Review - The Walking Dead - A Very Good Story
Warning: many of my reviews contain spoilers. This happens to be one of them. They are, what I would consider, minor spoilers. Read at your own risk.
I just finished this game a couple of months ago. I have to say, right off the bat, it was one of the best and most emotionally immersive experiences I've felt in gaming. Season two is on its way, and it cannot come soon enough. I've been worried and concerned about Clementine ever since that last scene in season one.
The Walking Dead, like most Telltale Game titles, is broken up into five episodes, which make up one season. They also released an extra episode called 400 Days, which will act as a bridge to the second season. Whereas I have played 400 Days, this review does not concern itself specifically with that bridging episode.
The game connects itself to the comic book series by introducing both Hershel Greene and Glenn Rhee during episode one. You hang out at Hershel's farm for a short while, this before most of his family become barn zombies. Then you meet Glenn after moving on to Macon, Georgia. He hangs out with the group of survivors for a while before heading off to Atlanta on his own (ostensibly to save Rick Grimes from being trapped forever inside a tank.)
You start off as Lee Everett, currently in legal custody and being transported to prison--for murder, as you quickly learn through parlaying with the chatty cop up in the driver's seat. Something to do with a senator and Lee's wife, an affair of some sort. This back-story is slowly revealed over the course of the first two episodes. While in transport, the police car crashes. Lee survives. Comes into contact with zombies for his very first time. Escapes. And then eventually meets Clementine, a small girl hiding in a tree fort. He becomes her protector throughout the course of the series.
The big selling point to The Walking Dead is that it allows you to make hard choices, and those choices have consequence. This is the description that greets you as you enter the game. That description is somewhat disingenuous, though. There are no endless permutations to the story. The story is still quite linear in nature. The choices you are presented with can have an impact on what characters live and die, but ultimately similar fates await either character down-road. You can think of the story as having these fixed points in time, and you can only cause story divergences between those fixed points.
Your choices matter. That claim is somewhat disingenuous.
For design reasons, the story needs to have these fixed points. The story needs a linear structure. Telltale Games is clever in the design by hiding this fact through the choices it presents you with. It gives the illusion that you're far more in control of the outcome of the story than you actually are.
For instance, later in the first episode you are presented with your first difficult choice of the game. Save Carley, or save Doug. One lives and one dies. That is your choice. But eventually, somewhere down the line, a singular fate catches up to them. You hit one of those fixed points in the story and previous decisions don't really matter.
You'll be genuinely distraught when certain characters die.
The real strength of The Walking Dead is the storytelling and the characters. Both immerse you into the atmosphere of this world. You feel tension. You feel suspense. It is an emotionally engaging experience. You'll feel genuine shock over events that happen. You'll be genuinely upset at the deaths of certain characters. Relief over others. I was upset for a few days after the death of one character in the middle of the series.
In terms of gameplay, it's pretty minimal. There isn't a lot of action, and when there is, it's mostly just mashing the Q key (on platforms with a keyboard.) Though when you are mashing that Q key, you are doing so desperately. There's also minimal scope and shoot opportunities, the game does let you get the occasional headshot in.
Most of the game revolves around conversations, and the three choices you're presented with. Those choices fall into two patterns. The first, choose side A, neutral, choose side B. The second, be the good guy, neutral, or be the jerk. And each episode usually presents a couple of hard choices, which affects some character's fate: move right to help character X, or move left to help character Y, the one you don't helped is the one who is in trouble.
There's not a lot of replay value to The Walking Dead, due to those fixed story points. You play as a super good guy, you'll get certain reactions from characters. You play as a jerk, you'll get another set of different reactions. The story itself will move onwards like a juggernaut, you'll still encounter those crucial scenes whether you're a good guy or a jerk.
I am quite impressed with the graphical design. It does a pretty decent job of bringing the comic book's artwork to life — in colour and 3D. The voice acting ranges from the decent to very good.
The few complaints here are quite minor, because the story and characters really overshadow everything else. If you want to play a game that you are going to feel emotionally invested in, then The Walking Dead will do that for you.