Before going into the review proper, I need to apologize to everyone for this review being late. While I don’t really have a schedule properly planned, I did say in my previous post that this review would be out a week later. However, due to a combination of getting sick, school work, and writer’s block, I wasn’t able to do that, and I apologize. This review was surprisingly hard to do while avoiding spoilers. Honestly, talking about the best parts of the game would involve revealing major plot points. Anyway, on to the review.
To the Game
After being convicted of murder, Lee Everett was on his way to spend the next several years in jail. However, the cruiser transporting him has a wreck. Finding himself in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, Lee stumbles upon a house with no one but a little girl named Clementine. Together, they need to find a way to survive the end of the world.
To the Franchise
Unlike other things that I’ve reviewed so far, The Walking Dead is a part of a franchise called, well, The Walking Dead. As the name implies, this franchise is about a zombie apocalypse. The Walking Dead was initially a comic book series that was later then adapted into a television series on AMC. Now, Telltale Games has created a game series set within the same world. Fortunately, you do not need to have any knowledge about the comics or the television series to enjoy this game. However, there are a few things worth noting that separates The Walking Dead from all the other zombie stories.
First of all, they never actually use the word “zombie”. Apparently, such stories never entered popular culture within this particular world. Instead, most people refer to them as “Walkers”. However, due to the collapse of the communication infrastructure there is no designated name for them, and it’s possible for various groups to call them different things. This absence from popular culture also puts all of the characters at a disadvantage. Within the real world, zombies are so popular that just about everyone knows that you need to damage the head to stop them, and some particular people actually have survival plans in the case of a zombie attack. Within The Walking Dead, there is a notable absence of such knowledge and forethought.
Second, it does not matter how a person dies within this world. All that matters is that a person dies, and in a few moments they will come back as a walker. It could be from an animal attack, blood loss from a gunshot, or anything else. The how does not matter. As long as no brain damage took place, the person will come back as a walker.
A Lot of Cut Scenes and Character Buildup
Many people do not like games created by Telltale Games since they are less like traditional games and more akin to interactive movies. The player makes a decision, usually under a time limit, and then watches a scene play out. Nonetheless, plenty of instances occur where the player can move around and explore the area at their leisure. Usually this exploration requires solving a situation or trying to get out or a locked room. A great deal of people say that this style of game comes across more like an interactive movie than an “actual game”. Nonetheless, I enjoy games that have a lot of story to them.
Each of the game’s characters are memorable and unique. It would be easy to initially place them into stereotypes: that person is nerdy, that person is a jerk, etc. However, as the game progresses their characteristics build up more and more. Even months later, I can remember each character, from their names to their personalities. Numerous books in my reading history cannot make that claim. In addition to being memorable, the characters are complex in their own ways. I can remember my impression of certain characters changing over time as I saw new sides to their personalities.
However, that does not mean that it is for everyone. Games like The Walking Dead are often calling ‘interactive cinema’ or ‘cutscene’ game for a good reason. This game is not one where there is long stretches of action or exploration. You will need to spend several minutes watching scenes unfold and listening to dialog. That doesn’t mean that you can put the controller down. In the middle of a scene or speech, the player could be prompted for an answer or decision, and the player will only have so much time before it is made automatically. These aspects turn off many people who prefer less narrative and more action. I am not such a person. There are games that I turn to for action, but I turn to Telltale Games and their Walking Dead adaptations for narrative.
Choices with and without Impact
As a fan of story driven games, I appreciated the amount of choices present within The Walking Dead. With any choice-heavy game, some of the options will have a major impact on the story while others have minor effects. Telltale Games went the extra mile though by having some choices affect dialogue in the second season. I’ve always been fascinated with narrative games watching how my choices create impacts both large and small.
Another aspect of choice-heavy games is when you’re choices don’t affect the outcome at all. Character X will always live or always die no matter how you treat them. A lot of people consider such decisions a waste of time, but I hold that it’s not the destination but rather the journey. In one scene, Clementine asks you if you’ll help her find her parents. While the story develops the same way not matter your decision, it can be heartbreaking to hear Clementine cry when you tell her ‘no’. On the other side, the smile she gives you is extremely touching should you reply ‘yes’.
A Particular Scene Deserving Mention
I try to stay away from spoilers in my reviews, but there is one particular scene that I need to talk about. In Episode 3, Lee and therefore the player is given a difficult choice. After making the decision, both Lee and the player find out that Clementine was watching. I have heard multiple stories online of players that made the decision and then immediately regretted it when they discovered that the young girl observed it. While I don’t wish that emotional guilt on people, I love that the narrative has that much power by doing something so simple. It is an excellent demonstration of that a strong narrative isn’t dependent on the medium. In fact, some would say that the narrative was enhanced by being a game. It puts the power of the decision in the player’s hands, but also the responsibility. Would those players have felt the same amount of guilt and regret had Lee made the decision on his own rather than through player input?
This game stuck with me for months afterwards. I mentioned one particular scene above that changed people, but it was by far not the only one. I believe that it is not possible to get through this game without having at least one emotional experience. If anyone is even slightly interested, I would heavily recommend it to them.