Thursday, January 8, 2015

[REVIEW] Game of Thrones Episode One: Iron From Ice

Game of Thrones Episode One: Iron From Ice
Platform: PC
Genre: Point-and-click adventure
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games

Based on George R. R. Martin’s seminal A Song of Ice and Fire book series, HBO’s Game of Thrones has been one of the main players in the pop culture of this decade. As any gaming fanatic would realize, Martin’s expansive world, with richly detailed lore and intricate plot lines, would be a perfect setting for a Skyrim-like type of open-world video game. We’ve yet to get something like that, but in the meantime Telltale Games is giving the series its already traditional choose-your-own-adventure treatment. The result should be pleasant for fans of the show, even if there are pitfalls along the way.

The game is a point-and-click adventure with some very light exploration aspects. It focuses on the Forresters, a northerner house sworn to the Starks, and its struggles in the aftermath of that family’s downfall. You play as three different characters, making choices for them in what amounts to a 2-hour interactive episode that is canon to the TV series (but not the books). The graphics deserve special mention, going for a watercolor aesthetic that works quite well.

Can I rise, then stab her in the neck? Pretty please?

The story takes place between seasons three and four of the series, and features cameos by a few of the main characters, fully voiced by the original actors. Odd stumbles aside (such as when a character somehow manages to go alone, without provisions and on foot from the Riverlands all the way to the Forrester ancient seat up north), it’s an effective and well-written story, presenting interesting choices that let players have a taste of the difficult politics required to live in Westeros.

What, no option for "Gared is toast"?
I must say I have my doubts about how much your choices actually affect the storyline, though. The plot twist that serves as the game’s emotional climax, for example, is something that I consciously tried to avoid during my playing time, and the fact that your options are limited in each decision means that I simply didn’t have the power to stop it from happening. This left kind of a sour taste in my mouth, making me realize I’d probably rather sit back and watch the story unfold instead of pretending to take any actual part on it. Yes, I realize this is just episode one of six, meaning some plot points have to happen for future episodes to even work, but for me this seems more like a sign that perhaps the episodic format doesn’t work very well.

The other aspects of the gameplay are very dispensable. There are quick-time events that annoy more than entertain, while the exploration is so light it’s almost pointless, always confined to very tight spaces. As much as those aspects make the final product seem more like an actual game rather than simply a story, they don’t feel integral to the experience, often ruining the sense of immersion.

Look around, but beware of the invisible walls!
The best thing about Iron From Ice is, by far, its status as an appetizer for people who are waiting for the next season or the next book. Even if player interaction seems, to use a Westerosi expression, more like a mummer’s farce, the game still gives players a taste of the incredible world crafted by Martin. If that’s what you expect, you should have quite a good time. If you’re looking for a full-fledged game set in Martin’s universe, the wait still isn’t over. Alas, us Martin fans have grown accustomed to waiting anyway.

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