Telltale's The Walking Dead game won the best game award for a reason. It filled up three very important criteria, which made it an undisputed hit. First, it was the game's accessibility and ease of playing. There were barely any puzzles, some quick time events, plenty of dialogues and most importantly choices to make. Anybody, who knows how to hold a mouse and has seen a computer game before, could play it. Its easiness gave it a huge advantage. The second important thing was the story. It introduced a cast of relatively developed characters and made a great use of having the player influence that small community in different ways. The last one was the episodic content, which made the whole adventure even more thrilling because of the cliffhangers and ramped up anticipation.
In the end both Walking Dead games were a success, same with The Wolf Among us, although it did cover a lesser known franchise. Naturally, Telltale went on full force, turning other very known and beloved universes into a choice/consequences adventures, which followed the very same formula with slight deviations.
Game Of Thrones Or How I Learned That Very Little Matters
It started with a bang. Holy crap, one of the most popular TV shows ever turned into a Walking Dead game? Sold! It is without a doubt the biggest game in its subgenre currently and it does deliver on many fronts. Meeting up with known and beloved characters from the TV show; trying to make do in this dark dark medieval fantasy world, where people are wolves towards each other; feeling helpless, hopeful, angry, tearful even, which was all a byproduct of the masterfully crafted world and the trademark great story offered to us by Telltale. Plus we get to play as four people at once, visiting all the cool locations and interacting with the major players ever so briefly. Wait a second, then why some of the reviews for certain episodes depict them as average? Well, there are several reasons for that.
One reviewer said it best - Telltale in their Game of Thrones offering look like an old magician, who is still good at what he does but we are already aware of his tricks. You see, many of the usual devices you've seen in the Walking Dead games are in full force here. Maybe the worst of them all is the illusion of choice, something you can only understand once you've played through the game at least two times making the opposite decisions each time. It funnels you into the path the developers have chosen and in the end it feels more like an interactive movie with quick time events. Not very choice/consequence. Been there, seen it all outlook can quickly set in, characters' plot shields will make you abuse them for the hell of it and the consistent dark, and foreboding atmosphere can only add to the growing boredom.
To be fair though, the Game of Thrones universe is very detailed, so big deviations in the story are not really acceptable. On the other hand, the big characters' cameos are needed to link the game and the TV show. It seems like Telltale were simply cornered and have make do with limited possibilities themselves, so you can't really judge them harshly.
In the end it is a good game but not on par with the expectations judging by the book's and the TV show's successes. Of course the ending is still looming above us, but even if it is an awesome one I'd still prefer for season 2(assuming one is made) to simply put the story in one of the less explored areas with as little big cameos as possible.
Tales From The Borderlands And How Much Fun It Is
It is a bit hard to believe how vastly different Game of Thrones and Tales From The Borderlands are. To start off, Tales is cheery, goofy and filled up to the brim with humor. Something obviously lacking from AGOT. Next, we have two characters, who are for the first time quite different in what they can do. And they are together during most of the game too. This creates such a unique experience it is hard to describe. Do you want to make one distrustful, while the other open and trusting? Cool, because it is completely possible to do that, playing on both sides in one playthrough!
But this is not all, very recently episode three showed that it is possible to play through one installment in two different ways based on a choice you made in the previous episode. Awesome! I really hope Telltale continue with this trend, because honestly I never felt like playing through their other games for a second time and picking other choices. I guess it comes with the territory, the world of Borderlands is not as greatly detailed as Game of Thrones, so they can imagine crazy situations and locales without much limitations. Not to mention that the named characters, who come from the other Borderlands games, are indeed crazy and fit right in.
Honestly I can find only a few flaws with the game and they are all acceptable. I would like to get harder puzzles, based on the different abilities of the main characters. It would also be nice to have a little less padding and more frequent episodes. It is obvious that Telltale prioritizes their Game of Thrones series more and it makes me sad. At least it seems that the longer wait produces better results!
Life Is Strange When You Are A Young Girl With Superpowers
A challenger appears. Dontnod Entertainment is a French company, which started their episodic series this year. It is very different from what Telltale has offered us so far, but also close enough to make the fans of the genre happy. And yes, I am happy, in fact I am slightly biased towards the game because it reminds me of my favorite TV show, Twin Peaks.
So, in Life is Strange you play as a high school girl with superpowers, who can use them to save lives and solve puzzles. Now this is new, puzzles where you have to actually think and use game mechanics correctly(the quick time events oh so common in the TellTale games don't count). It is a double edged sword though. Sometimes you'll feel great when you complete a certain task correctly, other times you'll be annoyed because you have to search and try a lot. Now, we should also accept that such a concept is fairly new and the developers are still experimenting with it. Episode 3, for example, had a very cool puzzle, many times better than all of episode 2's combined.
Now that we got the main attraction covered, let us check the other positives. The game is set in the real world, in a school, the main character is a nerdy quiet girl. Obviously unique(for a game, not the real life) situations and conversations can come up from all this. Exploration is also added, with achievements being awarded for being as much of a nosy person as possible. Some major situations are even resolved based on the knowledge you've accumulated. Not the mention the murder mystery that is going on and how you can potentially guess the culprit(or what really happened) based on clues in earlier episodes. I love that, I love going out of my way to learn more about the world around me and use this to my advantage. Hell, there are even things called secondary choices(I prefer to call them sub quests) and you can only make/complete them if you are paying attention and go everywhere. They don't impact the game that much of course, but at least completionists and people, who felt bad about the plant dying, will have the incentive to go through certain parts again.
All that said, the game is not without its flaws. Even in my biased opinion the characters and dialogue are a bit too heavy handed. It seems like the developers tried really hard to get the slang right and in doing so made some conversations unintentionally funny, and even cringe worthy. The choices themselves don't do much(except for the major one in episode 2), but we are still only 3 episodes in and Dontnod do promise us that the next installments will be even more ambitious. I just hope they don't go too crazy, after all when you change the time itself the results can be very....chaotic.
The Other Contenders
I dug up for some time and found Dreamfall Chapters. The game kicked my ass honestly, the puzzles and pixel hunts can be very time consuming because the maps you have to do them on are even bigger than the locales in Life is Strange. I have to admit, I don't have much experience with the adventures of the old so I may be wrong, but as far as those elements go Dreamfall Chapters is more similar to them than the other three games are, inventory management, item combining and all. And indeed, the game itself is the sequel of The Longest Journey, this seems to be a given. Playing it can be confusing but the choice/consequence system is there for you to try.
I also found Knee Deep, which is entirely devoid of voice acting and instead depends completely on dialogue choices, wacky characters and situations, and the very imaginative theatrical stage setting. If clicking on dialogue options is all you ever wanted, feel free to check it out and have a laugh. You can't lose the game, but you can lose the respect others have for you, heh.
The genre is in a pretty good spot right now. Life is Strange proved that another top dog can share the house and offer something new. The two ongoing Telltale series proved that the company can be very flexible with their storytelling and game mechanics. And the best part is that there is still place for new games to take, and thrive in. Just check them all, fire up the two seasons of The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among us if you haven't done so before and play around with the dreams and hopes of others. Like a boss!