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Review: The Walking Dead (Spoiler Free!)

March 6, 2013

 

This is the game Dead Island should have been, and I’m not even sure I should be calling The Walking Dead a video game.

Telltale’s latest effort is exemplary of how point-and-click games still have their place in the industry. No longer do gamers have to hark back to ye olde times of Monkey Island’s release. Its stack of over 75 GOTY awards is a testimony to this.

The game centres around a university professor and convicted murderer, Lee Everett, and a girl that’s unexpectedly thrust into his care, named Clementine. It’s based on Robert Kirkman’s comic book series, with some characters making minor cameo appearances toward the start.

Luckily for everyone involved, the game is less about the zombies you’re trying to run away from, and more about the people you’re trying to cope with. Characters are well-written and were developed in tune with the majority of player’s choices for the development of later episodes, and there are few – if any – occasions where I thought a character was there just to pad out a scene by looking pretty. Everyone has a purpose and a motif.

The relationship between Clementine and Lee is perhaps the most meaningful of them all. Children in media are difficult. TV, film, video game, you name it: they’re hard to accurately portray. Make them too excitable and innocent and they are just plain annoying, but make them too wise and they are unbelievable. Clementine is a girl who is quite capable, and who is innocent but not sickeningly dumb, but is also completely unsure of herself. She lacks a parent-figure. Lee fills that role nicely, though he is primarily a conduit for the choices you as a player make. You’re left to discover his past through conversations as much as the other characters, but that’s about all you need to know of his past. From there on in, your choices are his.

It’s hard to overstate how well this partnership works. Whether it’s a conversation between the unlikely pair, or whether it’s a full-on defence effort against the walkers, Lee and Clementine make the scene much more than a simple zombie frag-fest. I know I found myself rather protective of her as the game progressed.

In short, Clementine is a pretty cool kid. She’s definitely not a brat.

Guns are scary!

Guns are scary!

The other characters are equally as important, and often get themselves – or you – tangled up into situations where you have to pick one person over another, for example. Depending on how you act, this works out for better or for worse.

Gameplay is a mix of point-and-click interaction and QTE. A reticule is used to select items and interact with them accordingly, and is also used to hover over danger and remove it accordingly. Usually with a bullet. Dialogue plays a very major part in the game, too, and often, you have only a few seconds to choose a response. For example, very early on in the first episode, you stumble upon a group of survivors, and one of them isn’t keen on taking new blood into their hideout. The game gives you limited time to decide how to deal with this person as the other characters duke it out. If you don’t respond in time, then you simply say nothing (which is another entirely valid dialogue choice).

These aspects of the game combine to create a very fluid gaming experience, and they complement each other incredibly well. QTEs are not tacked on as an afterthought, but are central to the action (and aren’t just ‘bash a button for a few seconds’, thankfully), and the dialogue is some of the most natural I have seen in a game that allows you to choose your own response. The superb voice acting only strengthens it further.

"Could be that you married the wrong woman."

“Could be that you married the wrong woman.”

Blonde Metalhead Walker

Blonde Metalhead Walker

The game is not perfect, and can sometimes feel as rough and tattered as one of the game’s many walkers. The art style does wonders for the many characters and their expressions, but is much less forgiving to the environment around them (trees, in particular). Some more walker variations would also be nice, because I swear I have killed Blonde Metalhead Walker at least twenty times by the end.

These are hardly criminal oversights when considering the game’s overall merit, though. It has set a new benchmark for storytelling in gaming, perhaps moreso than Heavy Rain’s attempt, and it manages to do so without becoming too much of a movie.

I can’t help but wonder if a significant part of The Walking Dead’s success is thanks to its episodic approach to buying the game. Through the XBLA, the game is worth 400 Microsoft Points per episode. The first season contains five episodes, so you’d be looking at paying 2,000 MP for the full experience, compared to other titles which usually demand 1,600 MP at the very most.

Would the game enjoy as much success if it came as one complete package?  Probably not. Considering that each episode alone has enough content to fill two to three hours, depending on how fast you play through, the per-episode price tag seems very reasonable. Besides, anticipation has a way of snowballing, for better or for worse. People like these characters. Hopefully, Telltale Games won’t end up pulling a Mass Effect 3 on all of us.

Fucking Ghost Kid.

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