February 10, 2013 by Vinnie Leduc
To celebrate the mid-season return of AMC’s hit TV show The Walking Dead tonight, we took a look at Telltale Games’ first set of The Walking Dead video game episodes, which were also based on the original comic book series from which the show was developed. And like the critically acclaimed and popular TV zombie drama, the cerebral and emotional game left us hungry for more.
Telltale’s character-driven point-and-click adventure is a companion piece that complements the television show nearly perfectly. Five intricately written episodes, complete with “previously on” and “on the next Walking Dead” segments, force you to deal with moral dilemmas, survival debates, humanity issues, intense moments of panic, and difficult decisions that’ll screw with your head long after you’ve made them. Because one of the game’s greatest strengths is how these decisions affect character relationships and even directly seal some people’s fates, you will wonder if you could’ve prevented certain events if you had chosen differently.
The developers have cited Uncharted and Mass Effect as influences, and this is apparent during the cinematics and dialogue, respectively. Like the actual show, The Walking Dead is more about the survivors than the zombies or the action. As a convict named Lee (voiced superbly by Dave Fennoy), you interact with objects and people, who you can also talk to and start conversation trees with. Some of the responses are timed, and if you don’t decide quickly enough, Lee will keep his mouth shut, and that can be interpreted by others in various favorable or unfavorable ways.
The game’s writers have stated that by the beginning of the fifth episode, during a key conversation there are over 30 different possibilities of what you’ll hear due to the the choices you’ve previously made up to that point. Depending on what you’ve said and done over the course of the game, Lee may or may not be in the good graces of some characters…that is, if they’re still even around. The wide spectrum of outcomes offers you an experience specifically tailored to your character (or at least the moral compass you give Lee), so it’s always interesting to compare your major decisions with those of everyone else in the world at the end of each episode when Telltale gives you global statistics. Makes you wonder things like “What if I had killed that b—-?” or “Damn, am I a cold-hearted assh—?”
Each episode provides for about two to three hours of gameplay, depending on how focused or exploratory you are. The voice acting for the major characters is generally excellent, but some of it for the minor characters is subpar, which is a shame because The Walking Dead is heavy on conversation. It’s also too bad that Telltale couldn’t get the show’s actual actors to voice their own characters that appear in the game, but that’s a very small gripe. The graphics are like a 3D comic book, appropriate when the source material is a graphic novel. The facial expressions may not be up to Rockstar’s L.A. Noire standards, but along with the great voice acting, they sufficiently portray characters’ emotions.
The game doesn’t quite give you carte blanche to do anything you’d like and be so free as to where it’s like you’re creating your own Walking Dead machinima; it’s more like a cinematic series with choose-your-own-adventure and RPG elements. Some of the side quests and objectives are trivial and mundane with basic problem solving and maybe things you wouldn’t have thought of in a zombie apocalyptic situation, but they’re things you would have to deal with, even if they’re kind of boring.
Aside from those moments, The Walking Dead is very good at keeping tensions high, including festering strife and building up conflict amongst the group and also immediate edge-of-your-seat dread as you investigate unknown areas. Like the TV series, the game delivers scares, thrills, and surprises throughout. Basically, you experience everything that is effed up (in a good entertaining way) in the show. What the game may slightly lack in gore (that’s arguable though), it more than makes up for in F-bombs and other assorted R-rated language. You’ll cuss, too. The middle episode had several parts that had me yell out, “OH, SH!T!” And maybe you’ll cry as well, but I thought the fifth and final episode, already a bit shorter than the rest, suffered from a payoff during a climactic event that’s weaker than you’d think (not the ending though).
A unique experience you’ll find in no other game until Telltale releases the second season, The Walking Dead is essential gaming for any fan of the franchise and highly recommended for any gamer looking for an individualized and immersive tale of humanity and morality. You’ll definitely enjoy it, and you’ll probably want more, even after the post-credits extra scene. The Walking Dead gets 4.5 out of 5 stars.