As a kid and even to this point I’m a console kinda guy. My first experience with having a family PC wasn’t until 1996, and even then it was primarily used for doing things like school work or watching a few QuickTime movies like the “One More Astronaut” music video on the I Mother Earth CD I got for my birthday. Being a gamer raised on consoles, one of the genres I missed out on was the point and click adventure, save for the NES port of Maniac Mansion that my brother and I got for Christmas way back in the day. At a time when I was cognitively ready to tackle the genre, it appeared to be all but vanished, that is until Telltale Games picked up the baton and ran with it in a big way. With my limited experience I’ve had with the company’s output however, I don’t really feel like I’m getting the full experience many got playing games of this type in the 90’s.
My first true Telltale experience, as I’m sure it is for a lot of people, was with their first season of The Walking Dead. Once it got its hooks into me, I could not stop playing until I reached the end of the final chapter to find out what happened in the ever developing relationship between Lee and Clementine. This was at a point when I was burned out on the zombie franchise and particularly The Walking Dead after the “when are they going to get to the fireworks factory?!!” quality of the TV show hit the airwaves, so for a Walking Dead game to have that kind of effective on me speaks volumes towards the quality of the product that Telltale produced. Needless to say that in early 2013 when I found out there would be not one, but two ongoing Telltale Games to look forward to, I was beyond excited…that is until I got to “play” both series.
Both The Wolf Among Us, a debut series produced by Telltale based on the “Fables” comic series, and the second season of The Walking Dead started off incredibly strong; The former case setting up the fantastical world of Fabletown and throwing the player into a neon-tinted “whodunnit” murder mystery while the latter showcased just how brutal things would get for the young Clementine in the harsh zombie infested world. It appeared that in each case the coveted Telltale charm had one me over once again as it did with the debut season of The Walking Dead, but as each chapter made itself available for me to download, I noticed something was missing from the experience that didn’t affect me the way I initially thought they would. That something? my level of engagement and activity in the two universes.
I’m not ignorant of the adventure genre to know that The Walking Dead starting out was the most advanced game of its type, but beyond the well crafted dialogue and tough choices, I was still granted the ability to stretch my legs sometimes, gather some items, and solve some rudimentary puzzles; Something that was sorely lacking in the sophomore season as well as The Wolf Among Us. In the case of The Walking Dead, it does fit a little more with the theme as you are playing as a child in an adults world, so it can be forgiven that I’m more or less playing an interactive novel where my hand is firmly held across five episodes with the only input from me is picking a choice or engaging in the umpteenth zombie attack quick time event, but for The Wolf Among Us it’s borderline insulting.
I get that the strength of the studio is in their dialogue and the talent they painstakingly choice to inhabit these roles, that’s something I cannot take away from the award-winning studio, but when you take away enough control, you may as well be telling your story in a comic or a choose your own adventure novel. I was so excited to take on the role of Bigby Wolf, the chain-smoking, five o’clock shadow sporting sheriff of Fabletown to track down a serial killer, but in my time with The Wolf Among Us, I never really felt like I was doing any detecting of my own: I pick a destination, I go there, talk to someone, then go somewhere else. You want to go to the club? Turn to page 57. The butcher shop? Page 113.
I see a pile of praise heaped on the duo of IP’s upon the release of each subsequent chapter, and I often start to question if maybe it was just me, perhaps I’m missing something that others are picking up on right way. Could it be it’s the fact that as opposed to waiting for the collected edition like I did the first time around with The Walking Dead I chose to purchase the season pass on both accounts and play each chapter as they made themselves available? But would playing two guided experiences as one story really change the experience that much, or would I just see the cracks in the foundation more? It’s something I’ll most defintly experiment with for each Telltale game series moving forward, the lack of a chapter-by-chapter review be damned.
This is something that’s unfortunately not limited to Telltale’s games, so it is a tad unfair to single them out. We live in an age in our modern games where we want everything spelled out for us else we’re packaging something back up to trade it in towards something new or shiny, or simply waiting for it go on sale for Steam at a small fraction of the cost of what it was when it was brand new. That being said, Telltale is in a unique position compared to most AAA game studios today in that they’re not chained to just one franchise they must produce every year, let alone one where the protagonist is some generic army ranger tasked with mowing down wave upon wave of space terrorists. They present us with well develop characters and take us on journeys where you’re never quite sure if that decision you made was indeed the correct one, so they shouldn’t assume that their audience is one that’s not able to figure out how to do some of the heavy lifting and figure things out on their own.