How do I review you? The Telltale Quandry
Quick note, I’ve been trying to record this and create a video of this essay that should be released in the near future. I also may be appearing on a podcast to talk about this topic with some actual smart people. For updates please click the sub button or follow me on Twitter @Cynic8edwards
For those of you not keen on reading. Awfully sorry for my poor mic quality, still learning.
Part of my writing around the web often involves writing reviews. I like writing reviews, be it for games, films, events, I find it fun to collate my feelings and thoughts on a piece of work. As with any form of writing, reviews require a certain structure. Each reviewer builds their own sort of template from which they can write a solid piece of work. Look over some of the reviews by your favorite reviewers and after a while you’ll be sure to notice a certain pattern across their work. Over time I’ve started to put together my own formula but it’s still very much in it’s early prototyping stages. One thing that keeps rearing its head is how do I review a game by Telltale?
Telltale, for those of you who don’t know, is a game developer, who over the last few years has carved themselves a very profitable niche of creating story-driven episodic games set in existing licenses. They’ve been doing this for a long time, but it was only with the release of their Walking Dead series that they found what proved to be a winning formula. releasing what one episode, typically once every two months with the games having between 5 – 6 per season. With two series of Walking Dead as well as one Wolf Among us (Based of the Fable comics) under their belt, and them currently running both a Borderlands and Game Of Thrones series concurrently it’s fair to say they’ve mastered their art. The games they make are some of the best stories driven games around and waiting to find out what happens can be an agonizing. So whats the issue here? Well, how do I review them?
The Telltale games all have very similar mechanics, dialog choices on a timer, with moments of action being made up of quick time events. Once you’ve learned to play one of their games you can play anyone of them. That being the case, it means we’ve reviewed them all before. What I say about the Walking Dead’s mechanics is just as pertinent to the Wolf Among Us or Game of Thrones. But of course, it’s not the gameplay that attracts people to their work, it’s the story which leads to it’s very own set of issues.
You see, when reviewing a game, it’s a common courtesy to the reader to keep spoilers to a minimum. You go over the games initial setup and talk lightly about the characters and dialog but you stay away from major plot points, perhaps dropping a hint of something big that you’re excited to see others experience. But when it comes to a Telltale game the story is all you really have to gossip about. But in an age where people are so tetchy about spoilers, anything you say can be interpreted as a spoiler. How I talk about the character of Mira in Game of Thrones could easily be seen as a spoiler when I talk of her interaction with Tyrion Lannister. I don’t mean to spoil the plot, but Tyrion’s presences is a big part of her story, and you don’t learn anything by me mentioning that the two talk.
By mentioning that Jon Snow makes an appearance I’m hinting to people aware of the books and TV series that some of the games stories takes place at the Wall. With the implication of the Wall comes with it other Game of Thrones elements such as the Nightwatch and Castle Black. These implications alone are enough to have some cry spoiler. So as a reviewer I’m left with the conundrum of balancing critique with people’s desire to go in without any sort of preconceptions.
This dichotomy about reviewing such story rich but gameplay light games is one that each reviewer has to work out for themselves. With Telltale’s seemingly ceaseless output set to continue into the future and other games following suit such as Life is Strange. When narrative is the game, do we take an approach similar that of television or film reviewers whereby we talk openly about the plot, but mention major plot events in passing, allowing the reader to discover for themselves.