“Game of the Thrones: Iron From Ice”; 9 out of 10; Based on the books by George R. R. Martin; developed by Telltale Games; Rated M for blood and gore, intense violence and strong language; Avaialable on Windows, OSX, Playstation 4, Playstation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, iOS and Android.
To say that my expectations were high going into this game would be an understatement. I've been a fan of Telltale Games since their "Back to the Future" days, and each new project they've released has only increased in quality. Considering how morally bankrupt and ambivalent many of the characters in "Game of Thrones" are, I knew they would dovetail perfectly into Telltale's decision system and storytelling. What I didn't expect was just how immersive and intense this would be, even when compared to the books and the TV show, or that it would easily be the best thing I've played all year. Alas, since only the first part has been released, I can't pick it as my game of the year, but 2015 will have a lot to prove to keep it from my top spot come next December.
Reviews like this are really hard to write due to the simple fact that I don't want to say anything about the story because the journey is the entire point. To reveal much of anything would do people a disservice since they would miss out on discovering what happens for themselves. What I can say is that the story is told via many different characters' viewpoints, and all of them are either part of or have a connection to the little-known, but important, House Forrester. Beginning just as the events of the Red Wedding take place, players will be tasked with doing whatever is necessary to ensure the survival of House Forrester which is now in an incredibly dangerous predicament due to their strong support of House Stark which has collapsed in the north. Whether through changing house leadership to playing a high stakes game of political chess with Cersei Lannister in King's Landing, the fate of the north is in the player's hands, and every choice made will have lasting consequences for the entire realm.
Lord Ethan of House Forrester -- one of three roles you'll take in "Iron from Ice"
In "The Walking Dead" and "The Wolf Among Us", it was generally pretty easy to know what kind of decisions would lead to a desired result. Sure, there were some times when I had to let a character die or allow something horrible to happen, but there was always a general process I could follow that would take the story where I wanted it to go. Not so in "Game of Thrones". Almost every decision I had to make could, and probably will, have dire consequences. It was nearly impossible to follow my personal, moral compass as I've done in past games because in the wild world of Westeros, being a nice guy will get you killed. Every fork in the road presented me with a decision I almost rather would not have made, and while I agonized over whether I did the right thing, I can hardly wait to see how it will affect my future, or lack thereof (no one is safe here), later on in the series.
All of this is helped by having the cast of the TV show perform their roles for the game. Stirring up trouble with Tyrion Lannister as voiced by Peter Dinklage draws you even further into the experience, and having to verbally spar with Lena Headey (Cersei) was a terrifying experience. Considering that many of us have spent the last four years getting to know and love (and hate) these characters, it's a tribute to Telltale and HBO that they were able to get the actors for this. The experience just wouldn't have been the same had soundalikes been used.
This bitch is terrifying!
My one and only complaint here is that the visuals feel dated and look like something that belongs on last-gen hardware. Due to the fact that it's available on so many different platforms, I'm sure this was intentional, but the fact remains that they could and should have spruced it up a bit for current-gen systems. It's hardly a deal breaker, but this slight slip in quality is all that mars a near perfect gaming experience.
As we wrap up the end of the year, and all of us are busy with the holidays and powering through all the other amazing games that have come out recently, "Game of Thrones" could easily slip through the cracks, and that would be a shame since it is the best gaming experience of the year. Telltale has reached new heights of excellence with "Game of Thrones", and it is easily the must-have title of the season.
Image credit: Gamespot, Polygon and Swide.com