Game of Thrones: Episode 1 – Iron From Ice PC Review
The term “interactive movie” has long been considered a criticism with videogames rather than a compliment; since the early days of Metal Gear Solid, critics have long complained about the excessive imbalance between interactive gameplay and non-interactive cutscenes with certain videogames, while dedicated fans embraced the more cinematic approach to videogame storytelling…even if the stories themselves would not always measure up.
Somewhere along the line, Telltale Games have established themselves as one of the few companies to pull off this concept, thanks largely to their stronger-than-average emphasis on quality writing and characterization…not to mention the licensing rights to hugely popular properties. The Walking Dead would have undoubtedly proved profitable thanks to the enormous popularity of the TV series, but Telltale’s multi-episode, multi-choice adaptation ended up becoming a celebrated hit that exceeded both the TV series and original comic book series.
After several other hits including The Wolf Among Us and Tales from the Borderlands, Telltale has now acquired the rights to adapt Game of Thrones, a move that has proven absolutely surprising to no one; ironically enough, the series also gained mainstream recognition for its recent televised adaptation, exceeding the popularity of its original written source material (to the point that HBO won’t even refer to it by its original publicized title A Song of Ice and Fire). Though Game of Thrones is much more faithful to its source material than The Walking Dead, hardcore fans will no doubt be disappointed that Telltale will be building its series around the TV adaptation rather than the original novels. Indeed, there is a rather weird feeling watching Telltale attempt to recreate the opening of the TV series using their in-game engine (and not very well, to be honest), not to mention the celebrity voiceovers from pivotal characters like Tyrion and Cersei.
Nevertheless, fans of the book and TV series alike may be interested to learn that the focus of the game isn’t centered around any of the major Houses of the series. Rather than dance around the drama surrounding the Starks or Lannisters without ruining the canon of the original story, the Game of Thrones game focuses instead on House Forrester, a lesser family who hail from the North and swear loyalty to the Starks. The first episode opens up during one of the most infamous moments in the series, which is typically nicknamed “R.W.” to avoid spoilers. After the events of R.W., the Forresters find themselves forced to appoint a new lord in place of their fallen king, who is one of the sons of the late king and barely reaching into his teens. In a nod to the series itself, the narrative bounces between different principal characters all over the world, each with their own group of allies, enemies, and unknowns to interact with.
Of course, as with all current Telltale Games, the main gameplay mechanic is built around the decisions players must make during key moments, which can greatly alter the flow of the story…well, presumably, anyway. Following The Walking Dead, it is becoming more and more apparent that players don’t have as much control in the narrative as they may believe, as some events will play out a certain way regardless of what choices are made. This has led to a bit of an even split among fans: those who criticize the lack of meaningful story control, and those who appreciate the slight changes in narration. Regardless of which camp you belong in, anyone who was a fan of the puzzle aspects of previous games may be disappointed to learn that Game of Thrones eliminates them entirely, at least in the first episode. Fans of the clumsy Quick Time Events that make up the action sequences will be happy to know that they are back in full force, as clumsy as ever.
The visuals are more-or-less identical to previous Telltale games, which means serviceable character models and animation that are starting to show their age. The most puzzling addition is a strange filter applied to background objects and textures, which attempt to give the game an old painting look but not quite pulling it off. The audio side follows the usual quality of voice acting and music, including a decent reading by the TV actors. Peter Dinklage may not be bringing his A-game here, but he’s certainly putting more effort into it than with his Destiny casting.
In the end, it’s the writing which defines these Telltale adaptations, and Game of Thrones is no exception. In fact, it’s thanks to the original source material’s penchant for sudden and shocking character deaths and betrayals that this game has potential to keep players glued for each subsequent episode. The first episode already comes and goes by taking an ax to the Forrester family, so it will be interesting to see how many of these characters will manage to avoid the chopping block from here on out.