The Walking Dead Review

The Walking Dead is a bit of a strange one. An episodic, cell shaded, point and click adventure game about the zombie apocalypse (based on the hit graphic novel and TV show of the same name), the mish-mash of styles and game-play really shouldn’t have worked. The result, however, is one of the most entertaining games of the year, if not the entire generation and a triumph in storytelling.

Entertaining is the keyword here though. If you asked me if The Walking Dead was a fun game, I’d have to admit it wasn’t. The bulk of the game-play is either talking with other characters or performing quick-time events, a feature that in recent years has become nothing more than a lazy way for developers to make action cinematic and yet still interactive. It has to be said that the QTEs are better than most and do create urgency, but aren’t quite meaty enough to be considered enough for a core game-play element. Even puzzles, a staple of the point and click genre, are minimal and hardly difficult when they do occasionally crop up.

However, writing the game off because of the lack of game-play would be a huge mistake. The Walking Dead is all about the story and is more like an interactive TV show than a game and all the better for it. Without much game-play to distract the player, the story can be developed at a steady pace and wow, what a story it is. Each of the five episodes is full of twists and turns and although I enjoyed some more than the others, they fit together perfectly. Played quickly in succession, moving from one cliff-hanger to the next at a breakneck speed, you get the brilliant sensation of a book you can’t put down or watching an entire TV series in a day.

What really keeps the story going is your involvement in it. You’re presented with a deep and interesting world (the source material definitely plays a large role in this), given choices and left to deal with the consequences.  Even the minor dialogue choices you make could potentially have a major effect on events. What’s best about them though is how organically they’re made. With a time limit for nearly every line of speech, you have to respond quickly and usually this results in a very natural conversation. Also, unlike many triple A games, you’re not given an arbitrary meter telling you how good of a person you are. Decisions have to be made based on what you feel is best and sometimes what you choose will have unexpected outcomes. There’s no pleasing everyone in the Walking Dead either and there’s definitely no ‘perfect ending’.  When given a split second to make this kind of choice, it was never going to turn out all ok and the verdict you make in the heat of the moment can have far reaching consequences.

My one criticism of the choice system is sometimes the promises of branching story-lines are merely illusions. On my first play-through I often wondered how I could have done things differently to save certain characters, but after seeing it played in a vastly different way, I was disappointed to see that most major events remained the same. I can see though, that the game was designed to be played through only once. The regrets that you feel only go to show how emotionally affecting the game can be.

The impact that the plot tries to create wouldn’t be nearly as impressive if the characters weren’t likeable or interesting enough. Luckily, thanks to great writing, the vast majority of them are. Your group of survivors changes regularly, but never gets so big that you can’t get to know the new people or so small that you get tired of them. Depending on how you play, some characters will become trusted friends while others rivals, but the reasoning behind their actions is never outlandish and their rich back-story’s usually help you understand how they may react to a situation.

Even among the stellar cast of rag-tag zombie fighters, the two main characters, Lee and Clementine, steal the show. Far too often in gaming, developers opt for a ‘blank slate’ playable character so that players can project their own personalities and decisions onto them. Inevitably this leaves gamers not with a projection of their selves but a boring, mute, slab of meat. Lee is the perfect example of how to avoid this. A fully formed (and surprisingly likeable) person in his own right, somehow the choices you make for him, no matter what they may be, still feel consistent with his character. Perhaps the post-apocalyptic setting makes it feel more normal for his personality to be so changeable but Tell-tale Games should still be applauded for creating such a well rounded protagonist in a game all about tough choices.

The other star is Lee’s newly adopted daughter Clementine, the icing on the cake for the emotional impact of the game. Never before have I cared so much about a fictional character, let alone one in a game. Both adorable and inspiring, her connection with Lee is often what drives the story and you can see genuine affection between the two.

Each character is brilliantly scripted and the voice acting is consistently great, but unfortunately some minor technical issues can sometimes ruin the flow of conversation. Loading in-between lines of dialogue is particularly bad, especially during heated arguments where poorly timed responses just sound awkward. At other times, you’re left staring down at a characters hairline because they didn’t stand up at the proper time. Minor glitches like these are never game breaking but nonetheless irritating.

It’s a shame that there are so many graphical bugs, because the art style of The Walking Dead was an inspired choice. If created in any other way, the game would be terrifying, but the cell-shaded effect separates it from the survival-horror genre, something it definitely needed. The game may be full of zombies and horrific events but its focus is always on the people involved and how they handle it.

The Walking Dead is an incredible achievement for gaming. It shows that a meaningful story on par with what we see in films and TV can be achieved and still remain as an engaging player-driven experience. Minor glitches and lack of re-playability can easily be ignored when considering how complete a package The Walking Dead is.

Score: 9/10

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