Games are made by people. And if we care about games, at all, we need to care about the people who make them. In fact, I think we need to care about the people a lot more than we care about the games.
The Walking Dead’s comics and TV show are a little different than most Zombie stories. Those stories are usually about the Zombies or a series of characters who fit into a few repetitive stereotypes. The Walking Dead, by contrast, offers more interesting characters and a feeling that they never have the option of making a “Right” choice.
The Walking Dead: Season One episodic game by Telltale Games is similar on the surface to older adventure games. In those the player is tasked with clicking on objects and characters to initiate actions and conversations, solving puzzles and ultimately reach a straightforward conclusion. After playing through the first season’s five episodes (which have now been compiled into a boxed product for consoles) it’s clear that the difference between this adventure and others is in how mature the conversations and decisions are.
I played the game on PC through Steam and was introduced to a new episode every few weeks. I’m not sure how critical that waiting period was to the experience, but it definitely felt like the right way to play it. People who purchase the boxed copy and blast through the season in a weekend are missing part of the experience. Telltale has been doing episodic games for a while now, and though I’ve purchased a few other seasons of their games I’m not ashamed to admit that this is the first I completed.
The graphics are simple and cel-shaded, the art style was clearly chosen to fit the time budget so that each episode would not require too much in the way of new content. After all, most big-budget games require huge art pipelines to create all of their content over the span of years when The Walking Dead had just a few weeks to take in the feedback from the previous episode in designing, scripting, and executing the next. This art style doesn’t get in the way of the story, which was definitely paramount to the designers.
The voice acting is generally great, and the characters never sounded out of place or disconnected from the events of the game.
Unfortunately, the PC version was clearly not perfect from a technical perspective. The first issue I ran into was that if you have an Xbox 360 controller plugged in the game wouldn’t start under Windows 8. After unplugging my controller, the next issue was that my save games were lost when I tried to continue with the game into the 5th episode. A workaround posted to the Telltale Games forum from other users who had gotten stung by the same issue got me back into the game at Episode 5, but not without losing many of the decisions I had already made. In a game where those decisions change almost everything about the story and even what characters are in the game, it can be very frustrating to lose them. I believe it to be a testament to the game’s writers that I continued on to the end regardless and I will also go back and play through again just to bring my saved game into Season Two the way I had originally played.
Many of the sights in this game are horrifying, but often not as horrifying as the behavior of some of the characters. Sometimes that extends to the protagonist, Lee. If you decide to play it, know that you’ll probably get dragged into feeling for the characters and might even shed a tear when it comes time for a few of them to die. Nobody is safe in this game. To give you an example, oftentimes as Lee is introduced to new characters you are given the option of how you would like Lee to describe himself. There are some details of his history that he might not want folks to know, but if you decide that he should share them then they might trust him more than if they find out later on. Even if you make no decision at all, you’re oftentimes left having made a choice when the “fuse” underneath your list of options burns out. There were quite a few times when the game’s events were so startling I could not bring myself to even pick from that list.
Instead of relying on goofy puzzles and tedious inventory actions as in other adventure games, this gripping attachment to characters and decisions that you interact with and effect makes The Walking Dead Season One so amazing even when compared to the Comic or TV series. Although those decisions may ultimately lead to a very similar conclusion, that you had an effect on it and the characters who joined you for the journey is amazing. I cannot imagine how difficult it was to write for all of the options from episode to episode. At the end of each you are presented with a list of percentages on the major decisions you made compared to those of other players.
Telltale are fantastic storytellers and I can’t wait to see what happens next. I wish I didn’t have to play through the game again to keep my choices for Season Two, but that technical glitch cannot overshadow what a tremendous accomplishment this season was. If you have any interest in the way of the future in dramatic storytelling, you would be remiss to skip out on The Walking Dead.
5 out of 5 Puffins