The Walking Dead Review: The Full Package
The Walking is an episodic adventure game from famed developer Telltale Games, who are renowned for producing games of this style and type. I have watched the tv series and really enjoyed the universe that Robert Kirkman has created with the Walking Dead, but I was skeptical that it could be a good game, especially in an adventure format that Telltale have crafted here, but The Walking Dead is an experience that everyone should pay attention to this year.
The Walking Dead puts you in the role of Lee Everett, a man who was a College Lecturer in history but due to recent trouble in his past begins the series handcuffed and on the way to prison. During this initial opening Lee is rescued from serving his sentence for an undisclosed crime by the end of the world courtesy of the Zombie outbreak, and we are thrust into this grim new reality along with Lee. Scrambling through a forested area pursued by flesh eating undead, Lee literally stumbles upon a residential area and we meet the single greatest child character in gaming history, a young girl named Clementine. Now while Clementine seems to start out as a simple plot device for exploring and expanding the character of Lee, she actually becomes crucial to the tale being told. The relationship that Lee and Clementine develop over the course of the game is akin to parent-child, and the attachment that I found myself having towards Clementine was remarkable. She is so well written and developed, beginning as a vulnerable child but becoming more capable as Lee protects her in this dark setting. Its a remarkably well written relationship, and because The Walking Dead is a game that lets the player make choices you will find that what Clementine will think of your actions will have a huge influence over your eventual decisions.
The other characters that you meet along the way are also great. Kenny and Katjaa are a down to earth couple with a young son nicknamed Duck, and are really well drawn characters that you will have many interactions with. Lilly and Larry are more hardened characters that you will encounter, and there are many more, including some references and areas straight from the graphic novel series. The core dynamic of The Walking Dead narrative is managing your interactions with the other characters in the group. Your decisions will shape your relationships with these people and form the character of your own Lee, and the setting and zombies are almost incidental to this core philosophy. The game also keeps with the idea of the setting that an individuals beliefs, values and ethics can be eroded by this terrible world, and puts the player in challenging situations that can question their humanity, and Lee bears the brunt of this throughout.
The Walking Dead is wonderful story of survival and struggle, and each of the 5 episodes has its own thematic style and story arc but also string together beautifully, carrying along your decisions in meaningful ways. The narrative never really focuses on the big picture, but instead keeps the characters at the centre of events at all times, and it is this constant focus on the personal and interactive that makes the game so special from a story telling perspective. Great writing, authentic dialogue and wonderful characters as well as courage and tragedy make this a game story that you need to experience.
The Walking Dead is no graphical powerhouse, but Telltale did a great job at creating a visually striking world. The game uses vibrant colour and a style of art that makes it appear to be a comic book in motion. It builds on the comic inspiration of the series, and manages to differentiate itself visually from any other game in recent times. The detail in the environment is not particularly great, but it doesn't have to be thanks to the artistic style that Telltale took with wit game. Despite looking like a colourful comic, The Walking Dead does not shy away from blood and gore. The walkers are rotting as they move, and literally tear people apart before your eyes. Its a dark setting, and Telltale really make no compromises in terms of content, and I found the visual style accommodated this attitude.
I needs to be said that the game does not have the smoothest animations. Jittery moments and some very awkward transitions plague the game throughout its length, and these do detract from the experience somewhat. The game is also extremely dark, and even with the in-game brightness turned up to full I still could not see in some indoor sections. The camera is also a problem at times, when it can be too close to the action for the player to get their bearings. Despite this the game has a fantastic cinematic quality to it and the camera is fine most of the time, though it would be my preference to have some kind of direct control over it.
The music of The Walking Dead is overwhelmingly beautiful, with some truly powerful and emotional moments crafted with the help of the soundtrack. The voice acting is also incredible throughout, with Clementine, Lee, Kenny and the Walkers all being voiced brilliantly and in a believable manner. The main menu should have had ambient music though, as it really contrasts poorly with the in-game tracks thanks to its muteness.
The most shallow part of The Walking Dead is actually playing it. This is a point and click adventure game to its core, and the gameplay is dominated by searching for clues, exploring rooms and finding items to help you progress. Controls are very basic, with no control over the camera and no ability to run, which can be infuriating as you walk across the same rooms again and again, looking for the right clue to push the story forward. Most of the core gameplay is dealing with other characters, and this is done through dialogue options that result in different outcomes depending on what you say and what clues you may have from the environment. Puzzles are few and far between, but when they do appear they are generally straightforward and easy to get through once you have found the right equipment.
Conversations give the player a limited time to respond, which forces you to make decisions quickly. You can make Lee a hard leader, a conciliator member of the group or an indecisive coward with your decisions, and this is a rich array for what is a relatively small game. The action moments are driven by quick time events. You are typically thrown into a desperate and dangerous situation and are required to hammer a button to react. This adds force to a circumstance that deserves it, and are really well implemented and used to emphasise certain actions throughout the game in a natural way. The action is never hard though, and the game is accessible to any kind of player thanks to this low level of challenge.
The Walking Dead is designed to focus on what it does best: the story. The gameplay can be repetitive and is barely interactive, demanding very little from the player, but Telltale manage to make this compelling thanks to their smart design ethos that places character interaction at the forefront of the player experience. It is for this reason that the game is completely fine except for the few instances where it does deviate from this formula. There are a couple of shooting sequences and these are truly awful thanks to terrible controls that are unsuited for the task. This only rarely happens but Telltale should not have included them at all.
The game also suffers from a list of annoying technical problems. The framerate can crash to an unbearably slow pace, animations can hitch, lip-synching is very poor at points and the game failed to register my achievements during 2 episodes, forcing me to recover my profile if I wanted to earn them. These technical failings are the worst part of the game, and its a shame that Telltale didn't get this sorted out over the course of the episodic releases as they really do detract from what is otherwise a fantastic and thrilling experience.
Telltale have made what I consider their most complete and powerful game ever in The Walking Dead. They truly understand the source material and have adapted in wonderfully for the medium, and the passion that they have oozes from this title. The Walking Dead is a game that build upon its character driven focus and fills its events with emotion that really gets the player attached and invested in the story of Lee. Its lack of action is not a problem, as you get a more intimate understanding with the cast of characters than would otherwise be possible. I do feel that the game abandons its first 3 chapters in chapter 4, and the story shifts focus, never quite gaining the same momentum it had before, but as a single package of 5 episodes I can only praise it as a fantastic adventure game with a truly touching and personal story to be experienced. A ruined moral order hangs over everything in this world, forcing you to make choices that will question your morals. The great characters, emotional weight and horror all enhance this, and despite the technical issues I can only call The Walking Dead an amazing game.
- Gripping story filled with shocking moments
- Outstanding characters and dialogue
- Tense and claustrophobic atmosphere
- Lovely music and voice acting with an attractive art style
- Stiff and unengaging gameplay
- Hitching and other technical problems
- Final chapters lack the momentum of the first
- The Larry situation
- 9/10 - Amazing