Usually it is easy to work out who a game is designed for at a moment’s glance. “Oh, this zombie game is for adults who gleefully grin at the splattering of blood and flesh.” “This grand strategy title is for those who enjoy scheming intricately like a nefarious genius.” “Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing is for no-one, ever.” Usually you know a game is great when it is able to reach out from its core target audience and then wrap onlookers in a warm damp hug like an overly friendly uncle; or that it is bad as it even some how alienates the group of people they were targeting in the first place.
Then Minecraft Story Mode appears, developed by Telltale Games, and I genuinely can’t work out who it is designed for. Children? Minecraft fans? People who enjoy Telltale’s previous library? Not that it is so bad as to shove everyone away just… Who was it made for?
[There will not be any spoilers of Minecraft Story Mode – Episode 2: Assembly Required, but I may end up discussing Minecraft Story Mode – Episode 1: the Order of the Stone as well as the review of it (which you can find here). Although the rating at the bottom will be spoiler-free if you wish to skip there.]
I may as well give a quick summary of Episode 1 to those who blacked it out for whatever reason or take spoiler-warnings as a challenge. Once upon a time, you (your character that you get to choose) and your three friends (including Reuben the pig with eyebrows) entered a building competition. After saving your pig from the wildy wilds, you help Petra with a deal she’s making, trading a skull for a diamond (no, it isn’t any less creppy in context). After getting ripped off, you find said person who conned her (the unknown 5th member of the Order of the Stone, a group from a legendary tale) finishing the construction of a world-ending monster. So now you’re tasked with uniting the order to work out how to destroy the monster.
So the story picks off straight after the first episode, which ended with being asked who I’d like to help first between the engineer or the rogue. Off I went on the speeding cart towards the base of the engineer.
Very quickly the first problem with the narrative stumbles out the gate with unfocused eyes and alcohol on its breath. Perhaps it is more a problem with me, but I dislike characters who are just comedy vehicles; a two-dimensional character who’s entire existence is a joke. On the other more dramatic side, I also really don’t like characters who purely serve to extend the plot and nothing more. Minecraft Story Mode is absolutely chock filled with both categories, including members of the order who I thought would have an ounce of depth, considering their importance to the plot. Instead, either they purposely do not understand THERE IS A WORLD-DESTROYING MONSTER or decide to try to turn your frown upside down with caricatures.
Although speaking of characters, the conversations by them are sometimes incredibly sloppy. Occasionally I’d pick a dialogue option that would be a question or an opening to a topic, and the conversation would end at that moment with the abruption of a power-cut during a film. Other times characters would seem like they’re about to explain something, and instead just shuffle off. I even noticed one time when someone referred to my female character as a guy. Although the most awe-inspiring moment of heavy-handedness came in the form of a character interrogation for my reasons behind a few of my actions, something they couldn’t pile on “THIS CHOICE WILL LIKELY MATTER LATER” harder if they tried. It really feels like the characterization was simply rushed out the door without proof-reading.
Another area that obviously needed more proof-reading was the story. The length of it is just absolutely abysmal, as I had to double-take when I had finished the episode. While I can not fully state the length of this episode (I sadly didn’t time it), the fact my Steam says that two episodes took 2.9 hours to play through is embarrassing. It should be two hours per episode considering the $24.99/£18.99 price point for five episodes. I would have happily waited the month or two of development time for the extra content. On top of this is the various amounts of plot holes gaping in size, such as following a character down a tunnel only for them to inexplicably disappear–The script definitely needed another proof-reading or just more time.
Probably the only gem in this grimy dusty delivery is the music, which in superb in Episode 2. I admit that I don’t usually notice the music in the background of games, which to be fair is one of the ways you can tell it has worked. When you do notice it, it is either because it is poor or because it is excellent. Fortunately, the music falls into the latter category. Two scenes (with their awkward script stumbling attempts at tension and drama) actually had the gravity of the situation carried solely by music I’d compare to In the House In A Heartbeat (from 28 Days Later), Adagio In D Minor (from Sunshine), both by John Murphy, or No Sun by Machine Vandals (from Burn Notice). I really felt ice cold water crawl up my spine and my heart-beat running faster hearing the music suggest something diabolical, serious, and intense was occurring–Something the script just never managed to and instead had to be carried by the tense music.
So, what better score to give to a very short episode characterized by rushed, sloppy writing than a 5/10? It is saved from full-on being declared bad at a 4 by a soundtrack that did what the script could not: Generate drama and build suspense. At this point, I seriously can not work out who this is even designed for. Its humour that continues to reach for low branches and weak narrative suggest it isn’t necessarily for adults (who’s spot the flaws easily), but certification boards declare the game as not for children either (in case you’re curious, 12+ PEGI rating). Maybe teenagers, possibly? It isn’t for Minecraft fans, since while there is some interaction with the game, I don’t think it is quite enough to get fans to over-look flaws. Nor is it an advertisement for the game since it requires awareness of the lore in it to understand what is going on.
At this point, it feels like Telltale is losing a lot of good will they had built up over the years. I really hope they don’t continue the fall, as I genuinely liked Telltale’s previous work a lot, but Minecraft Story Mode seems to be a story no one wants to or should hear.
A PC code for Minecraft: Story Mode was provided by Telltale Games for the purpose of this review
Minecraft: Story Mode - Episode 2: Assembly Required$24.99
- Music particularly good, giving tense vibes of In The House In A Heart Beat and No Sun – Machine Vandals vibe.
- Huge plot holes.
- Gaping holes in conversations.
- Heavy-handed “GIVE ME REASONS WHY YOU PICKED X” conversation.
- Often characters seem to function just to create drama or humour.