The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead Review

Keeping you tense and fully enamored until the final credits roll, The Walking Dead is a game you owe it to yourself to play.

The Walking Dead

Like any good zombie story, The Walking Dead is more about people than the monsters they fight.

The Walking Dead is nothing short of a television phenomenon and, as heretical as this may sound, I’ve never found the urge to sit down and watch it. That’s right, the person writing these very words has never laid eyes on a single episode. It’s no surprise then that when Telltale announced they’d be handling an adventure-based game in The Walking Dead universe, I couldn’t have cared less. However, thanks to my soft spot for most things Telltale, I opted to sit down one day and play through the first episode anyway – just for kicks. A couple hours later, I found myself locked-in, playing through all five episodes consecutively. Yes, The Walking Dead is THAT good.

Utilizing the tried-and-true point and click mechanics of yore, The Walking Dead has much in common with old school adventure titles, like The Secret of Monkey Island. It’s deliberately paced, often having stretches where interacting with characters and your surroundings is the only thing you do. It’s not a bad thing, but if you’re the kind of gamer who lives for constant, in your face, zombie killing action, then the adventure genre isn’t something you’ll likely bite into.

You won’t be actively dodging anything and/or knocking zombies up into the air for a ‘Radical’ combo, but the game still requires your input. QTEs (Quick Time Events) act as a substitute for these moments and work well for The Walking Dead‘s narrative-focused format. There are a few skill-based scenarios that you’ll run into, but even those are pretty short and easy to slide through. The rest of the game is focused on the decisions you make and watching them play out in horrifying fashion. It may sound lame since The Walking Dead is just a ‘story’ game, but rest assured, Telltale makes sure your experience is an unforgettable one.

The Walking Dead

Lee has a troubled past, but he’s not afraid to step up and do what’s best for his group.

Composed of five episodes for the first season, The Walking Dead will take you about 10 full hours to complete. Since it’s a sensitive subject (and ridiculously important to the game), I can’t bring myself to divulge any bits and pieces of the narrative. What I can say is that you play as Lee Everett, an enigma of a man with quite a lot on his slate. You can’t change his past deeds, but the impression he makes on others during the game is all in your hands, and it affects everything you can imagine. This is where The Walking Dead really becomes fascinating, and I’ll go so far as to say that all games with an elaborate story could learn something from its intrepid design.

Without spoiling anything, The Walking Dead treads into the grey area of decision making more than any game I’ve ever played. Instead of always getting that black and white question and answer treadmill, you’re given options that come down to your morality alone. In a split second, someone may live because of your decision, but another could run off due to your incessant lies, killing themselves and possibly much more in the process. It’s all ambiguous and you never truly know what’s going to come around the next corner. The Walking Dead is also one of the only games that deal directly with questions about what’s truly important in life. When you come to one of the game’s many emotional crescendos, you too will ask yourself what you truly believe.

Time after time, scene after scene, the atmosphere and intensity of The Walking Dead never lets up. It’s an incredibly apprehensive feeling and one of the big reasons why it works so well is because of the timer associated with decision making. Instead of following the Mass Effect design, which gives infinite amounts of time to make a choice, The Walking Dead will automatically act for you if you take too long. That may seem like an odd design choice, but it makes the game work. The stress, tension and urgency of these situations you’re thrust into would not have nearly the same effect if the game allowed for unlimited time to toil about. It’s amazing to see how one little design philosophy can change so much and in this case, it’s the reason why The Walking Dead comes together so well.

The Walking Dead

The relationship between Lee and pint-sized Clementine is incredibly gripping.

Visually and aurally, The Walking Dead looks great in good ol’ cel-shaded fashion. The voice overs are also well done; all the lines are delivered with believable emotion attached. The only issue I have with The Walking Dead on is what can happen when you do make a monumental decision. While the outcome is shocking at first, you may eventually discover that had you chosen differently, that scene wouldn’t change as much as you’d expect. Asking a game to basically give you an entirely new story because of one decision you made is a laughable prospect; there are moments however, when I expected a bit more to change to make playing through the game again a worthwhile endeavor. That’s something else, once you’ve completed The Walking Dead, playing through it again isn’t nearly as fun. You’ll already know most of the ultimate outcomes, even if you make different choices.

Gripping as the story can be, it’d all amount to nothing if the character design wasn’t top notch. Even children in The Walking Dead play a pivotal role when making any sort of decision, for their parts. Rivalries, arguments, good ole’ masculine disagreements, every character feels different and engages problems the group faces in a plethora of different ways. Simply put, there hasn’t been character design this elaborate since Mass Effect 2.

As an added bonus, since The Walking Dead is rather simplistic to play, friends and family who might not normally play video games can participate. Since skill really never comes into the picture and you typically watch more than actually ‘play,’ The Walking Dead can be a great introduction to the power of video games. In this case, it’s a great conversation starter too.

The Walking Dead is a surprise beyond measure. Heralding the coming of greater storytelling and design choices in games, its simplistic style is arguably more complicated than most 50+ hour RPGs. For Telltale, it proves the developer can spin any kind of tale, keeping you tense and fully enamored until the final credits roll. Without a doubt, this is a game you owe it to yourself to play. Available digitally and now at retail for under $30, The Walking Dead is worth everything and anything you have. PLAY IT!

The Walking Dead / Telltale Games / July 26, 2012 – November 20, 2012

This review was conducted on a retail Steam code provided by Telltale Games.

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