When I play games, I largely seek out games that possess a strong single player narrative. Gameplay and skill are important too, but nothing is better than a well directed, interactive story. Why I hadn’t played Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead until now is beyond me. Released last year to a slew of Game of the Year awards, I don’t know if it was my skepticism in Telltale or my reluctance to playing a Walking Dead game without at least familiarizing myself with the graphic novel or the hit television adaptation.
Today, I have still not watched (or read) beyond the first televised episode of The Walking Dead despite profusely enjoying it (blame it on Sunday night swing shifts) and I am still irked at a clumsy experience with Telltale Games’ Back to the Future game, but I will say this: The Walking Dead is an absolutely gripping story that provides a glimpse of its source’s narrative.
Released in a series of five episodes, The Walking Dead follows Lee Everett, a former college instructor who was convicted of a crime that is only visited in brief flashes, as he crashes headlong into the zombie outbreak that The Walking Dead’s universe is centered around. Whilst figuring out what is going on and where he is, he encounters a young girl, Clementine, who is clinging to the hope of being reunited with her parents. While The Walking Dead focuses on Lee and his new role as Clementine’s guardian, it is a story of interpersonal relationships between other survivors and the careful balance between maintaining shreds of humanity and doing what is necessary to survive.
While billed as an adventure game, The Walking Dead is surprisingly light in the digging around looking for obscure items to complete tasks. Most items can be found in decent proximity, with very minimal travel required. There are faster, action oriented sequences where Lee will have to react quickly to zombie attacks as his life and his companions’ lives are at risk.
But where you will do most of the game’s heavy lifting is in conversations with other characters that Lee interacts with. From the core group of survivors that Lee allies with, to the passing strangers that wish to barter, conversations are direct and carry a great deal of weight. Conversing with other characters not only lets you know their position on group politics and events, but allows Lee to take a strong stance on issues or nurture his relationships. Unlike classic conversation wheels like in Bioware’s Mass Effect and Dragon Age games, The Walking Dead’s answers are often morally gray, with cues being a bit more ambiguous and without the benefit of a paragon/renegade direction. Regardless of Lee’s vague nature, all of his statements carry significant repercussions as his companions will remember his position on issues, his actions or whether his statements match up with one another. Even the speed at which Lee responds is important (silence is also an option) as a timer ticks down for a choice to be selected. In The Walking Dead, the pace of the game is slower, but actions are immediate.
Telltale Games has crafted an incredible experience in its take on The Walking Dead. I only just completed the second episode and I have had my share of surprises and difficult choices to make. While light on gameplay, the riveting story of survival and camaraderie is more than enough to hook anyone. If the opening two acts were just a warmup, then The Walking Dead is going to be an absolute roller coaster.