Developer – Telltale Games
Publisher –Telltale Games, Sony Computer Entertainment (Vita)
Platforms – Pretty much everything. This review is based on the PC version.
From comics to television series to video games, The Walking Dead is a franchise that has a lot to offer. The comics are fantastic, the series is debatably good and the games…well, this series in particular is one that absolutely should not be missed. Telltale games has created a unique formula that it is now applying to a variety of franchises. Being heavily story-focused, it puts you in the shoes of the protagonist, making decisions that are meaningful in a way that no other game out there manages to realize. If you’re after a full-on action/adventure experience with guns blazing and limbs flying, then this isn’t quite the place for it, but if you want a compelling, engaging and emotionally gripping story where your decisions make all of the difference in the world, Telltale’s The Walking Dead is for you.
In the middle of being transported to jail for a murder he didn’t commit, Lee Everett isn’t too upset when his car crashes, allowing him to escape. He’s a little more worried by the obviously dead people spilling out of the forest and attempting to eat him, however. Running for his life, he meets Clementine, a young girl left under the care of a babysitter when the outbreak occurred. Rescuing her from her now-deceased carer, Lee is faced with the responsibility of caring for a child in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. With the vague goal of somehow finding Clementine’s parents, the two join a band of survivors heading in the same direction. With tempers flaring, the dead walking and no one to trust other than themselves, they soon discover that the remainder of humanity can be just as dangerous as those that have already passed on.
That sounds more or less like a standard zombie apocalypse story, right? The Walking Dead attempts to be different and makes it more real by giving you power over the decisions made by its protagonist in a number of different situations, and does a beautiful job of it. Do the adults or the children deserve what little remains of the available food? In the split second available before he becomes zombie bait, will severing that man’s arm from his body save his life? Will checking up on Clementine again really make things any better? Coupled with those dilemmas, the events and characters you encounter are so very believable and human that you can’t help but be drawn in by the story. And you know what? Some of those moral dilemmas are so difficult to reconcile that you will find yourself ruminating over whether you really did the right thing hours after the fact. It’s poignant, it’s real, it’s entertaining, and I really couldn’t ask for more.
My one complaint on that particular front is that I have a sneaking suspicion that the decisions you make actually aren’t all that important, and that you get funneled into a relatively uniform story regardless of the outcome of each minor event. Still, in the heat of the moment, it certainly feels like you’re affecting the plot in a significant way, which I guess is an achievement in and of itself. Adding to that feeling is the fact that events do frequently refer to decisions you have made in past episodes or even seasons. Other than decision-making, you’ll find yourself conversing with other survivors, exploring various locales and fighting off zombies using both quick-time events and a degree of point-and-click action. While the gameplay itself is relatively basic I found that frantically tapping buttons to escape certain death was surprisingly effective at making me feel involved in the events at hand. In any case, the vast majority of the time you spend playing will be spent watching what are essentially interactive cutscenes, which may turn off some more restless gamers.
The Walking Dead’s technical aspects are a bit of a mixed bag. There’s some remarkable voice acting and accompanying background music, so I’ve got no problems there, but the visuals deserve more of a discussion. The graphical style is intended to look as if it has been pulled from the source comic books of the franchise and is pleasant in its own unique way. Unfortunately, it’s not a style that lends itself to fluid animation and facial expression. Many character movements are clunky and unnatural, having a negative effect on the immersion that the game is trying to build. Nothing was quite so jarring that it ruined the experience for me, though it has enough of an impact that I thought it was worth mentioning.
Summary – There’s a whole lot more I could say about The Walking Dead. Like how it’s really hard to flat-out hate any of the characters despite what they may be doing or how heart-warming and well-written Lee’s relationship with Clementine is. The bottom line, however, is that there’s really no excuse to not play a game with this level of storytelling quality. Whatever faults it may have are eclipsed by just how enjoyable and gripping the experience is as a whole, and I wholeheartedly recommend it, even to those who are just a little bit sick and tired of “that same zombie story”.
Score: 9/10 – Great