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Game of Thrones: A Telltale Games Series

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Telltale Games
Release Date: Dec. 2, 2014

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


PC Review - 'Game of Thrones: Episode 1 - Iron From Ice'

by Brian Dumlao on Dec. 18, 2014 @ 3:00 a.m. PST

Game of Thrones: A Telltale Games Series is an episodic story where political and sexual intrigue abound as seven noble families fight for control of the Iron Throne and the Seven Kingdoms.

Telltale Games' first batch of licensed adventure games was entertaining but relatively light in content. No one would accuse Tales from Monkey Island or Sam & Max of being too short or having nothing to do, but the subject matter was always more humorous than anything else. That perception changed almost overnight with The Walking Dead, a game series that showed how capable the team is in merging adventure mechanics with a gut-wrenching story. The Wolf Among Us and The Walking Dead: Season 2 proved the developer's ability to take on serious material. The latest endeavor is the most anticipated yet, and if the opening episode of Game of Thrones is any indication, this will be a ride that fans will want to take.

Much like Telltale's other licensed games, the story in Game of Thrones focuses on an incidental cast of characters rather than the ones in the books and TV series. In this case, you play the role of three members of House Forrester, an oft-mentioned clan in the books and series that acts as bannermen for House Stark. You start with Gared Tuttle, a squire of the house who is soon to be promoted within the clan. You then play as Ethan, the third-oldest son of the ruling family who's suddenly thrust into the role of Lord without being properly groomed for the role. Finally, you play as the eldest daughter of the family, Mira, who was sent off to King's Landing to be a handmaiden for Margaery Tyrell. Without spoiling much, the tale starts from the infamous Red Wedding and soon spirals out of control as you try to get all three characters through their own predicaments to ensure House Forrester survives the aftermath of the war.

The story marks the first time in a Telltale game when players need to have some knowledge of the world to grasp the importance of each appearance. Whereas previous titles treated your inherent knowledge of the property as a nice bonus, it feels rather essential here when you try to figure out why certain characters behave a certain way or why they're so notorious. Newcomers won't be completely lost, though. The use of a new family is great to help a newcomer come to grips with the world and its mechanics. However, coming in with prior knowledge helps immensely in enjoying the game.

The gameplay follows the same adventure model of the more recent Telltale titles, and it's rooted in three main mechanics. The first mechanic is the exploration system, which is used rather sporadically for an adventure game. You have free movement for your character, but it is limited to certain small areas and restricted to specific camera angles. You can examine specific items and parts of the environment, but beyond some comments about them, it doesn't do much. What the mechanic is good at accomplishing is tension. You'll reach a scene, for example, where you're meeting with Cersei Lannister, and the gravity of the situation hits you, thanks to the angle that's used to convey your long walk to doom. It is effective, and it's a good use of something that feels underused in this episode.

The second mechanic, the puzzle and combat system, is present, but there's more emphasis on the latter than the former. There are no puzzles in this episode at all. All of the combat happens early on and takes on the form of quick time events that involve some button-mashing and a few quick movements of the mouse. The fights are exciting in their own right and are filled with the kind of gory action the show is known for, but they don't last very long, preventing it from being overdone this early in the game.

The game mechanic that gets the most attention is the conversation tree, which makes sense given how dialogue-heavy the show is. Like past titles, the dialogue is split into two types. The first is more traditional, as it has you take your time choosing between a few responses to get more clues on the situation or progress the story. The other is a conversation on a timer, where choices must be made quickly, or else the computer makes a choice for you. In both cases, the game tries to tie your action into future episodes.

Thus far, this game proves how effective the conversation tree can be in creating tension and anxiety. The timed conversation choices usually occur when exciting things are on the cusp of happening. Though silence is available as an option, you have the urge to panic and choose something to say when you're put on the spot. When you have time to think about your decision, it's even more nerve-racking since there's almost always the stipulation that you're changing the situation dramatically and possibly making things worse for the clan. Based on previous titles, we've learned that some things are predestined to happen regardless of your choices, but the journey is fluid enough that you're curious to replay the episode just to see how bad things would've been if other decisions had been made.

The only drawback is that its episodic nature makes Iron From Ice more of a setup episode rather than one with any concrete solutions. Save for one event near the end that shouldn't surprise fans, every decision seems to be in preparation for future scenarios rather than for something more immediate. This feeling extends beyond the conversation decisions, as even items that you pick up don't get used at all. The lack of resolution can feel unsatisfying, especially since we don't know how quickly we can expect the next episode to arrive, so you might want to wait this one out if you're accustomed to binge-watching episodes.

On the audio side, the game is near perfect. The actors from the show reprise their roles and perform exactly as you'd expect them to, while the newer characters sound equally as accomplished. Each line is spoken perfectly, and not one line of dialogue sounds out of place. The music is also accurate to the show and does a great job of heightening the drama of the scene and inherent panic at some of the decisions. This is a soundtrack that deserves to be played on the best sound system you have available.

Graphically, Game of Thrones is fairly good. Going for a blend of realistic and artistic, the game features a more detailed watercolor style to the characters and the backgrounds. Character models are more realistic but stylized enough that they look like detailed figures (thanks in part to the hair), minus the plastic sheen. With a good rig, the frame rate is solid and very little warping. The movement isn't quite as fluid, though, especially when it comes to the facial expressions. It can create a few instances when the faces look creepy (especially the eyes), but overall, they're recognizable, especially when you look at the faces of the more famous characters, like Tyrion Lannister and Ramsey Snow. One area that was off was the handling of blood, which caused some glitches. The opening where you're wiping down a sword, for example, had the blood blend into the sword before you wiped it away, while another scene showed blood splatters before any had been shed.

As a setup episode, Game of Thrones: Episode 1 – Iron From Ice has all the right hooks to keep fans enthralled and newcomers interested. While it is very light on the puzzle and exploration elements, it is very deep when it comes to the story. The overall tone is spot-on with the show, and even though there are a number of questions to be answered, what's presented here is compelling enough to make you want to see what happens next.

Score: 8.0/10

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