be rather chatty in these types of games, but since I was playing the often mute Michonne, there were many times where I simply chose “…” as a reply. It fits her character, which is what I wanted anyway—to be Michonne (even if she wields a machete instead of her trusty katana). When I did have her speak, her replies/questions always felt just right. She uses her voice sparingly, making each word uttered have weight and gravitas. When given the option of stealing a bag of goodies from two strangers, I came close to doing it because I’m Michonne. And you don’t. Mess. With Michonne.
As for the second part of the question… well, okay, the story does seem rather generic so far—meet some good people, meet some bad, make tough choices, repeat—but I’m betting the writers at Telltale Games will manage a few surprises. Since this is a “miniseries” with only two episodes left, though, they better deliver just that when the second installment, Give No Shelter, arrives. What they have done so far is give Michonne a solid foil, the somewhat hulking Norma whose chatty nature is a suitable counter to Michonne’s “speak softly and carry a big blade" way of living.
I’m still kind of let down that the core gameplay remains mainly unchanged over the years. Telltale is great with character choices and delivering a striking painterly color palate, but all of that can grind to a halt since the hacking and slashing gameplay feels repetitive, especially compared to last year’s adventure breakout Life Is Strange. Telltale is still the king at what they do, making the active conversation in a game feel tense, urgent. I just hope that’s enough for the remaining two episodes of The Walking Dead: Michonne.
Xbox One code provided by publisher. Also available on PC, PS4, PS3, and Xbox 360.