Review: The Walking Dead
The Walking Dead, developed by Telltale Games, is an episodic point-and-click adventure game based on Robert Kirkman's famous The Walking Dead comic book series. How has it turned out?
- Worth The Time?Absolutely. It's worth every second you spend with it.
- Things LovedThe powerful and brilliantly written and told narrative, the fantastically real and believable cast of characters, the excellent pacing, the fantastic voice acting, the impeccable sound design and soundtrack, the amazing sense of progression through the episodes, the gorgeous visual style, the unbelievably compelling drive you'll have to keep playing, there's never a dull moment, the gameplay is very interactive and intensely satisfying.
- Things HatedThere are graphical hiccups here and there.
- RecommendationThe Walking Dead isn't a game anyone should miss out on. It goes for a lower price than most shelf games and offers one of the best emotionally charged narratives you could possibly find in gaming. There's no good reason for you to miss out on this game. Buy it as soon as possible.
- Name: The Walking Dead
- Genre: Point And Click Adventure
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: N/A
- Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
- Developer: Telltale Games
- Publisher: Telltale Games
- Price: $24.99 (about R216)
- Reviewed On: PC
The Walking Dead, developed by Telltale Games, is an episodic point-and-click adventure game based on Robert Kirkman’s famous The Walking Dead comic book series. We were meant to review this game a little earlier, but what can only be described as a glitch in the matrix delayed that. Well, there’s no time like the present, and seeing as how the retail version of this game has only just been released, it’s a good time to do so now. Spanning over five episodes, released between April and November of this year, The Walking Dead certainly generated a lot of buzz throughout 2012, and entirely for great reasons. Seeing as how the game is complete, or at least the first season is, and how you can pick up all five episodes now for a very reasonable price, there’s no excuse not to know about this game, and in this review I’ll tell you all about it and why it’s one of the most important games of this generation.
Firstly, some background. The game stands on its own two feet, and is separated from both the amazing TV series and the popular comic series. However, it draws inspiration completely from the comics, and takes place in the same fictional setting, with its events occurring just after the zombie apocalypse begins in Georgia. Most of the game’s characters are completely new creations, with the exception of a few from the comic book who make appearances. In the game you take on the role of Lee Everett, who is on his way to a prison for a crime I won’t spoil, and after a series of unfortunate events, or fortunate if you’re a glass half-full kind of person, he finds himself wounded but free of captivity, and now facing what appears to be a mass of mindless but very dangerous corpses risen from the dead. Yeah, zombies in case you missed that. After helping and rescuing a young girl named Clementine who is separated from her parents, Lee decides to take care of her as he desperately searches for other survivors and his own family while the world plunges deeper into an apocalypse.
I’ll come right out and say it. The Walking Dead is undoubtedly one of the best story experiences you can find in gaming. It pushes the medium forward and encourages a better standard from other games. It’s brilliantly written, shocking and emotional, and there aren’t that many games that are this damn compelling for their stories alone. To give you an idea of what to expect, about the only game I can draw comparisons to is our 2010 Game of the Year Heavy Rain, because The Walking Dead is quite similar. But really, no matter which aspect of story you’re weighing up, whether it be pacing, writing and dialogue, emotional engagement, twists and turns or even cliff-hangers, The Walking Dead has them all down and has pulled them off, dare I say, masterfully. As a writer myself, and not just for gaming, and as someone who appreciates and values storytelling to an incredibly high standard, believe me when I say that The Walking Dead is bordering on being a masterpiece save for a few issues of design, and honestly even these don’t seem to matter all that much when you’re experiencing the game.
I really can’t praise the story aspect of this game enough. The voice acting is excellent and the writing is brilliant, the characters are real and believable with real flaws and conflicts, the narrative is unbelievably compelling and gripping right from the first minute, the cliff-hangers between episodes are wonderfully done, the pacing is fantastic with each episode having a clear purpose and with no time being wasted or anything feeling unnecessary, and overall the game’s story is meticulously well-crafted. It just gets better every single episode. And in a year where we have seen such excruciatingly pathetic writing and shockingly poor storytelling from what are considered two top franchises, and of course you know I’m talking about Assassin’s Creed III and Mass Effect 3, The Walking Dead is as much a masterclass of video game narrative as it is a massive relief. It agonises me to no end when people say that story doesn’t matter or affect that much, especially when they’re talking about games where the story is of critical or entire importance, and to them I say The Walking Dead is holding up the finger and advising a reality check. Hell, there are games that have been entirely redeemed single-handedly by their stories alone, like with Spec Ops: The Line earlier this year. To devalue something as powerful as story in cases where games focus on it and strive for excellence in it is to hold back gaming itself.
But even The Walking Dead doesn’t reach perfection. It pushes the medium forward, sure, but a few faults step a little on what is otherwise absolute brilliance. Firstly, late character additions, such as those who may drop in at Episode 4, can feel a bit underdeveloped compared to others, and while you may see this as understandable and logical, it becomes a fault when these characters are given pivotal roles. Secondly, the game offers you a fair amount of story choice and control, but it seems like some story outcomes are inevitable, and even replaying a certain section in all the given ways can end up with identical results, bar maybe one difference. It makes you question replay value, since you’re able to rewind the story back to any scene in the game and continue from there in case you do something you didn’t want or don’t feel like playing the entire game again to see alternate paths, and it is a little bit disappointing. Still, your first time experience will be incredible, and The Walking Dead more than makes up for it with its emotional and shocking roller-coaster ride of a narrative, with some extremely difficult decisions that feel real and often overwhelming. And really, one of the best moments for me in story and gaming in recent history definitely comes from the finale, and the ending is an awesome punctuation to it. It leaves you craving for what’s to come in season two, and sets your mind ablaze, despite leaving you speechless. It teases and promises more, but it’s conclusive and pulled off amazingly well. Yes, believe it. This game even has a great ending, so what more could you want?
I know I’ve spent so much time talking about the narrative, but really that’s because this game is all about story. This is a point and click adventure game, and aside from freely moving your character around in parts of exploration, you’ll often be locked in quick-time events for action or suspense sequences. Before Heavy Rain, the plausibility of a game played entirely with quick time events turning out great was in question, but it’s easy to say here that despite what the developers had to work with, they’ve managed to make the game feel extremely interactive and intensely satisfying to play. There’s never a dull moment, or a moment that isn’t furthering the development of the characters or story, and honestly it’s easy to get drawn in from the very first scene and compelled the whole way through, dying to see what happens next but at the same time not wanting it to end. In the game you’ll interact with lots of characters and encounter many thrilling moments of suspense where you’ll have to select dialogue options or courses of action and make brutal decisions often under severe pressure and with limited time. It’s riveting and intense, but these moments of sheer hell are what define the experience.
Furthermore, I really love the way the game tracks your decisions. Unless you’re playing on hard, constantly throughout the game what you say and do will influence the characters around you, and a prompt will pop up on-screen briefly informing you of the results of what you did. For instance, you may get told that a character will remember something you said, or be grateful for an action you took, and this really plays on your mind and makes you feel the weight of your decisions and words on your shoulders at all times over the five episodes. This game is a powerful exploration of consequence. Not many games can make you undergo self-reflection and make you feel regret, horror, or even satisfaction in the same way and as much as this one does, and to play it you’ll need to believe in the choices you make, despite your nagging doubts. It just shows that you can do an incredible amount with something simple, because really in the end all that matters is design, and the execution of ideas.
What more can I say about The Walking Dead? Well, each episode will take you more or less around two hours to beat, and all in all the five episodes together are the perfect length. It’s great to carry over the choices and consequences of them to each progressive episode, and the game’s TV series style really shines through when you’re shown flashforwards at the end of episodes teasing what will come as a result of your actions. It sets the stage fantastically well, while at the same time filling you with dread, worry or damning curiousity and eagerness before the next episode even begins. In combination with everything I’ve already said about the game, it’s quite easy for me to say that you’ll just have an unbelievably compelling drive to keep playing, and I can back that because I completed all five episodes in one playthrough, pulling an all-nighter and continuing on late into the next morning. If you think that in any way ruined the game for me, then I’d tell you to think again. It was just amazing that I could be so immersed into a game that nothing else could draw my interest and attention away.
Graphically, The Walking Dead features a gorgeous cartoonish style that really gives the game a great feel and tone. It’s a minor gripe on my part that the visuals have a few bugs and imperfections, but these don’t really detract from the experience and don’t feature all that often. But there’s no denying that the visual style is very fitting to the game, and executed extremely well. I’ve already praised the game’s voice acting, but credit definitely needs to be given in large amounts to the impeccable sound design and soundtrack, which often nails the tone perfectly. As far as The Walking Dead’s audio and visual experience is concerned, Telltale clearly has the right amount of talent in this field to complement its astounding gift for storytelling and drama, and that’s pretty damn special, to put it bluntly.
The Walking Dead sets a new standard for storytelling in video games, and definitely asks many challenging questions of the industry. It’s brilliant, insanely compelling and in the end it’s a masterful display of narrative quality. This is a game you seriously don’t want to let slip away, and considering the fact that it goes for a lower price than most shelf games, there’s really no good reason for you to miss out on it. The Walking Dead is easily one of the best and most memorable experiences of this year.