Telltale Games' portfolio may be deep these days, but it's the company's exemplary contributions to The Walking Dead universe that will forever earn top billing. Alongside millions of others, we love the crushingly hard choices and branching character development that's unfolded over two seasons thus far.
That said, we were excited to observe if there would be any changes to the developer's established game design formula in the debut of The Walking Dead: Michonne miniseries, Episode 1: In Too Deep. Unfortunately, we can't say that much has been tweaked, but what's here still delivers what you've come to expect from the studio.
This set of three titles chronicles Michonne's absence in the comic book series between Issues 126 through 139. She's part of a crew adrift on the Chesapeake Bay who discover an inland radio signal calling for help, and what they discover will define the lengths that you're prepared to go for strangers that you're willing to trust.
Thankfully, those who fear that they won't recognise characters or understand references to places or events due to the comic book connection can stop worrying, as the episode introduces Michonne in a way that doesn't require prior knowledge. You receive a comfortable, well-rounded look at all of her core aspects that's consistent with her comic book portrayal, no matter how you choose to respond with the dialogue trees. Because of this, her character isn't pushed to new limits, but there are nevertheless powerful demonstrations of her talents and traits, such as during the intense five minutes at the start of the episode.
In an opening skirmish, Michonne fights a group of Walkers with ferocity while experiencing hallucinations, transitioning between a grassy field and her old apartment where she imagines saving her children from the undead. Only after the action do the visions cease and her kids disappear, and surprisingly, this makes her contemplate suicide once she realises that she's alone again. Needless to say, this is going to be another heavy tale.
Michonne had two daughters that went missing when the Walker outbreak commenced, which has dulled her emotions, psyche, and view of the world. She can be cold and ruthless at times toward others, but underneath her stoic veneer lies a true, motherly heart of compassion. Your perception of who you encounter determines which side of her that you see more of – but to define her in a nutshell, you could say that she's like an adult version of Clementine. In that sense, you can imagine why she's already held in high regard as one of the most compelling characters in the comic books and TV series, and you get clear trappings of that here.
Perhaps one of the most intriguing parts of her character is her mental instability, which brings something new to the table since it can cause her to break down at a moment's notice. It paves the way for future episodes to capitalise on the fright and panic that you can experience during her illusionary episodes, so hopefully this will be cleverly introduced with more frequency as the miniseries progresses. Other than this, though, very little else has been done to separate it from the previous seasons.
The only addition to gameplay that we noticed is that to complete some moves with your machete, you input a sequence of buttons like a combo, but this is hardly worthy of note. It's disappointing that there are no fresh combat elements or interesting takes on how to interact with other characters in this new instalment – and the fact that the framerate still chugs during quick time events is frankly embarrassing.
On the topic of other characters, Pete is one of the best additions to the cast, besides the perfect performance of Samira Wiley as Michonne. He has a rather shocking yet appealing optimism that brings out the best in everyone, even Michonne, who responds to some of his jokes with lines that made us chuckle. Scenes involving these two were some of the best in the episode, touching on their humanity. It's safe to say that they complement each other well with their vastly different personalities.
Meanwhile, other personalities like siblings Samantha and Greg will force you to make tricky decisions that, at times, will truly have you reeling since consequences are more unclear than usual. And, while we appreciate this unpredictability, we don't yet find the characters interesting enough to become genuinely invested during some of the more crucial moments. The same can be said of the antagonists, who aren't as compelling as past villains just yet.
In Too Deep is a stepping stone to introduce Michonne that detrimentally plays it safe. There aren't any advances in Telltale's formula or notable sequences that we haven't seen in other forms before, but the miniseries can be a cut above its predecessors if it takes advantage of the brutality and moral centre of the protagonist by embroiling her in more memorable confrontations with both the infected and the living.