Minecraft: Story Mode (PC) Review

By Olivia Falk 15.08.2017

Review for Minecraft: Story Mode on PC

Of all the franchises that Telltale has tackled, Minecraft seems to be the one that was met with the most scepticism. There's no real plot in the original game; any sense of story comes from the player's own creativity. The world is randomly-generated, with a distinct lack of memorable landmarks and locales. How can a game that amounts to a digital toy be turned into a linear, narratively-focused adventure? Well, Telltale seems determined to find out, even if it must build a new world from scratch to do it.

"Inconsistent" is the best way to describe the first season of Minecraft: Story Mode. At times, it's a light-hearted romp through the sights and sounds of the ever-popular Minecraft universe, and at others, it's a mundane checklist of tacked-on fan-service moments. Ender Dragon? Check. The Nether? Check. Various popular redstone gadgets? Check. Out-of-place references to griefers, Spleef, and popular YouTubers? Check, check, and more on that later.

If you've played one Telltale game, you've mostly played this one from a gameplay standpoint. The usual suspects are all present: timed dialogue decisions, QTEs for action scenes, light point-and-click puzzle solving, and random "interactive" segments that literally involve holding down one button so the character walks down a hallway. The new features include using crafting tables to make items and engaging in "freeform" (for a Telltale game) combat with certain enemies. The former is a decently enjoyable tie-in to the game's predecessor, while the latter is a frustrating chore that feels imprecise at the best of times.

The story follows a customisable protagonist by the name of Jesse. Accompanied by a group of their friends, Jesse gets caught up in the machinations of Ivor: a mysterious sorcerer. It turns out that Ivor has a vendetta against the famous Order of the Stone, and sets loose a massive Wither to prove the ineffectiveness of the Order. With the rampaging Wither looming on the horizon, Jesse and co. set out to reunite the Order and bring down the monster once and for all.

Screenshot for Minecraft: Story Mode on PC

Now, if that seems like a threadbare plot for eight episodes of storytelling, it's because it manages to be lacklustre for four. This initial plot of the game only lasts for half of the available episodes, with episode five starting a new plot thread and the rest being available separately in an "Adventure Pass". It feels like a cheap way of milking players for more money, especially with the recently-launched season two for the series. Considering that Telltale has produced smaller "budget-priced" spin-offs before (see The Walking Dead: Michonne), this decision is even more bewildering. Add in the fact that many choices don't seem to have an impact on later episodes, and the tacked-on nature of the Adventure Pass becomes blatantly apparent.

It's a shame too, as the writing gets significantly better in the latter half of the series. Characters carve out more distinct personalities for themselves, and the pacing is substantially improved. It's like these later episodes were written by a completely different team; certainly a distinct possibility given the fact that it's a separate add-on. The downside to this is that the overarching plot suffers as a result. The first four episodes gradually (perhaps too gradually) worked their way through one large story arc, culminating in a genuinely emotional climax. The last four opt for a "story of the week" approach, wherein each episode is a self-contained tale that is loosely connected to the others via a common start and end point. However, this completely undermines the "choices matter" system that is always such a major draw in Telltale games; why care about characters that'll never be seen again? On top of that, it prevents the story from really ramping up, meaning that the "real ending" after episode eight feels more indeterminate than the one that came after episode four.

Screenshot for Minecraft: Story Mode on PC

Then there're the cameos. Good heavens, the cameos. Unless you're a massive fan of some of the many popular Minecraft YouTubers out there, you may as well skip episode six. It feels like even more of a filler episode than seven and eight, and features twice as many pointless fan-service moments. Featuring various YouTubers as voice actors isn't a bad idea, but literally having them play themselves is one of the most mind-bogglingly stupid decisions this game could have made.

Completely ignoring the quality of the voice acting (which is surprisingly decent all around), it utterly breaks any sense of immersion that one may have had up until that point. This is full-on "a guy walks up to you and says, 'Hey, this is Dan The Diamond Minecart!'" levels of shoehorning. It's creatively bankrupt, wholly unnecessary, and alienating to anyone who isn't already a fan of these people. Why does Dan's hair keep changing colour? Who knows, but it sure seems like the most obvious continuity error around! The only legitimately enjoyable part of this episode was that it was a murder mystery. In other words, it affords the chance to play as a colossal asshole and get at least half of the cameo characters killed off. Sadistic pleasures for frustrated minds, or something like that.

Screenshot for Minecraft: Story Mode on PC

Speaking of the voices, in keeping with character, the audio is also all over the place. The balancing is the worst offender, with music that's often so quiet it has no impact and voices that can easily get drowned out by sound effects, even when they're not supposed to. There's also a significant amount of dead air in conversations, especially in the early episodes; it could easily be a major turn-off for someone who's sceptical of the series.

That is, it'll be a turn-off if some of the voices aren't already. Granted, the characters are mostly quite well-acted. They pull off a good range of emotions and generally keep things light enough that the occasional bit of awkward dialogue doesn't really break the mood. However, there are clear exceptions. Axel is by far the worst offender; for a character who's supposed to be a fun-loving goofball, he sounds like he's trying to do his best impression of the droning teacher from Ferris Bueller. Lastly, the lip-synching is frequently poor, despite the extra leeway allotted by the blocky characters and their choppy mouth movements.

At least the visuals are consistent, doing an excellent job of translating the freeform world of blocks into an interactive movie. Everything from the smallest chicken to the tallest Enderman looks indistinguishable from the creatures in the original, and the flexibility afforded by Telltale's engine brings some extra personality to each. Of particular note is Reuben - Jesse's pet pig - who is without question the most lovable character in the game; anyone who says otherwise is lying.

Screenshot for Minecraft: Story Mode on PC

Cubed3 Rating

6/10
Rated 6 out of 10

Good

There's a lot wrong with Minecraft: Story Mode. From its technical issues to its plot to its business model, it really has a lot going against it. Yet, despite all that, it still had its memorable moments. As the writing improved, things became more engaging. As the characters established themselves, they became more likeable (and detestable, for some). Hell, one moment even came close to generating tears: an achievement on its own for a game that feels like a Saturday morning cartoon. There's lots of coal here, no doubt about it. In some ways, though, that makes the diamonds shine all the brighter.

Developer

Telltale

Publisher

Telltale

Genre

Adventure

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  6/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   

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