The idea of adding three standalone stories to extend Minecraft Story Mode’s debut season was likely driven, initially at least, by money, but it was always going to be interesting to see how Telltale handled one-shots in an already established world. Could you introduce one-off characters and situations while still keeping the adventures of the Order of the Stone at the forefront?
Aren’t You Glad-os?
The first episode of this expansion to Minecraft Story Mode almost pulled it off. It did tell a standalone story whilst continuing to progress the overarching tale of Jesse’s gang and their ongoing search for a way home after discovering a hall of portals to other worlds. What it didn’t do was give us much in the way of character development for the ragtag heroes, instead focusing a little too heavily on the YouTube guest stars. A passable episode, but not up to the standard of the series proper. This episode does get the focus back on the Order of the Stone, and a stronger episode is the result—well, in one way at least.
The story picks up after the Order of the Stone’s perilous experience in the murder house in the previous episode. In a montage-heavy opening credits sequence, they’re seen trying out portal after portal to try and find a way back to their homeworld. As the credits end, tempers flare and Petra storms off through a Redstone-flavored portal in the belief that it must mean there’s smart people there that can help them figure out if the next leap—sorry, portal— will be the one to take them home. Of course, it actually leads them into another misadventure as they land upon a desert mesa that appears to be devoid of life until they meet a zombie who’s not quite normal.
This zombie is faster and stronger than the regular shufflers found in Minecraft’s biomes, and also has one major noticeable change; it’s out in daylight and hasn’t been turned into barbecue like normal zombies do in Minecraft. Oh, and it also has a ruddy great redstone transmitter in its head.
It turns out that something or someone is controlling all life on this world with computer chips, namely a rogue A.I. by the name of PAMA (represented in creepy fashion by a giant emoji-powered screen) that is very much into making everything ‘useful’. Guess what Jesse and the gang will have to do before they can escape this world? Yes, shut down this ultra efficient computer and once again save the day. The theme and tone has quite deliberately shifted again in an effort to keep these extra episodes distinct enough whilst still tying them all together with the whole journey home thread. As with episode five’s sky city in rebellion, and episode six’s haunted mansion murder mystery, there’s clear homages to other games and media in Access Denied, notably every ‘technology gone wrong’ story ever, but in gaming terms there’s clear nods to Portal and System Shock, albeit in a much more family friendly manner than the latter. It’s dealt with in a more general way as not to deliberately ape one particular style, but pleasing to see the reference points all the same.
PAMA Says Knock You Out
With the vast majority of this world’s population under PAMA’s control, there’s much less in the way of new characters, save for the misguided A.I. itself and a mystery woman who appears to be the only human not made ‘useful’ by PAMA’s idealistic plans. She turns out to play a pivotal role in helping our heroes on this latest quest, even if she is burdened by guilt for her own past transgressions. There are several well done scenes that illustrate her loneliness and regret in a manner befitting the lore Telltale have helped create for this corner of the Minecraft universe. In a brief time, and with very little to work with, the episode draws empathy for the character, even with the knowledge of what her grievous mistakes were. It’s almost the opposite of what was achieved in the previous episode where too many personalities were fighting for attention and stifling the story.
PAMA itself is a solid antagonist for the Order of the Stone. Dry and logical to a sinister fault, the supercomputer is no Glados, and the final showdown is overly familiar if you know your rogue A.I. in cinema, but its creepy misunderstanding of what constitutes being ‘useful’ powers the gentle menace that fuels pace of the story and is a credible jump up from the previous two big bads in terms of consistency.
This is unfortunately, a rather brief episode, clocking in at about an hour. This isn’t entirely a bad thing. Less time spent on pointless waffling, whilst maintaining a laser-focus on the story, certainly keeps it ticking along nicely, but this is a fairly weak episode in terms of interactivity thanks to the run time. You still do a bit of everything like crafting, fighting, and puzzle solving, but it’s incredibly light and very brief. This means that while there are strong story moments, and some decent set pieces, including a genuinely good bit of character-swapping, it doesn’t feel like quite enough, like there’s a rush to wrap everything up in time for the final episode.
The balance between gameplay and story has not been addressed in these additional episodes then, but it hasn’t resulted in a disaster. Story Mode is still capable of telling fun stories with likeable characters and hissable antagonists; it just suffers from overloading on one thing or another whilst starving the rest of the game of the attention it deserves. Perhaps the standalone nature of each tale is proving to be a distraction in a way that it wasn’t with the first four episodes (though they were not without these issues at times either)?
I’d say that it’s likely that more time was required to flesh these episodes out, give the series a proper break instead of chundering on so quickly to make more. Where we should have a strong, fun mini-series, we’re left with a series of good moments and ideas clipped to an outline of an overarching tale. With one episode left, all will no doubt be resolved in Jesse’s hunt for home, but questions will still go unanswered on whether or not this should have existed just yet. Fans are still going to get their enjoyment out of this tale of course, even if there’s relatively little bang for your buck.