Lee from The Walking Dead game holding a walkie-talkie.

Telltale Games Need To Evolve Their Stale Formula

Telltale Games are a studio that knows what they do well and stays in their lane.  But maybe it’s time for them to branch away from playing it safe and make truly great games?

The Walking Dead Season 1 is one of the most emotional games I have ever played.  The writing and acting are simply breathtaking the characters will stick with me for the rest of my life.  Despite the fact that I was essentially being funnelled through a pre-set sequence of events, having even small opportunities to make decisions made the adventure feel like my own.  And that ending… damn…

The problem is, The Walking Dead Season 1 was so good that it feels like Telltale Games have just been reskinning it for each new game they release.  In the beginning that was fine but the whole experience is starting to wear thin.

Despite using essentially the same formula since 2012, Telltale have failed to address the two key criticisms levelled at them: the gameplay in their games is shallow at best, and the choices are nothing more than an illusion.

Let’s look at the gameplay first, shall we?  The levels have a restricted camera, ala Resident Evil on the original PlayStation, and players stroll around the pre-defined parameters then click the button that appears on the screen to either pick something up or speak to someone.  Then come a ton of cutscenes and the occasional action sequence with button presses.  C’mon Telltale, surely you should be able to incorporate collision detection into your games by now?  The combat is unsatisfying and players never really feel like they’re physically in control of the character on screen.

But hey, at least they’re in control of that character’s destiny, right?  No.  Telltale should be commended for being able to make what is essentially a linear story with a few paths that separate then rejoin the plot a few minutes down the line feel like a truly free experience.  Despite being one of the few studios truly focused on delivering a branching story-driven experience, Telltale are nothing more than a studio hiding behind the illusion of choice.  When that’s the whole point of your game, it leaves a bad taste in the player’s mouth.

It’s 2018.  A lot has changed in the last 6 years.  We’ve had the PlayStation 4 and PS4 Pro, and the Xbox One and the Xbox One X.  And that’s without mentioning the dramatic evolution of PC gaming.  It’s time for Telltale Games to change, too.

Telltale should create maps that can be explored, even if those maps are not truly open worlds.  Players should have more control over their character, with combat that meets the expectations of the modern gamer.  And as for the choices…make them actually matter.  I want to be able to make a decision that has ramifications for the rest of my game.  I killed X and now I can never visit Y because there’s no one to show me the way?  That sucks but at least I made that happen.  It was my decision.

I want my decisions to matter.  I want to have my own experience decided not by a linear story with false pretences, but by a game that is truly open to making my decisions have consequences.

It’s time for Telltale Games to evolve their stale formula.

Written by Jason Monroe

I spend my time playing video games or complaining about them. I'll never change.