When the zombie apocalypse hits and the world goes to hell, when the dead start walking and eat your limbs while they’re still attached, how will you survive? Will you abandon all semblance of a moral compass and be all man for himself? Will you cherish the moments you have with your fellow survivors and do your utmost to keep them safe? These are some of the questions you’ll face during Telltale Game’s The Walking Dead game, and none of them have answers you’ll take lightly.
It’s no secret that The Walking Dead has grown to become something of a behemoth in recent years. What started off as a simple comic book series became a gigantic television hit spawning countless merchandise, fandom and popularity everywhere. But there was one market that the universe had yet to infiltrate, and Telltale Games have done a sublime job of marking their territory with a game that will test your every will throughout its five episode run.
The Walking Dead dispenses with the action, of the fighting and dismembering en mass, and focuses purely on the story of how each of the survivors meet each other and subsequently avoid getting killed. It’s slower, story-driven and not like what one may expect from a game set in the aftermath of a zombie invasion, yet it just works.
As just mentioned, The Walking Dead is all about the story, and in that regard there’s little to fault it on. The zombie apocalypse setting is one that’s so easy to get wrong but when done right, can provide so much to the characters you experience and the atmosphere of the game. Fortunately, Telltale Games chose to go in the right direction for their game and as a result, The Walking Dead is a truly compelling, exciting and well-written adventure from the first episode all the way to the fifth.
One of the advantages to TWD’s story is that it’s not always predictable. Yes, there are certain moments when you can guess what will happen next with scary accuracy but most of the time, the next plot twist to arrive will surprise you and make you want to continue. A story that can be predicted at every turn is not one that will drag you in but fortunately The Walking Dead’s narrative never lets up with how frequently it twists and turns in directions you don’t expect.
Every good story needs a set of characters to play it out with and The Walking Dead features one of the finest, most empathetic casts that has been included with a videogame for a long time. You play as Lee Everett – a convicted murderer on his way to the slammer when the zombie crisis hits and the police car you’re travelling in is overturned. While recovering from said crash, you encounter a little girl called Clementine who’s alone and frightened, thus beginning the partnership that takes precedence throughout the game and one that is done to perfection.
All while playing the game, you will care for Clementine. Not because the game tells you to, or because you have no choice, but because the story and dialogue are so well-written as to make you truly care for that little, innocent girl on your television screen. Making decisions that will relate to her wellbeing and her safety, as well as those of your fellow survivors (even the potentially irritating ones), will not be done easily and it’s in this area that The Walking Dead excels the most.
Throughout The Walking Dead’s decent 9-11 hour story, you encounter frequent moments where you can choose how to proceed through a particular scene, or which dialogue options to choose when interacting with characters. Ultimately the outcome mostly remains the same regardless of how you choose but your choices directly affect the progress of the game, whether it be a character remembering a lie you told later down the line or somebody potentially biting the bullet because of an action you committed.
The choices you can make give the game a sense of fluidity, even if the story progresses the same way irrespective of them, that promote playing through the game more than once and experiencing it in a different way. Also, because of how emotionally engaging the story is, the choices you have to make (some of them genuinely painful) leave an impact that further the goal of the game: to make you care, and care you will.
As well as having an excellently written story populated with a fantastic cast of characters, The Walking Dead also chose to spread out its plot over five episodes, originally made available for download separately throughout 2012. It was a slight risk to take such an approach for the title but it was a risk that paid off. Whether you played each episode individually or consecutively, the episodic nature of the game is easy to appreciate, from the ‘Previously on’ segments to the teasers for the next episode. The Walking Dead is already a huge television hit and the episodic nature of the game helped to capture a similar essence as well as building the tension and excitement beyond what would’ve been possible without the episodic structure.
Not content with simply telling an intricate tale, The Walking Dead also features a point ‘’n’ click control scheme, whereby you merely move a mouse-like cursor across the screen and select various objects of interest to interact with. Occasionally you get to control Lee’s movements inside a prepared area but you will mostly spend your time having Lee moved for you.
While The Walking Dead’s control scheme is simple to get accustomed to and works well with the style of the game, it’s unfortunately not without its flaws. For example, during the segments when you get to move Lee yourself, his refusal to move at a pace beyond that of a crippled pensioner can sometimes prove more irritating than not, and it feels awkward and a tad clumsy. It’s not a groundbreaking, critical flaw but a cumbersome one nonetheless.
Putting the occasionally-annoying control scheme aside, The Walking Dead more than makes up for it in the graphical department. The visuals take on a comic book-esque style that keeps in theme with the comic books the game mostly takes the lead from. They aren’t earth-shattering graphics and they won’t stand out amongst the big boys, but they contribute to the game having a unique feel and sense of style that’s reciprocated in other areas.
On the audio side of the spectrum, there’s little The Walking Dead can be criticized on. Mainly, the voice cast is very impressive, with the likes of Dave Fennoy and Melissa Hutchinson (Lee and Clementine respectively) offering emotional ranges and variation to their voice work. It’s not often that child voice actors play their parts adequately but they surely nailed it with The Walking Dead.
A game that relies on the player forming and maintaining an emotional connection to the cast, like The Walking Dead, needs a strong voice cast, because it all crumbles if it doesn’t, and fortunately TWD features just that. There are no real underwhelming performances from any actor playing their parts and it’s refreshing to see that happen.
Outside of the voice work, The Walking Dead also excels in other auditory areas, including the music used throughout the five episodes. Slower, more engaging scenes are accompanied by appropriately emotional music, while the more action-heavy, run-before-you’re-eaten scenes feature well-produced scores that heighten the tension. The Walking Dead plays well, looks good and to make it a hat-trick of technical accomplishments, sounds great.
For a game as fantastic as The Walking Dead, it’s difficult to spend too much time focusing on the negative areas of the experience because they are vastly outshadowed by the positive. In fact, arguably the worst thing about the game as a whole was the fact that it had to eventually come to an end. Nevertheless, The Walking Dead suffers from a selection of issues that are hard to ignore.
One of the aforementioned issues would be the frequent frame-rate drops and split-second freezes that nearly always occurred when switching between scenes. Also, the game occasionally suffers from audio bugs that showed the dialogue appearing on screen but no speech actually emerging from the speakers, ultimately ruining the flow of the conversation and hindering what the game is trying to achieve.
Perhaps The Walking Dead’s biggest issue (or it might not be an issue depending on how you see it) is how much of a videogame it’s actually not. One could be forgiven for labelling the game as something more along the lines of an interactive adventure rather than an actual game, which implies player control over the character – an infrequent occurrence. Because of the fact that the game is so story focused, it sometimes feels as though the game is merely playing itself and you’re simply along for the ride.
That’s not to say that The Walking Dead isn’t good at what it is, because that’s incorrect entirely. By offering up story over gameplay, the game succeeds in providing an engaging narrative that isn’t hindered by any other areas. But The Walking Dead is not a typical videogame; you don’t get much control over your character, you don’t get to change the direction of the story beyond very simple details and the game simply plays itself while you watch. But it’s still brilliant, make no mistake of that.
We all knew that The Walking Dead would eventually infiltrate the videogame market as it did television, but quite what Telltale Games managed to achieve with their iteration is remarkable. Not only does The Walking Dead feature one of the finest and most enthralling stories that videogames have to offer, but the way in which it makes you truly feel for the characters you see on screen, so much that you actually mourn their passing, is simply brilliant. For a game to test your spirit and heart like The Walking Dead does is testament to its success, and you’d be remiss if you didn’t experience it for yourself.