My plan was to choose one of the four Telltale narrative style games I have and review one of them. However, after playing all four of them for a while, I arrived at the conclusion that they can all be lumped into one review, because they’re all basically the same game telling a different story. They all have the same mechanics and all suffer from the same accessibility problems.
That said, this review is a bit different for me because I can’t use my experience as a deaf person to generalize the experience of all deaf people, because in this case, being totally deaf, as I am and have been since birth, provides what I assume would be a different experience than someone who is hard of hearing or lost their hearing later in life. I’ll explain why that is in a minute.
First things first, for anyone unfamiliar with Telltale games, they’re kind of a choose your own adventure, interactive comic book. The games are full of quick time events and dialogue choices that all work to shape the game to be unique to the player. All dialogue choices come with a timer which is roughly 5 seconds long.
This is where my first BIG problem with these games comes in and requires some explanation for anyone not deaf and not well versed in deafness. Pick up something and read it to yourself. Not out loud, just read it as you normally would. You’re using your inner voice to “speak” the words in your head, aren’t you? You can’t do it any other way, can you? The words you read have meaning because of their sound, because that’s how you identify words. Now, if you know even a bit of any language not native to you, read something in that language to yourself in the same way. It takes longer, doesn’t it? Because you’re taking the words presented in say, Spanish, reading them, translating them into English, and thus you understand the sentence. So then, could you do all of that, read the dialogue options, translate them, consider the best option, and choose one, all within 5 seconds? Every time I read English I have to translate the words into ASL for them to really have meaning. (For anyone not in the know, ASL is NOT simply English given gestures. ASL is a fully independent language, with its own rules and grammar and nuances, much like Mandarin or Arabic or Spanish. Not all English words have an equivalent sign. Not all signs have an English meaning.) And so, at least for me, 5 seconds isn’t nearly long enough for me to make my dialogue choice. This fact makes Telltale games basically unplayable for me, because I can’t do anything to adjust the timer to something more reasonable.
The other dialogue/subtitling issue I had, which at least up to the point in I played each game was exclusive to The Wolf Among Us, was phonetic spelling. The subtitled dialogue in the above image? Yeah it means absolutely nothing to me because I can’t identify words by sound and therefore can’t understand phonetic spelling.
The third dialogue and subtitle related issue, present in every game, was the coloring of the subtitles. Each speaker had their own text color, which I appreciate, but half the time, that color was far too similar to the background to be able to read it. The text was appropriately sized though, which was nice. It’s also worth noting that there are no closed captions for these games, only dialogue subtitles.
What Telltale does really well though, is visual cues. Across all four games I played, there was not one instance where the QTEs and actionable items were not very clearly displayed. And it fit with the comic book style art of the game, which was a bonus.
Given that these are narrative driven games, there’s not much more to them than the dialogue choices and QTEs. With that in mind, I have a hard time recommending this or not. If they allowed players to adjust the dialogue timer to allow more time to read and comprehend the choices, I would absolutely recommend the games. But given my struggle with reading (which is not at all uncommon among totally deaf people) I can’t recommend them, at least not for players that aren’t great readers, because you’ll be at a huge disadvantage. To be honest, as much as I enjoyed what little story I got in each of the games, I have zero interest in finishing any of them because they’re just too damn hard for me.
Full subtitles with appropriately sized text
Visual cues are very clear
Dialogue timers are far too quick (This problem is the reason for the F in the "Other Factors" rating)
Subtitle color coding sometimes makes for difficult reading