GAME OF THE YEAR 2014 – (8) GAME OF THRONES EPISODE 1: IRON FROM ICE

 

The first episode of Telltale’s Game Of Thrones is as good as the scene outside the RV in episode 3 of Season 1 of Telltale’s The Walking Dead. If you can follow that comparison, then you’ll know what I’m talking about.

It’s compelling, thrilling, tense and the ending shocked me like nothing else this year. I felt compassion and comparative indecision with every member of House Forrester. They feel like an honest but strong family just trying to survive in George R.R. Martin’s hellish world of death, despair and betrayal.

That’s the main reason why the Game Of Thrones TV show is successful as it is: the characters. You care about them and want to see what happens to them. Even the most horrific people in this universe are worth watching because they are never uninteresting. That same aspect flows through Telltale’s game. The writing, voice acting and story is so well executed that I was fascinated by characters that didn’t even appear on screen. I can only assume they will make their presence known in later episodes.

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Another height that the game reaches is the perfect sense of loathing. Just like in the show, there are people who House Forrester have to deal with that you despise with every bone in your body. Total scumbags and psychopaths. If there’s one flaw I found in Telltale’s game design, it was the fact that there were no dialogue choices for “Kill Utter Bastard Standing In Front Of You” in every conversation. Obviously, this would drastically change the game but holy hell, I wanted it to happen more than once.

It’s a difficult decision to recommend this game to someone to who hasn’t seen the TV show. Obviously, TV characters appear in the game and knowing them helps your decisions but it is a self-contained story. House Forrester control the northern area of Ironrath, known for its forest of ironwood trees which are so strong that plenty of other characters wish to take it from them for military benefits. None of this back story is in the show (House Forrester is only briefly mentioned in one of the books) but the power struggles and machinations are as good as anything HBO has to offer. Iron From Ice begins during the infamous Red Wedding of Season 3 but then changes course elsewhere to tell its own tales of family, sacrifice and subterfuge. The conversations that lie within are some of the most tension-filled moments I played in 2014. I was greatly aware of each character’s reactions and making sure House Forrester took the right steps. At least I hope they were. There’s four more episodes to go.

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Not so long ago, licensed games based on TV or movies were guaranteed rubbish. Even the concept itself was enough to drive people away simply because they’ve been burned many times before. But Telltale Games are helping to lay a new path through the apathy and cheap Pixar cash-ins. These days, we can be a bit more open to games featuring characters and universes we already know. I think that’s a phenomenal turnaround. Back in the day of the Commodore 64, developers like Ocean Software created licensed games that made incredible strides in the way we saw movie universes like Robocop and The Untouchables. Since then, marketing and money overshadowed any desire to create original, exciting games. So it’s a welcome relief that people are giving Telltale the freedom and resources to pick up where Ocean left off.

Another aspect I want to mention about this game is its length. This is only the first episode and it lasts maybe 3-4 hours at most. But I enjoyed every second of it. I was on the edge of my seat countless times and spent a long time reading the in-game biography of each character. Also, shorter games make more sense as you get older. I once played through the entirety of Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance in one all-night sitting with a friend of mine eating nothing but chips and beer. Those days are long gone. Now, if a game doesn’t have a “pause cut-scene” option, I am instantly filled with white-hot rage that I bottle up for later incomprehensible explosions.

I’m a huge fan of Game Of Thrones and I can’t wait for Season Five to begin. I can’t be sure whether this game is even playable without knowledge of the show. I want to say yes but I’m fully aware that a LOT of the content of this game is greatly improved if you’re already a fan. If you are, then Iron From Ice is a fantastic start to what could hopefully be a landmark series.

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