The Walking Dead is a game, based on the hit show, based on a comic book. So basically you have a bunch of influences here, but while a lot of the material is based loosely on an existing set of stories, the approach Telltale Games took with Season One was somewhat risky in retrospect.
Telltale Games has been around for a while now, but they really seemed to strike gold with their Back to the Future games, which focused on narrative and decision making over action and more traditional ‘game’ elements. This approach has paid off over the last few years, with story-driven titles like Beyond: Two Souls and Heavy Rain, two games I was very fond of if you look back at my reviews.
The controls are fairly simple, with a left stick that moves your character around and a right stick that lets you focus on things or people in your environment. Highlight something you can interact with, and the appropriate buttons show up on the screen. Telltale Games has carried this formula forward for its Season Two of The Walking Dead, as well as their recent fairytale game, The Wolf Among Us.
I found the mechanics easy to adapt to, though there are certain situations that do take several tries to complete. Examples might be staving off a zombie attack, timing a jump from one roof to another or more. These are more the exception than the rule, adding a ‘lose state’ to your game where you have to go back and try again from the last checkpoint. Thankfully checkpoints are scattered about pretty liberally, though it would have been nice to see an option for speeding up dialog on particularly annoying scenes you have to wade through several times.
Still, more often than not, the game attempts to be gentle, because it wants you to move forward and progress the story. There are some failures along the way, but no one is going to mistake The Walking Dead for a punishing title like Dark Souls. In fact, most gamers who dislike The Walking Dead are likely to do so because they do not feel there is enough ‘game’ here to play, and that they are just along for the ride.
I picked up the entire first season some time ago, largely at the behest of my son. I have been meaning to play it for some time now, but finally hunkered down to get through the entire tale over the course of a few days. The story is often gripping, with interesting characters and plenty of tough decisions to be made along the way. To that end, the game feels like you are really helping the story to adapt and evolve based on the choices you go with.
It is a neat illusion, though by the time I was done, I had the sneaking suspicion I had impacted very little about the game’s outcome. This prompted me to read up on many of the options and branching choices I made, and I have to admit I was slightly disappointed in the end result. Of course I enjoyed the tale, and I felt as though I was authoring it by and large, but in the end it turns out that every character who dies is going to die no matter what – it is just a matter of when and how. That is why I say you have the illusion of choice, because the end is already by and large predetermined, it is just how you get there that varies.
That is not to say I did not enjoy The Walking Dead. Quite the opposite I
thought the series, which was originally released in episodic format,
was engrossing, with characters I was truly invested in. It appears some
of your decisions also carry over to Season Two, though how big the
impact will be remains to be seen.
The game’s presentation is a mixed bag. I like the style of art used for the game, but it is anything but a technical wonder. Framerates are inconsistent, animations are often a bit jumpy and the sort of painted, broad stroke appearance will not appeal to everyone. Thankfully the musical score and the voice acting hold up much better. For a game that relies on tension and character interactions, this was a crucial component to selling the experience, and the audio knocks this aspect of The Walking Dead out of the park.
One nice touch is that at the end of each chapter, your ‘big decisions’ are weighted against the rest of the online community, so you can see if you chose what the majority or minority did. For what little it was worth, I was in the majority about eighty percent of the time. When the game concludes, it gives you an interesting breakdown on character interactions as well.
This is not a game for people seeking yet another zombie slaying action adventure, but if you are interested in a more evenly paced, narrative-driven game with characters who will grow to matter to you, then The Walking Dead is a worthwhile way to spend several hours.
7 out of 10