I haven’t been able to play as many video games as I would have liked to this year, but I have been incredibly happy to have gone through the The Walking Dead game. It is a video game by Telltale Games, which utilizes the point-and-click adventure game mold and has found the perfect property license to apply that style to. As opposed to being a fast-paced shooter like Left 4 Dead, The Walking Dead is designed to play at a much more deliberate pace that focuses on having the player develop their character and influence the story around them based on choice. As a result, this game has one of the most compelling stories I have seen in a video game, with great characterization, influenced by my own decisions. It also features a great signature art style and enough zombie-related scenarios that make it, in many ways, superior to the TV series and up to the same level as the comic that inspired it. Having now completed the first season of this game, I am happy to share my thoughts in a more structured way.
The Walking Dead is a game that is very similar to the comic in the way that it presents a ‘continuing tale of survival horror’. Players assume the role of Lee Everett and live out events that take place concurrently with what is going on during the plot of the comic (perhaps a bit earlier). During this time, players will have the opportunity to interact with some familiar characters from the comic, but the game’s majority is spent interacting with all new characters and settings.
This review is focused on the first season of The Walking Dead, which has just released its season finale and will eventually continue with a second, that will continue to expand upon the story you have completed, based on how you have influenced your story. There is a structure to this season that has an appropriate beginning, middle, and end, but leaves plenty of room for this game series to continue. This first season contained five episodes: ‘A New Day’, ‘Starved For Help’, ‘Long Road Ahead’, ‘Around Every Corner’, and ‘No Time Left’. Each episode is somewhat different in length, with the shortest being about an hour and a half, while the longest can take up to three hours. The game does save your progress and has a checkpoint system, but it basically functions as an interactive movie, so you can start and stop as you please in a sense.
The story of this season revolves around Lee working his way through a zombie-infested Georgia during the first few weeks of this zombie apocalypse and onwards, finding and teaming up with new survivors along the way. The most important person Lee meets during his journey is a young girl named Clementine, who has most likely lost her parents and now has no one to look after her. Lee and Clementine will meet up with a number of different people, some of whom will survive longer than others, and the game will have you taking refuge in a number of locations for a while and exploring and traveling through others.
Most importantly, the characters are truly what matters most, and while you are in control of certain outcomes, it will come down to how you interact with people and how you make your decisions, when it comes down to which ones will live and which ones will die. There may be a specific path that the game follows, but there are a lot of alternate scenarios for this game to let you witness, depending on the choices that you make. Different characters can make it further than others and how they interact with you will be based on how you have handled various situations. Depending on the way you play the game, you could either have a character that functions in an ultra-honest way or in the jerkiest way possible. It is up to you. My ‘Lee’ was crafted by me to be dependable, but slightly quiet in regards to his dark past, but there are a whole lot of different angles to be seen.
The way you play this game will be familiar to anyone who has played other Telltale Game series, such as the Sam & Max series or the recent Back to the Future: The Game. For everyone who is not as familiar, The Walking Dead follows the play style of a point-and-click adventure, played from a third-person perspective. The game essentially allows you to have free movement in a majority of the locations seen, with the ability to point and click on what you see on your screen, which is generally highlighted in some way. The player can inspect and interact with characters and items and must make use of various inventory items and the environment around them. Sometimes the game will constrict you to moving down a certain path, but it is still important to point and click on what may be in your eye line.
How fast you move is frequently important, as the player often has a limited time to make certain decisions. Sometimes it matters in terms of dialogue-related decisions, but in more life threatening scenarios, the player can die in the process, if they are not quick enough to act. Quick time events are used for these particular action scenes, with the player having to quickly hit the right button on their controller, click the right area on their screen, or tap the right area on their mobile device, depending on how they are playing. Seconds can certainly make a difference in where the game takes you.
The game also features role-playing elements, including moral decisions, which have consequences in the player’s relationships with other characters. I have addressed this already, based on how it is choice that makes this game adapt to how you have decided to play it. With that said, this is where the time factor will often effect your gameplay, as morality-based decisions can effect which options you choose in various scenarios. And really, stress and reaction time is another big factor, as you may have wanted to do things differently, but the time limit and basic emotions may effect what you end up doing, which (aside from possible human error) is a really effective way of maintaining a level of reality in how the story plays out for you. You may have wanted a certain character to live, but the stress of the environment, y’know – zombie hordes coming after you, could have caused you to mess up in how you played the game, but the story still continues on and forces you to live with what happened.
In this aspect of the game, the various episodes have, at times, faced small hiccups in terms of loading speeds and certain movements not registering as smoothly as one would like. The games certainly have gotten better with each episode, but this is the main area that has needed improvement in the grand scheme of things. With that said though, for the people that have embraced this style of gameplay, I think Telltale Games has done a great job of utilizing this play style within the universe of The Walking Dead. It is a perfect match for a series that should be much more focused on characters, story, and moral choices, rather than be a full-scale action game.
Immediately noticeable about The Walking Dead is the art style of the game, which has a unique look that is very much in line with the comic book’s art style. The game is handled with a cel-shaded animation style, which is one of the best uses of this format I have seen, as it reflects the comic, but still contains a level of carnage that would be harder to watch in other ways. Characters are depicted with definition in their design, edges, colors, and other little details that make them stand out. Environments are occasionally drab, given the situation that is presented (a zombie-apocalypse), but the areas that matter are detailed well and are well-implemented. And of course there are plenty of zombies and zombie-related deaths that occur in this game and they look pretty great. Sometimes things can get quite brutal and this game series does not shy away from the gore factor.
Given that this game is so focused on developing characters, it only makes sense that the voice acting should be of high quality and The Walking Dead delivers that in spades. Thanks to the vocal performances of voice actors that include Dave Fennoy and Melissa Hutchison as Lee and Clementine, among many others, this game is able to convey so much in terms of telling an effective story. It is because of these strong performances that the game will literally be able to have people become very emotional about how it plays out (I certainly was).
The music and sound of this game is also very well handled. The original score is effectively utilized in scenarios that matter most. The various uses of sound effects register the way they should, with the sound of roaming zombies and the chaos that ensues because of them creating effectively tense scenarios. These scenarios are only amplified further, as the score begins to creep up in intensity.
Without the handle on design that this game has, The Walking Dead could have been nothing more than a well-written, but flat experience to sit through. It is a thanks to combining great production detail with the story focus that the game is able to succeed so well and provide for a very engaging and compelling experience, as you continue to fight against the undead. The unique art design and strong vocal performances really go a long way here.
I love the comic series by Robert Kirkman and I have been enjoyed the TV show more and more (the third season is a real improvement), but The Walking Dead game may be my favorite way of handling this series. Sure, I have invested in the comic characters for nearly 10 years, but getting to interact in this world and manipulate the outcome of this story has been an incredible gaming experience that has gotten me to care on another level. Minor gameplay hiccups aside, this is a great gaming experience for anyone that wants to be absorbed in a well-designed, character-driven story. The game may be more focused and move at a much more deliberate pace than a standard action title, but this is a great implementation of the point-and-click adventure. Along with being great zombie fiction, it is one of my favorite gaming experiences in general.