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Yesterday, Telltale dropped Give No Shelter on us. In the second episode of the Walking Dead Michonne mini-series, Telltale continues the story of Michonne’s time during the time skip at the end of the All Out War Arc in the comics. If you’ve played Telltale games then you know what they’re about: cut-scenes, quick-time events, and point-and-click interactions, centered on a story from a popular licensed property.
Give No Shelter does not change this formula. The gameplay is exactly what you’ve come to expect from Telltale and if that’s your thing, then you’ll be fine. Telltale also made sure that this game was smooth, and there were no glitchy cut-scenes bringing the game to a standstill. Although, as with the previous episode, In Too Deep, there is an added emphasis on just exactly how much ass Michonne can kick.
And it’s a significant amount.
Playing the game as Michonne, especially this episode, is wish fulfillment fantasy for the part of me that thinks I could totally make it in the zombie apocalypse. In reality I would not survive, not even for a second. As Michonne zombies are laughable obstacles. People are only just this side of threatening. Michonne isn’t the problem solver that Lee and Clementine had to be. She’s a fighter.
But that’s all just window dressing. This is a Telltale game and if you are here for that, than you are here the story. Picking up where you left off in the last game you go right into an escape sequence, a quick-time event that shows off Michonne’s impressive ass kicking prowess, and then a walk through the zombies using her patented leashing zombies trick. You get to a house. You have conversations. You make some choices. People die.
It’s familiar. You’ve done all these things before.
I come to a Telltale Walking Dead game to be challenged from a moral standpoint. Do I save the man on the right, or do I save the woman on the left. The choice component of Telltale games forces you in a brief moment to decide who you are as a person. It doesn’t make choose between being a psychopath and being a good person. It makes you choose in the morally grey area. There are no right answers. It is this style of choice after ambiguous choice with unpredictable returns that make Telltale’s Walking Dead series so intriguing.
Yet, for some reason they aren’t giving Michonne choices like that. They’ve boiled down the way she interacts with the world as “Chop dude up” or “Don’t chop dude up” and that’s insulting to this strong, competent woman. This is a problem I found in the first episode, and it has not been solved in the follow up. That’s not to say that the game isn’t fun, it’s just that Telltale isn’t living up to my storytelling expectations for them.
That being said there are some intriguing sequences that absorbed me in the moment. There is a flashback sequence where you explore her old apartment. When players find themselves inside Michonne’s memory making choices and dealing with the immediate aftermath of the zombie outbreak, the frantic emotion of Michonne searching for her daughters, the game comes alive. For that handful of moments in her memory the action is vivid and there is something to be gained and lost. That we know her daughters are gone, and still we feel this way, makes for impressive storytelling. Another memorable moment came when a character is killed by a gunshot in the face, from way off-screen, right after affirming that they need to do everything they can to live. It had that weary, brutal sense of humor that I’ve come to expect from these games.
These specific points when the story winked at me were the strongest part of the game. There is, I am convinced, a story in here about Michonne’s deteriorating mental state. It is a David Fincher style creep fest about her slipping grip on the line between reality and memory. Grief and pain and suffering rolled up in to a tortured woman who can only deal with things by slashing them to bits or running away. That is the game I want to play. I want to see how a woman can battle her demons and guilt while staying alive. I want the story of a person who is surviving in reality, but no longer sure where reality is. I want to see that struggle. I want to make choices to affect that outcome.
As it is Michonne is running from bad guys whose motivation at this point I questions severely. I just can’t wrap my head around why they are still pursuing her when their town is burning and all she did was unsuccessfully steal a duffle bag of stuff. I get killing her for that, but hunting her across the country side? It’s like the motivation is merely because the game needed a villain and there was no other way to get one.
I’m coming to the conclusion that after two episodes of this game we aren’t going to be given that opportunity. We will simply be given really strong fighting moves, and the choice between killing someone and not killing someone. It’s a boring choice. I understand that Michonne is a fighter. That is clear from the first moments of the game, from the way she moves through each scene, the choices of her dialogue. The problem is her fights have all been external, when there should be a balance struck between her external conflicts and her internal turmoil.
Maybe they are working towards something. I’m willing to give Telltale significant slack, because they have earned that with me. There is always the chance that in the last episode they will do something that will melt my brain with the amazing twist. I doubt it though and that has nothing to do with the writers of this game or the competency with which it is made. Michonne has a path, I’ve seen far ahead of it, I’ve seen well behind it. What happens to her in this series is sound and fury signifying nothing.