The Walking Dead

Date: April 2013

Release Year: 2012, Developer: Telltale, Publisher: Telltale, PAGODA Link

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The Walking Dead was one of the TV shows that I always postponed watching, mainly because I am not really into the whole zombie concept. I love horror movies, but for some reason I always found zombies quite boring. Last year, when the show was in the middle of Season 3, I decided to give it a shot and to my surprise I found out that the show was more about humans than zombies. The recurring theme in the series is how people cope with impossible choices during the time of crisis. In that aspect, I think the series is very similar to Battlestar Galactica, which is one of my favorite TV shows. Overall, the show is a solid drama rather than a horror story and contains a great cast of characters and plot twists.

Anyways, let’s get back to the game. I possess mixed feelings towards the games released by Telltale. In the past they put out some decent titles like The Tales of The Monkey Island, but their recent trend is towards making games of popular franchises (for instance Back To The Future and The Jurassic Park) with a heavy emphasis on story driven gameplay with trivial puzzles. To be honest, I have a general dislike for such “interactive movies”. If I am not actively using my brain to get through a game, I don’t see the point of playing it. I can only tolerate such gameplay if the story and the characters are really interesting or at least the game offers some multiple choices to shape the story at critical points. Fortunately, The Walking Dead is one of these games where the story is exceptionally well written and the amount of multiple choices and the character interactions are good enough to make you forget that the game does not represent any real challenges. I think it is by far the best release by Telltale in that category and the game received applause within the adventure gaming community as well.

The Story is Almost as Good as the Original Show!

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The beginning of the game is one of the most captivating and original introductions I have ever seen. We are playing Lee, a black man at his thirties who recently got arrested. He is being transferred to the prison in a police car and while he is chatting with the officer (the dialogue is interactive and is in player’s control) the police car gets into an accident and Lee is set free. However Lee soon realizes that the world is taken over by zombies for no apparent reason, and soon he joins other victims in a quest to search for their beloved ones and figuring out a way to get out of this insane post-apocalyptic world.

The game was released in an episodic format, consisting total of 5 episodes. I really dislike playing my games in that format so I waited till I can play all the episodes at once. That being said, the episodic delivery actually works for this game. Each episode focuses on a particular challenge that the group must overcome during the course of the story and yet the transition between the episodes is so well done that you feel like you are playing a single continuous game, rather than a sequence of stand-alone episodes.

The game has almost no connection to the characters and the plot of the TV series, but it follows very similar themes. From the very first episode you meet with a group of survivors and realize that leading a group and handling other people’s panic attacks is actually much more difficult than taking care of zombies. This is where the game’s multiple choice mechanics kicks in a more elaborate and psychological way. I will talk more about this in the upcoming subsections.

Although the most of the story is quite predictable, writers did an outstanding job at developing deep and interesting characters, and there is plenty of dialogue. The set of characters is very diverse, ranging from scared children to paranoid adults. The bulk of the game is centered around the interactions between these characters and how do they cooperate to overcome the obstacles they meet during the story. The tempo of the game never slows down, as soon as the group resolve a problem another one emerges immediately and moreover they constantly fight over what their next step should be. Overall, story-telling is one of the best I have seen in a computer game, and  an excellent representation of how a character driven post-apocalyptic survival scenario should be written.

Comic Style Graphics Done Right

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The game definitely has top-notch production values. From the very first scene I was quite shocked by how beautiful the graphics were. The graphics are very animated, yet the palette and the visual effects give them a comic book feel. If you could animate a comic book, I think this is exactly how it would look like.

The voice-overs and the music is also top-notch. Each character sounds exactly how you expect them to sound and especially two main characters (Lee and Clementine) gives an outstanding performance. In particular, the actress who voices Clementine might be the the best child voice actress I have seen in a computer game. She goes through a string of emotions through the game, such as fear, hope, joy, paranoia and eventually despair. All of these emotions are reflected so well in her voice that you can’t help but to develop a connection between yourself and her character. The relationship between Lee and Clementine is the most important side-story of the overall plot and one of the most touching and emotional stories I have witnessed to watch in an adventure game.

Illusion of Freedom

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Now let’s focus on the game mechanics a little bit. The game contains almost no challenges and the inventory puzzles are mostly trivial. The game is mainly all about making decisions and interacting with other characters. This “multiple choice” mechanism works brilliantly well for this game, because of the dramatic structure of the plot. Every decision you make involves not only a tactical side (as in asking if this decision is going to benefit you later) and an emotional side (as in if you have the guts to make that decision). Thus from time to time, the decision making process induces a great amount of stress on you, which results in an interesting and unique gameplaying experience. Compared to other similar games (such as Indigo Prophecy and  Jurassic Park), I think this is the best game in this sub-genre due to how the decision making mechanics are integrated into the story.

Having said that, the game actually has a false premise that makes you believe that your actions do actually shape the game. If you play the game for the second time around, or if you are just too lazy and look at a walkthrough, you will see that a very large portion of your decisions actually do not alter the ultimate turning points and the outcomes of the story. No matter which path you take, the game manages to adjust the storyline so that everything unravels the way it was designed. I found that a bit disappointing actually, I thought that playing the game the second time with different choices would results in a different playing experience, but sadly it didn’t…

There are also several timed sequences in the game that tests your keyboard skills. Normally I despise action sequences in adventure games, but I wasn’t bothered too much with them this time around. Since the game offers no real challenge, these sequences wake you up when the story gets too monotonous and they are not really difficult at all.

Last Words

The Walking Dead  is definitely among the better games that Telltales had developed. The story is emotionally very well executed and it is very similar to the spirit of the comic and the TV show.  If you don’t mind an adventure game with no puzzles, The Walking Dead is definitely a great game to experience from start to finish.

The Good: Excellent comic style graphics. Interesting and diverse set of characters. Multiple-choice mechanics fit seamlessly with the dramatic structure of the game. Emotional and well-executed voice acting.

The Bad: No real challenges. Relatively short gameplay.

The Ugly: The choices you make don’t actually shape the storyline at all.

Score: 8/10

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