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Game of Thrones / 13th of December 2015

Weiner, floppy weiner, floppy weiner, floppy weiner. These are the most important words to be found in, well not actually in the Telltale Game of Thrones game but in its purlieu, for before the iconic, if overtly simplistic theme tune had even kicked in, these words were already embedded in my brain, preparing me for what was to follow. Now, I have played my fair share of Telltale games, and I don’t put stock the consensus that their releases are akin to some second coming of the videogame narrative, they are – if one has had the sense to look beyond the limited range of storytelling in this particular medium – altogether substandard in almost every sense of the word, yet the whole somehow does end up greater than the sum of its parts, this has been the case in the Walking Dead games (though they are still hardly riveting), The Wolf Among Us (their best effort in my eyes), and in the more recent months, Tales From the Borderlands. Yet Games of Thrones proves itself beyond question to be the exception to the rule as it’s, let’s face it, for want of a better word, crap.

Telltale games, to me anyway, are sold on the premise of a lie, that the user can somehow alter the course of the action with the decisions that they are forced to make, yet this is entirely false, no decision carries any degree of gravitas in any game, every major event is entirely scripted and completely unavoidable. In Game of Thrones, this fallacy comes across as being even more pronounced when, in just the first episode, a major character is bumped off and there simply isn’t a damn thing that the player can do to prevent it, and this is just the first of several to be found in this inaugural season, so how exactly does the experience change depending on the actions of the player? It doesn’t. Of course, this is but one flaw, albeit a consistent one, but it’s still not even close to being the most marked concern here.

A great problem with this misconception is that it seems to provide the developer an excuse for shoddy penmanship; there’s effectively no characterisation whatsoever because it is assumed that the player will somehow fill in the gaps, yet in a game where you literally have no effect on the proceedings, how is this even possible? So ultimately, what follows are six episodes (which thankfully improve greatly over a truly awful opening) that are populated with a large group of characters who do almost nothing, they behave in a manner that would not befit people of their standing, allowing the series’ so called antagonists to walk all over them. The protagonists, the Forrester family and their allies, seem to be so utterly afraid to do anything when their kin, partners and even traditions are being openly mocked, and sometimes within their own houses too. Sure, part of my desire to review this was based on the fact that I neither read the books nor watch the television show, I wanted to come in with a fresh pair of eyes, devoid of any fanboy-ism, but what I got was infuriating, perhaps in the television show people are happy to watch their favourite characters do as little as possible to alter a world that has gone inexorably to the dogs, but here it is intolerable, though perhaps that was the point.

Based on this, it would appear that the world of George R. R. Martin is one that is a rather bleak and embittered where those who so much as try to do the right thing are simply cut down, leaving their enemies to get away with everything. This is highlighted so well in the third episode when Jon Snow pleads to Gared Tuttle (a Squire from the House of Forrester) not to do anything to harm the man who murdered his father and eight-year-old sister, even if he is provoked as this would somehow be a truly terrible thing that would bring shame upon his brothers in arms (this same theme is reprised in the following episode too, after Tuttle is forced into a confrontation). Ultimately, the only constant here is that one side can always seem to get away with anything – including murdering children – whilst the other, well, they had better just stand in line, preferably with their heads bowed. I can imagine though that for fans of the original material upon which this based, the desire to play this release would surely be to create a positive change in this fictitious realm, yet that opportunity has not been afforded to them.

As with all Telltale games, the visuals here are also somewhat problematic, being highly stylised they’ve managed to get away with being substandard to some degree for far too long, yet here they actually seem worse than ever. The animation has always been overly rigid and unconvincing, unable to convey any sense of drama, let alone fluid motions, and once again, they let the game and the player down as Telltale constantly attempt to throw players into situations that are intended to create a sense of tension, yet such efforts end up pitiful at best. These are frequently blighted by shoddy editing (both in terms of the audio and video) and continuity errors that see characters magically appear in different positions to what the scene’s establishing shot had placed them in.

This then leaves the game difficult to take seriously, but now throw in a painterly effect on the backgrounds that creates a hazy, indistinct look, particularly when in motion (it’s also present on the character models though here it actually holds up quite well in places), and you have a game that really struggles in regards to its aesthetics too. Audio - as seems to be a rather common weakness in games these days, Fallout 4 being great example – is also far from perfect, sounding akin to a shoddy down mix of 5.1 to stereo (in 5.1 though) wherein the on-screen characters’ voice acting becomes lost amid a deluge of ambient noises, or perhaps worse still, changes dramatically in both volume and tone, making it sound as though the developer decided to change actor mid-sentence. These are not especially prevalent problems, but ones that I certainly noticed it on my set-up.

I find it altogether rather difficult to recommend Game of Thrones to anyone, even fans of the fiction (written or televised) as, despite its reliance on gamers coming in with a prior knowledge of its universe, it will ultimately prove itself to be an exceptionally uninteresting experience to anyone who so much as dallies with it. It most certainly does pick up after the opening episode, though that certainly isn’t hard, yet I still found the series as a whole a most soul destroying slog, particularly when played through from start to finish in such a short space of time. It is an ordeal that I would certainly have been unable to scrape through had it not been for those brilliant South Park creators and their most ingenious, spirit lifting, parody song, for Game of Thrones is a floppy weiner indeed.
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