I met Robert Kirkman at a comic signing shortly after The Walking Dead launched. It was a nice little shop attached to a dingy little shopping center in Levittown, PA. As much as I loved the comic at that moment in time, I never would have thought that his little black and white comic book, published by a second tier comics company, focusing on the zombie apocalypse would spawn into the cross media sensation it has today. But that is exactly where we are. AMC has brought the adaptation of the comic series to television with astounding success and now Telltale Games brings fans its own vision of the series in the gaming space.
At the first mention of Telltale developing an episodic game based on the series, I was apprehensively optimistic. Telltale after all has a history of developing great adventure games and making The Walking Dead into an adventure game made perfect sense because of how much exploration and character interactions play a part in the series. However, the content of The Walking Dead was so unlike anything they had ever done before that I could not help but worry.
While zombies are the catalyst for the events taking place in the world, The Walking Dead is really about the character interactions and choices that are made by those that are still living. Telltale completely understood what makes the series tick and nails it from the opening moments of the game. Instead of focusing on the zombie outbreak, the beginning of the game is just a simple conversation during a car ride out of Atlanta. The whole thing lulls the player into a false sense of security and because of the underlying premise, players know something bad is going to happen, it is just a matter of when and the tension mounts as the climactic delivery is waited on.
Building and maintaining tension consistently is something The Walking Dead had to do especially well, fortunately with a solid combination of good writing and smartly designed gameplay, it is able to deliver it throughout the episode. The gameplay system The Walking Dead utilizes is a hodgepodge of design elements from other games. The dialog system in particular is very reminiscent of Alpha Protocol’s timed dialog wheel, while the navigation and environmental interaction pieces seem strongly influenced by Heavy Rain, albeit heavily modified.
These design choices give the biggest boon to the game via how Telltale has implemented the action sequences in the game. Forgoing generic third person scenarios that would have lost the feel of the series, action sequences are built around disorienting the player and making them feel uncomfortable. These scenarios generally have an easy solution but ,whether it is through visual manipulation, making it hard to see what needs to be done, or by presenting to the player a choice that needs to be decided immediately, The Walking Dead makes it hard on the player. And doing something or failing to do something can have major repercussions down the line.
Cause and effect are two major players in The Walking Dead and seeing how my choices played out in the game was emotionally draining. Unlike something like Mass Effect where my decisions are recorded and played out over the course of three complete games, to varying degrees of satisfaction, The Walking Dead delivers on player choice. If I neglect to do something it could be the difference between a character living or dying. If I seemingly insult someone that person could very well hold it against me causing me potentially irreparable harm down the line. While it is true that some of the decisions are purely cosmetic because the story has to be directed down a certain path but most of them have weight, making the game quite satisfying to play.
Due to the nature of the content, The Walking Dead will not be for everyone. However for fans of the comic and television series, for fans of the horror genre, and even for those just looking for a mature take on mature content, The Walking Dead is a treat. It is too bad we have to wait a month before episode two.
- Decisions matter.
- Smartly designed gameplay.
- Excellent story dealing with mature topics.
- Visual style is eye catching.
- We have to wait a month for the next installment.
5 / 5
Note: The Walking Dead is an episodic series, this review was done using the PC version of the first episode of the game. It is also available on Playstation 3 and Xbox 360.