Back when I was a young gamer I never worried about publishers or developers, I just tried to play good games. It wasn't until writing this piece that it dawned on me; that I've always loved Telltale Games and their products, even before they were officially Telltale. Veterans from the now defunct LucasArts, responsible for some of the greatest games of its era, left to make a new studio called Telltale Games, and the rest is now history.
There was a time when I was growing up where point and click adventure games were the rage, much like how shooters and MOBA's are these days. You had amazing classics like Maniac Mansion, Sam and Max, Leisure Suit Larry, Monkey Island, Grim Fandango, Full Throttle, King's Quest, and Day of the Tentacle, just to name the notable ones off the top of my head. Maniac Mansion was the game to capture my love for the genre, and once The Secret of Monkey Island came out, I was hooked. Later came Sam and Max and more, but I was instantly drawn towards games with humor and storytelling, both of which these games excelled at (I probably still drop the occasional Monkey Island reference).
While Telltale didn't directly make these games, some of LucasArts people did and went to make the now vastly known Telltale Games. While they may have had a slow start and didn't knock it completely out of the park with Poker Night and CSI games, they eventually honed their craft and started making better and better games. Eventually we got a new Sam and Max game along with a Monkey Island title. For older gamers like myself, I was giddy when these released.
Telltale really began to hit their stride with the Back to the Future game that was released episodically. Normally having a licensed product is a warning sign to stay away, but they seemed to have done it right and actually stayed true to the source material and weren't forced to release alongside a movie release date. They also did a game based on Jurassic Park, which I also enjoyed, but it wasn't until 2012 that I became obsessed with their newest releases.
The Walking Dead graphic novel has been around awhile, but once it got its own TV show, that's when everyone started watching it. Telltale announced that it was going to be creating a game based on the series, and while I was excited about it, I never would have believed it was going to be amazing as it was. Staying true to the source material, it takes place in the same area and time during Rick's story, but focuses on a completely new cast; with the only TV show character making an appearance being Glenn Rhee.
The game is broken up into five chapters, and the release only episode one was available to play. Every few months they would release the next episode, continuing the story and leaving you needing more. Telltale was really the first developer to do episodic content right. Every episode leaves you on a cliffhanger wanting more, they are fairly priced (small discount if you buy the season pass upfront), and I easily give the crown of 'storytellers' to Telltale hands down, even when compared to some triple A blockbuster titles.
Do their games have flaws, sure, and the in-house engine they use can be sluggish at times (though it's been fixed with the newest Xbox One releases of their games), but for everything they excel at, it's forgivable. My only real gripe is having to wait on average two plus months for each episode to come out, and yes, I did say they do episodic content right, I just wish I could play the whole story from start to finish when the new series releases.
The Walking Dead: Season One is hands down one of the best games I've played in a long time. It tells a story about Lee and Clementine, and how they survive together. Telltale knows how to tug at your heartstrings and one of the big mechanics in their games is that the story is affected by your choices and changes the outcome based on your selections. Granted, you're still essentially getting from point A to point B in the plot, but the decisions you make along the way are what tells your own game's personal story and you can determine the outcome of some characters. Telltale has become so masterful at their storytelling that as the credits of Season One were rolling, I was fully in tears. They've made me truly care about their characters and making very difficult decisions in an allotted amount of time can weigh on your conscience, even though it's a game.
Season Two featured a slightly older Clementine this time and had a much darker tone. New characters are presented and there was even a moment in Episode Two that had my jaw on the floor. Surprisingly, the ending of Season Two was actually unique and was truly based on the actions you took and decided along the way. This isn't a simple ending variation where one guy is in the ending scene or not either. These were drastically different endings, and I'm very curious to see how it will play out in Season Three now that it's announced.
Maybe The Walking Dead isn't your thing, or maybe you think the zombie genre has been exhausted, but I implore you to at least give Season One a try, as it's regularly on sale and it one of the best story experiences you'll have. Telltale has branched out to other licenses now and I also highly recommend them. The Wolf Among Us is based on Bill Willingham's Fables comic book series and again, knocks it out of the park with its storytelling ability just like they did with The Walking Dead series. If you were a fan of the comic, you'll want to play this because it concludes well before the first issue of Fables, so you're given a lot of amazing backstory that's never been delved into before.
The basic synopsis is that fairytale characters, known as fables, fled their homelands into the mundane real world that we live in (we're known as "mundie's" to them), known as Fabletown. Since fables don't exist in our world, any fables that don't resemble a human must regularly buy glamour, which allows them to mask their looks and appear human so that they can fit into their surrounding world. If Bigby, formally known as The Big Bad Wolf, catches a fable without being glamour'd, they are sent off to 'The Farm' as punishment. Bigby is responsible for keeping his community in line and hidden from mundie's from finding out about their society. You'll come across well-known characters like Snow White, Tweedle Dee and Dum, Grendel, Ariel, and Colin (one of the three pigs) among others. It's very dark and twisted and revolves around fables being murdered while Bigsby must solve what's going on. The storytelling is amazing, even the Season One ending has me anxiously waiting for Season Two.
These two series are must plays, but even if those don't sound like your thing, Telltale has recently just released two more series that are both only one episode in; Tales from the Borderlands and Game of Thrones. I instantly purchased the season passes after playing the opening chapters and am very excited for the next episodes to release. I was never huge into Borderlands, so I was unsure how much I would really get into it, but it didn't take long for the game to have me actually laughing out loud with its fantastic humor. Game of Thrones is based on the HBO series of the same name, and takes place during the show, but focuses on House Forrester, not yet shown in the TV show. Obviously this series isn't going to have the humor that Borderlands has, but if you're a fan of the novels or show, it feels very familiar and again, even though it's only one episode in, there's been a lot of surprises that has me eagerly anticipating episode two.
Telltale is on such a roll that later this year they will also be releasing another series that I don't think anyone saw coming; Minecraft: Storymode. I've never been into Minecraft, but I put my complete faith in them and expect nothing but greatness that I'm sure I'm going to enjoy. To have a good story you not only need great writing, which their games do, but you also need to make sure the voice actors you use can convey emotion in their voice, or else it's all for naught. Telltale has seemingly found some of the best voice talent in the world, and while you might only be able to name a few gaming voice actors, and your list probably starts with Nolan North or John DiMaggio, I'd argue that most of the talent used in Telltale games is just as good, if not better.
Like I said, Season One of The Walking Dead actually made me cry, and that was due to its writing, but more importantly, the acting from Dave Fennoy (Lee Everett), Melissa Hutchison (Clementine), and my personal favorite voice actor today, Gavin Hammon (Kenny). Adam Harrington (Bigby) also did an amazing job in The Wolf Among Us and if you want to really see what perfect voice acting is like, play any of Telltale's episodic games. They know how to tell a compelling story, have you make split second decisions that aren't as simple as black and white, just a moral grey area, and know how to play into your emotions all too well.
Their games actually showed me a few things about myself, as I found myself siding with characters I never thought I would and made me make decisions that to this day, still weigh on me because it's very uncharacteristic of myself and how I play other games that give freedom of choice. If it wasn't for the masterful voice acting from everyone involved, their games wouldn't have such an impact on me the way they did, but because these voice actors are so talented, it all comes together in a memorable experience that I can't recommend highly enough.
So please, if you haven't by now played any of Telltale's games, please at least try one of them you think might interest you, and if you enjoy it, you'll most likely appreciate the others since the gameplay is very similar across their titles. If you want a fantastic story and want to experience making very tough decisions on the fly, start with The Walking Dead, if you want something much darker and more mature, The Wolf Among Us is a great start as well. I'd start with one of those two simply because you can play through a complete season of it to see if it's your type of game (two seasons for Walking Dead) and while one episode is enough to get you hooked, you really do want to experience a whole story with its arc and climax. This is how Telltale Games quickly became my favorite developer.