Note: This review was written when only the first two episodes of the game were available. However, the later episodes don’t really change up the game that much, so please consider my sentiments in this review to apply to the completed game as well.
When I set up this blog/website, I said that I’d occasionally post reviews, usually for films, books or video games that I’ve enjoyed enough to want to talk about. This week, I’ve been playing the PC version of The Walking Dead by Telltale Games, an episodic point and click adventure game with strong role playing elements based on the comic book and television series of the same name.
I’d strongly recommend giving the game a try (though it would also be wise to read to the end of this post, first) because it’s pretty unique as far as games centred around zombie-apocalypse/survival horror concepts go. Since I’ve been focusing my time more and more on my writing and university studies of late, I haven’t really had the time to play video games, and I’ve found that few, if any, modern games are able to hold my attention for a considerable amount of time these days. The Walking Dead is very different.
At its core, The Walking Dead: The Game is a (mostly) dialogue driven adventure game set in the universe of its comic-book and TV show counterparts. You experience it through the eyes of Lee, an ex-history professor convicted of murdering a senator who he discovered sleeping with his wife (though the details of the murder and whether it was premeditated or accidental are left ambiguous and up to the player to determine). While being driven to prison after your trial, you’re thrown (literally) head first into an ensuing zombie apocalypse and are given a second lease on life. You seek refuge in an abandoned house and soon meet up with Clementine, a young girl who has lost her parents. Afterwards, the two of you join a group of survivors trying to wait out the chaos, and the game’s focus shifts to the conflicts and relationships that define the group as a whole — and not everyone gets along.
Most of the gameplay consists of Lee interacting with other survivors while they go about their day to day business, and he’s often caught up in disagreements between his companions. This is what makes The Walking Dead such an amazing game to play; the characters you meet, including Lee and Clementine, are very well written and have fleshed out personalities and differing goals and motives. They often conflict with each other (and with Lee) and their disposition towards the player will change throughout the game depending on Lee’s actions and chosen responses in dialogue (much like an RPG). Before long, you’ll find yourself having to choose between certain characters to ally yourself with, as it’s impossible to be on good terms with them all.
Much like films such as 28 Days Later and the original Dawn of the Dead, Lee’s story centers heavily on morality. You’ll find yourself having to make confronting moral choices throughout the game and these decisions have real consequences. Things you say or do may come back to haunt Lee hours later into the game, as other characters remember them and react accordingly. It’s a game that really encourages you to think about your actions. As you struggle to survive, you can sink to some horrifying lows — and you can also ascend to amazing heights. I’ve always appreciated themes like these in creative works, and these aspects of The Walking Dead and how they engage the player really make it a game worth playing.
For those who care about such things, the game also boasts serviceable graphics and sound. The characters and environments in the game are all cel-shaded and the game really captures the look and feel of a comic-book, which fans of the source material it is derived from will appreciate. The locales the game visits are quite small and confined, and you don’t get to see a lot of them (this isn’t a game focused on exploration) but the key thing is that they look convincing and do the job of immersing the player enough to care about the events occurring within them. Likewise, the soundtrack is minimal but of high quality and used to great effect. The music style ranges from tense and atmospheric to emotional and reflective, establishing most of the game’s mood.
A possible issue with the game is its control scheme — it uses both the mouse and the keyboard at the same time, even though it’s essentially a point and click game. As such, it takes a bit of getting used to, and can seem very fiddly during action scenes. If you have a joypad available that is compatible with this game (it works with the Xbox 360 controller, at the very least) then you’ll definitely want to use it to play The Walking Dead. I found in the end that this didn’t detract from the positive elements of the game, but a better control scheme would’ve made it more enjoyable (if only a little).
It’s quite hard to not enjoy The Walking Dead anyway; that much is certain. It’s a breath of fresh air in both a tired genre and an increasingly stale medium that seems to lean more and more into action games like Call of Duty. The Walking Dead evokes elements of old-school adventure games and the very best RPGs.
You’ll like it. Buy it. Just make sure you bring a joypad along.