In this popular era of zombie apocalypse games, we’re playing high-action, fast-paced, blood’n’guts shoot ‘em ups were we want the highest score and to be as competitive as we can. But for the video game The Walking Dead, the developer Telltale Games (which I might add, is very appropriate), have crafted a beautiful, emotional, impacting and rememberable adventure and will go down in history as one of the most genuinely statuesque gaming experiences you may ever play.
Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Telltale Games
Genre: Adventure//Point-and-Click, Horror
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Windows PC (Reviewed), Mac OSX, iOS
Release Date: April 24th, 2012 — November 20th, 2012
Rating: 18 (PEGI)
Based on Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead comic book series, the game begins with a man being transported down a highway from Atlanta to go jail. Although unknown at first, the player soon discovers his name to be Lee Everett. A common element in this five-episode series is to have the player judge characters based on first impressions which is, debatably, the wrong mindset to stick to. You will be meeting many different types of characters, with a wide variety and a mix of both happy and sad backgrounds, who will all have their own story and justifications for the reason why they are; should you pursue and press characters for this kind of information. And this is what makes The Walking Dead stand out from other video games alike. Your choices, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem, can lead onto branching story paths. Not only this, but characters’ relationships will rise and fall depending on the choices you make as a struggling group of survivors, and you cannot please everybody. Again, all these choices you make and information you decide to talk to specific people about will alter future events, well, the choices that actually mean something. You see, not every single dialogue option you pick will lead onto something, some options are there for fun, for a laugh, or purely to keep the game’s pace on rails and to continue its authenticity as a story-driven game. Whilst most of the laughs and jokes are clean, you can’t have a zombie apocalypse without some dark and cruel humour. After all, this game does try to appeal as wide audience as it can.
What do I mean by that? Well, the gameplay itself, most importantly, is where the appeal will derive from. The Walking Dead is more than just a point and click, and pressing choice buttons to advance chit-chatter. There is actually gameplay to be had. These elements are mostly rather fun and well-executed mini-games, which are strung together by your standard WASD/d-pad movements. These mini-games include your QTE (Quick Time Events), which are used for emergency situations like… when the player is about to be eaten by a zombie who just jumped them! Or when there is a struggle for physical power between two entities. This reviewer’s favourite happens to be the shooting sections, where sometimes you’ll need to move between cover and the player will need to shoot the zombies, preferably around their brain region. And in total honesty, I never once found any of these to be repetitive or a chore to do because they are used at the right time in the right situations, and that really helps with the immersion and the feeling that the player is Lee.
However, saying this, The Walking Dead‘s strong and obviously main focus is its story, characters and writing effort. Without a doubt, this game has some of best, most creative, well-thought-out and surprisingly good voice acting, lines, dialogue and story climaxes that I’ve personally ever seen. I actually physically applauded whilst the credits were rolling, and that’s the first time I have done that with any entertainment product. This game will challenge the player as a person for their morals, beliefs, and relationships with the characters in the game, with real dilemmas as if it was really the player in the zombie apocalypse, knowing they could die in the next ten seconds. This reviewer remembers having to pause the game for five minutes, thinking about the choice that should be made between two characters. The choice lead to some deep thinking, like a child in an exam hall–and that’s no exaggeration.
Since there is a zombie around every corner, the player will in no doubt have to choose whether to fight or to run from them. This game game goes beyond the typical ‘kill or be killed’ philosophy. As Lee; the player will need to look after their group, talk to them, build relationships with so-and-so characters as they desire, and of course, the story adapts to them too. No, I don’t mean that the player needs to micro-manage and sort out who has herbs, who has ammo, who does what and when, but instead, the player will be thrown in real-life problems like running out of food, internal conflicts between people, who you can and can’t trust, and what to do next. This game is difficult, not in the Very Easy or Ultimate Hardcore No HUD (Heads-Up Display) Extreme V2.0 difficulty mode, but in that the game’s writing is done in such a way that it will make the player think. Sometimes, the player won’t even have time to think, instead needing to act there and then, using their own intuition. This has been the only game for this reviewer to have truly made me feel like I am a part of the world. The player can feel the importance, the need, of being there. The reasons for other characters relying on the protagonist are clear… for the most part.
Since this is not an action-focused title, puzzles are what keep the gameplay of interest. The player won’t be fiddling around with wires, moving blocks around to form a pattern, or solving any Mathematical and logical puzzles here, this game has it so that anybody who picks this game up can solve them, using the in-game clues and hints on how to do so. You just got to know where to look, which in most (if not all) cases, is a matter of entering another area and exploring. It’s a term I don’t like to use, but it’s casual-friendly, there are no brain-cookers that you will be stuck on for hours. This helps keeps the pace of the game steady but at the same time, it may fail to provide a challenge for some players, and may find it too simplistic.
The player may hover the mouse cursor over certain objects and areas of interest and have Lee’s take on them, which I found amusing, and again, added to the immersion. You can choose to do these in what I like to call the ‘breaking points’, which is the “rest” you are given in-between action sequences, where you’re free to talk to whoever you like, and look around the area for items and some humorous dialogue.
Coming to a close, the final topic I’d like to quickly mention are the graphics. Whilst they are not important for a video game, a good aesthetic look can attract a wider range of audience, and the art style can determine the score for many people. For me, though, I enjoy the cel-shaded look, it’s refreshing from the dark, gritty and realistic themes that most other games strive to achieve. This particular graphical style also allows for some strange, but fascinating, visual design choices which can be gotten away with because of its cartoonish look. Characters’ heads, for example, can be deformed but still look like they are human, such as largely sized noses and chins, or large eyes and distinctive facial markings, which in itself can show the player the history of this person. If you have ever played Team Fortress 2, you will know exactly what I am referring to. Environmental-wise, The Walking Dead looks drab and empty, especially in backgrounds. There are floors with missing grass, roads with missing objects, buildings with a plain rectangular structure, and a horrible looking blur effect without a depth of field effect. Whilst this allows slower computers to enjoy the game, those of us with beefy rigs will be left feeling that more could have been added, perhaps in an extended graphical slider. With this in mind however, your eyes will be focused on the magnificent character models, but it’s a complaint worth noting for those who like the scenery.
You’ve obviously noticed I’ve talked so highly of this game, from its clean comedy, to excellent writing, but there are some problems with this game and I consider them to be big problems. Whilst they do not break the game per se, they will definitely put a massive question mark over your head by the time the credits are rolling (just not in the Metal Gear Solid way), and may even put you off from enjoying the ending as much as it deserves to be. This is, of course, major spoiler territory, but I thought I’d like to let you know that this game has many, many plot holes and loose ends that are not covered. At all. It’s as if Telltale Games either completely forget to finish them off, rushed the game towards the end, or hoped that the players either forgot or forgave them. I felt like episode four onwards went spiralling downwards as the game went on, with its forced emotional scenes, sketchy personality switches from characters, loose ends and “emotional stunts” that just didn’t work out the way it was supposed to. I wasn’t happy, but neither unhappy, with the ending I received, not because I made the wrong choices, but because of a lot of unanswered questions were still floating in the air and unfortunately it’s something a sequel will have major trouble trying to fix.
Ultimately, the game has some of the best writing, stories and character development in anything I’ve ever seen, which boosts its score right up, but it hit the top bell and fell back down with its lazy plot holes, rushed endgame and forced emotion, leaving me dissatisfied and not the feeling of wanting more.