This review is Spoiler Free.
I first started playing The Walking Dead this past September after hearing critics and fans praise the game’s story driven qualities. I was definitely interested, but at the same time, buying into an episodic title still felt a little off to me. For some reason, I felt that it was something like a cash grab and that I’d be hit with a middling quality, all because each episode was $4.99. Do yourself a favor and get over any qualms you have.
Once you jump in, TWD quickly hits you with powerful dialogue, tough choices, unbearable tension, and a constant feeling of “did I just fuck everything up?” Finishing the first episode within 2 sittings, it got my attention, but I had heard that they were releasing a retail edition. Thus, I (regrettably) waited until December to finish off the game. I now sit here, 48 hours after opening up the cellophane wrapping of the retail copy, finished with one of the most emotionally gripping, tense, tragic, shocking, yet satisfying games in my 20+ years of gaming.
To cover the boring stuff first, as a disclaimer, Walking Dead’s gameplay isn’t really anything huge to write home about. If you’re looking for an action game that gives you full control of everything going on, the Walking Dead is not that. It’s basically an interactive point-and-click adventure. A choose your own path movie. The real meat of the gameplay is based on decision making and Quick-Time events that test your composure. There are some technical issues throughout (framerate, occasionally sluggish controls) but none that take you out of the element. Graphics are middling, yet sufficient. The art style is a little weird at the beginning, but you quickly get used to it and end up adoring it. I applaud Telltale for their ability to animate emotion into the characters faces, even if they look like cartoons. Loading screens are a little lengthy and there are glitches here and there. What’s good news is that the overall emotional power of this game puts any technical issue out of mind during the whole experience.
There are few games that really have the ability to get to you emotionally. In general, Videogame storytelling has always lagged behind the other visual mediums. Film and TV always have had an upper hand due to the lack of interactivity in the story line. Within games, the player constantly reaches through the fourth wall and controls the action. This leads to a feeling of security and control that few games break. You never care if your faceless player dies in Call of Duty, because you’ll always respawn and try the mission again. The Walking Dead does away with that feeling of security.
To start, the writing staff of TWD created incredibly complex, morally gray, human characters. At some points they’re likeable, other times you can’t stand them, but within the environment, you understand every life in your group is precious. Split second decisions and dialogue choices come fast and furious, testing your internal foresight. If you say this, this and this could happen. If you kill that person, someone might see and affect their opinion of you. If you choose to save one persons life over the other, what will the consequences be? By placing the onus of other peoples’ lives in your hands, you become invested in every single action. To me, no other game has done this with the raw, emotional power, like the Walking Dead.
Secondly. looking past the full cast of characters, the game’s true heart is Clementine: an 8 year old girl who accompanies the protagonist, Lee Everett, through the dregs of Zombie Georgia. Amazingly voiced and probably the least annoying child in any video game, Clementine is Lee’s world. You genuinely feel like shit if she sees you do something horrible and you absolutely feel terrible if you lie to her face. You fight to keep her life pleasant, but tiptoe the line of brutal honesty and white lies to maintain her sense of innocence. She also keeps you in check and adds layers and layers of complexity to almost every choice you make in the game.
This relationship carries TWD to incredible dramatic heights. Combined with an incredibly good soundtrack, script, and overall atmosphere, I’d say this game is a better drama than every current TV show not named Breaking Bad. It’s better than the Walking Dead TV show, and it’s got more weight than pretty much any Zombie/Horror movie I’ve ever seen. In fact, having played the last 4 episodes at my parents house during my extended Holiday break from work, my Mom was as into the game as I was, listening to and watching me play through almost the whole thing. If you like story, I highly recommend you pick this game up. Even if you don’t like The Walking Dead comics/show, check out the first episode at least, it’s free on Xbox Live/iOS right now.
As a total package, The Walking Dead is a must play. The last game to hit me like this was Metal Gear Solid 3. That was years and years ago. This was the best gaming experience I’ve had this year. It clocks in at about 12 hours, and really shouldn’t be missed.
9.5 out of 10