Review: Telltale’s The Walking Dead
By Liam Lambert
In an age when the videogame market is dominated by bloodthirsty action romps and pseudo-realistic military shooters, it is often all too easy to forget about the lasting emotional impact that a simple, well written game can deliver.
Then occasionally, a game comes along that kicks you in the gut, breaks your heart, shows you a terrifying window into your own psyche, and proves that sometimes, less is more.
Telltale’s The Walking Dead is such a game, and it manages to accomplish such feats by making the player push only a few buttons.
A fair amount of scepticism is piled upon licensed games these days, and with good reason. While most attempts to tie in popular TV/Movie/Book licenses to virtual space end disastrously, it was only a matter of time before somebody tried it with Robert Kirkman’s popular series of comic books. Funnily enough, despite sharing a name, the game has surprisingly little in common with either the comic books or the TV series, and you know what? It’s better for it.
Instead of dwelling on Rick Grimes’ tired love triangle like the TV series, or on his eventual downward spiral into madness and depression like the comic book source material, the game follows Lee Everett, a convicted criminal, as his world is turned upside down by the zombie apocalypse.
The Walking Dead Game (here on in referred to as TWDG) is an episodic point and click adventure game that mainly tasks the player with completing menial tasks like opening locked doors, powering up generators and finding items. While these typical adventure game staples may not sound too exciting, what matters in TWDG is how Lee solves these problems, how he deals with other people, and how it will all inevitably affect him.
Puzzles are challenging without being unfairly difficult or intrusive to the flow of the game, while combat (handled through quick time events like button mashing or accurately aiming Lee’s reticule and pressing a specific button within time constraints) is nothing short of intense. This simple, approachable yet ultimately satisfying level of interactivity is fun, and it’s enough to actually make TWDG a game rather than a visual novel, but it is not where TWDG’s real strengths lie. Instead of concentrating on action, horror and/or gore, TWDG focuses on delivering an emotionally engaging story.
Throughout each episode, Lee meets survivors and victims of the apocalypse alike, and must choose, through the games choice system and conversation tree, how best to deal with them. Each choice Lee makes impacts his story, and subsequent episodes. It could be choosing between life and death for a survivor in literal terms, or choosing whom out of the group you like the best by giving them rations or backing them up in conversation.
Some conversations force the player to choose a reply within an allotted time limit, making important decisions even harder to decide upon.
At the end of each episode, the player is presented with a list of stats detailing the percentage of players that made certain decisions. Such a simple idea manages to create an extremely moving and poignant statement about what kind of decisions people would make if this apocalypse actually happened, and gives a truly frightening insight into what sort of person you are.
Choosing to shy away from photorealistic graphics, Telltale have opted for a more cartoonish, almost cel shaded art style. Whilst retaining shades of Kirkman’s comic books, the games visual style still manages to come across as unique and more importantly, visually satisfying.
Not only does the game look great, but it sounds great too. Featuring stellar voice acting to rival the Mass Effect series and a minimalistic yet powerfully sombre soundtrack, everything you hear in TWDG will bring you one step closer to the tissues.
To put it simply, TWDG understands drama. The survivors are real people, with real problems and feelings. They react to situations in a familiar way whilst still remaining interesting for dramatic purposes. Lee is an African-American character who isn’t a stereotype (thank God), Clementine is a child character who isn’t pointless and benign (thank extra Gods); far from it. The games two main protagonists are instead to of the most likable, finely crafted and well written characters ever to grace the gaming world.
The game manages to make you feel hopeless, sad, and angry, whilst balancing out the negativity with levity and an overall sense of hope. So few games manage to create a meaningful balance between sadness and humour, but TWDG nails it.
Mix this with tiny, claustrophobic environments, excellent pacing, a cast of colourful, yet relatable characters, and some of the finest twists in a game’s narrative that I have ever experienced, and you have one of, if not the best written game ever created.
Any concerns with the game (very minor lagging issues and dialogue jumping) are rendered obsolete when measured up against the emotional weight of a game like this. Telltale has managed to revive the adventure genre in a fresh, interesting way, make zombies interesting again, and wrap it all up in one of the most heart-breaking emotionally engaging game narratives ever conceived.
They have managed to create a game that is more engaging and interesting than both the original Walking Dead comics and its subsequent spin-off TV series (shoot me).
I cried at The Walking Dead Game. I cried more than I have ever cried at a game before. I didn’t think I’d ever give a game a perfect ten, because after all, no game is ever perfect. But TWDG is as close as they come.
It should be regarded not only as a magnificent videogame, but as a magnificent piece of fiction able to rival any film, book or TV series.
You should not miss out on The Walking Dead.
The Verdict – 10/10 *sobs*