October 16, 2015

Minecraft: Story Mode - Ep 1: The Order of the Stone Review

When Telltale Games announced that they were teaming up with Mojang to create a story based game around Minecraft, a lot of questions were asked, mostly around how could a game without a story fuel a story driven game.

The story here starts off with your character, Jesse and friends heading to Endercon to again compete in a building contest. When they arrive they have to deal with the obnoxious team that always wins, The Ocelots and you are given a chance to define your rivalry a little more. You will also be introduced to Petra the resident expert on getting hard to find items and its someone you will come to know well later on. The story plays out very safe for the first episode, it feels like it has to explain a whole lot more than the other games Telltale have made, probably in part to there being no story at all in the source material.  By the end of the 2 hours of gameplay, I felt that the game did a solid job of setting up the people and the threat to them, but that was about it.

Gameplay wise, the game felt split, it was more interactive at parts than other Telltale games, but it was also more on rails for a lot of the time too. You are able to move around and interact with the world, much like the other games allowed you to, when you approach an item or person, depending on what it is you can look, interact or talk to it and there are puzzles around talking and interacting in the right order. The game has some combat elements, but it does not offer up a nice way of finding the limits, there are times when fighting zombies occur, but when you do, its hard to judge when you will actually hit them.

One area the game does well is the in the crafting, as it would not be Minecraft without it, when you have a need to craft, you need to drag and drop your components onto a crafting table, in the right way, meaning that in order to create a sword, its two stone blocks and a stick in a straight line. The game does offer you the chance to look at the recipes should you need, but if you have played Minecraft before, you are set as they are the same. The game does not need you to craft when you’re building structures, it bypasses that with an expedited button tapping process, it could have been nice to allow players to build should they want to, but the system in place works.

When It comes to making decisions, you will still need to think fast as the game will keep moving forward, even if you fail to choose an option. Of course the decisions that you make will impact the course of the story across the five episodes, but for a game that draws its inspiration from a game that is adored by children, keeping that rushed requirement seems strange.

Perhaps one area of the game, that is done extremely well is the look and sounds that you are shown, the game has kept the blocky nature of the world, with only a few small variations on the presentation, mainly coming from the facial animations and the character movements. The trees, ground, fences, torches, creepers and everything else you see looks the same here as it does in the main game, you could be mistaken for thinking they just took screenshots and stuck people in them. While the characters have more movement than they would in Minecraft, they still move and react the same, they jump and drop in the strangest manner possible and even though they never touch the items directly, they can still interact with things like in the main game. While Minecraft is not known for its taxing visuals there are times when Story Mode does have issues with them, elements just popping in an out or weird rendering issues, while not frequent, when they occurred I noticed right away.

The music is perhaps the most faithful element as the people that created the music for Minecraft have done so again here, there are familiar melodies for those who know them, but like the main game, they never overwhelm the experience. The dialogue on the other hand is a mixed bag, you get to choose your gender before the game starts, Patton Oswalt does a solid job as Male Jesse and Catherine Taber as the female Jesse. Jesse has a pet pig who goes by the name of Reuben who is voiced by Dee Bradley Baker and the other two of Jesse’s friends are Axel voiced by Brian Posehn and Martha Plimpton as Olivia, between them all, there is a certain spark that helps drive home the point that they are friends. Ashley Johnson is a name that people might know and as Petra she offers none of this, they elude to a story that happened before the game, but her performance is shallow. The final person that I thought really brought something to the game was Billy West as the narrator, when you hear it, things will make sense.

Overall the first episode has set a really low bar, the game seems to be on auto pilot more than anything and while some of the characters are interesting, the need to see how it plays out from here is not strong. The game does keep itself really faithful to its source material both in how it looks and how it plays, which will draw fans in, but unless the second episode is a lot better, it may be better to leave it outside at night.

Thanks to Telltale Games for providing the game for review

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