Okay, okay, okay. I realize that I should not get into the habit of redoing everything I’ve ever done, but sometimes I want to replay a game after a while, and look back at my past review of said game and view it as lacking. Yes, I said mostly nice things, but I don’t think I said them very well, and this will hopefully amend that. That, and I wanted to get a refresher for 400 Days, which I’m not gonna review, because it would be two rather annoyed paragraphs.
The Walking Dead Review
Release Date: 11/12/2012(Physical Copy)
Platforms: Xbox 360(Reviewed), Playstation 3, PC, Mac OS X, iOS
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
The Walking Dead, referring to the game by Telltale, as opposed to the other two mediums the franchise has been successful in. Is the story of a group of people in Georgia who are trying to survive following the zombie apocalypse, with their own relationships arguably being more of the greater threat than the lethal bites of the undead. An idea that game explores thoroughly, as you step into the brown shoes of Lee “Drummond” Everett. A college history teacher and convicted felon who wakes up a day or two after the dead start walking and finds himself a daughter by the name of Clementine and a group of hostile people he needs to form relationships with.
It is far from the most conventional game storyline, despite the well trodden material that is only given a free pass due to how the comics began in 2002. With the primary reason to give Walking Dead a look being how the core gameplay, and key narrative element are based on how Lee needs to make choices through the game, as the characters and world change around him. Which is what makes the game so special in many ways.
Games are an interactive medium, so it is odd how few of them have stories like a choose your own adventure book. Yes, assets need to be used, and voice acting can cost a pretty penny, but few give the illusions that nearly everything you do has some semblance of worth. Next to every single decision in The Walking Dead matters in some capacity. They could be from the response being a different line from Lee and those around him, or shape who will be with your group for two episodes. A bold idea, that is nothing but helped by two key factors.
One, nearly every choice has a time limit attached to it. With a more or less randomly arranged series or responses, it creates a decent enough simulation of being in an environment where words are your greatest weapon, and you need to be careful where you aim it. Also, and this is something that could potentially ruin the game otherwise, there are no “right” decisions. Nearly every choice I was encountered with, I could see the benefit, even if it was short term, of all the responses available.
Well, I do have some issues with a certain umbrella of choices, namely ones that would personally negatively impact Lee. To give an example from the second episode of this five part series, if I was in a situation where I needed to hand out four pieces of food to eight people, myself included, I would be tempted to sneak a piece for myself. However, when it comes to my main character eating, in a game without any form of stats beyond choices and relationship levels, I don’t see any real benefit. Same thing with needing to have the character of Lee, and by extension the player, kill a child.
Still, the story itself is driven by a very diverse bunch of characters that carry the stigma of being expendable in the eyes of the writer, with the cast being shuffled about several times as the episodes carry on. An idea that can seem a bit more focused on shock value, but after going through the game during the final days of 2012 and seeing a commentated playthrough of the game, the actual structure and establishing of the characters is pretty rock solid.
With the inclusion of the almost removed Clementine, an eight-year-old girl that relies on Lee as a surrogate father. Normally, the responsibility for a child in a game can sound like a drag, but as a theoretical kid, Clementine is pretty awesome. She’s not dumb and will see through anyone brushing away the truth, can fend for herself and seldom needs rescuing, and is ultimately empathetic and a constant source of good vibes given the scenario.
Going back on my mention of choice being the core mechanic of The Walking Dead, both narratively and gameplay wise, the remainder is set up more akin to an old Adventure game more than anything. You move around through a series of selected environments that the fairly straightforward story sends Lee across, and click around the environment to look at and interact with the nicknacks tastefully thrown about. Serving as a break from the often tense conversations you need to engage in for most of the game, and occasionally throwing in a puzzle for variety.
That might act as a warning light, due to how Adventure games of the 90s are notorious for their item management, but Walking Dead keeps it remarkably simple. The most complex puzzle you need to do is follow the instructions to start up a train, and it takes less than five minutes. Though the old school mentality this description may invoke is a bit disrupted by how the other mechanic tied in are the QTEs used for when you need to force something, or awkward first person shooting ranges that are only included about thrice in the entire game.
In fact, I’d say that the parts where you are walking around the fixed cameras and fiddling around with the world account for roughly 20-25% of the game. Not that it is necessarily bad. I understand the arguments that games should have interactive elements throughout, and I do agree. As long as you have some input within the title and freedom to go about things your own way in a world that reacts to your actions, it is a game. The thing is that The Walking Dead does more than most games with cutscene interactions, by having the game built around the story that you are ultimately playing through by the hundreds upon hundreds of decisions you must make.
At the same time, I can’t be so forgiving when it comes to the most visual and technical aspects of the game. Using a breed of cel-shading that most would compare to Borderlands, The Walking Dead shows its comic origins in every screen. With detailed models, and plentiful expressions thrown in for character reactions, I actually very much enjoy looking at the game. My biggest gripes come from how the game is not very sound from a technical perspective. There was a regular break after making choices in the earlier episodes, while the models had loose clothing creases floating about their shoulders. Even after the game’s 16MB of patches, I still had Lee struggle through a truck and the game put me in an unmovable state yet again.
I do appreciate how they went with a style that does emphasize the grimness of the experience through the events more than the visuals, with plenty of colors thrown about. Proving, at least in my mind, that you don’t need buckets of grit to make a little girl bashing a geek’s head in with a baseball bat an impactful scene. Yet, when there is lag in the title menu, something is dreadfully wrong, even if it is me for buying the Xbox 360 disc version. Though, I was very much distracted by the spot on voice acting from the hefty cast, and the bits of daunting music that kept the tone at a harsh melancholic state.
In a more concise version of the wall of text I made last time around, The Walking Dead is a bold title that certainly deserves the praise it got bombarded with come the end of 2012. Highlighting the possibilities the medium can achieve from a narrative front, the worst things I can say about it are minor at best. With the difficult to perceive time frame, and Clementine’s age being excruciatingly negligible details that don’t get in the way of a rich story about people trying to survive during a major and seemingly endless crisis. And the fact that I still adore it after three playthroughs certainly says something about its quality.
An exceptional product that is hindered by a few issues to the point where they are barely worth noting for this superb title. Definitely worth both your time and money.