Game Review: The Walking Dead

Happy October everyone! Are you ready for tasty treats and autumn foliage porn and reviews of scary games?

You probably know by now that I’m not a zombie person. Let’s face it, if a zombie apocalypse actually happened, well, apparently they eat the queer people first because we’re never in these things. Zombies just don’t do anything for me. Zombies just kind of shamble around and get shot by pasty white dudes with a stockpile of firearms, no thank you.

Basically what I’m trying to say is that I had absolutely zero interest in this game. Heck, I had absolutely zero interest in this franchise, but you know, there’s only so much peer pressure to the tune of “What are you doing Gef you have to play this!” that I can take before I cave and buy the game on sale from the Humble Store.

You guise, seriously, if I ever pull that stubborn shit again, punch me in the face or poke me on Facebook or something, because The Walking Dead is fucking amazing.

For all two of you who aren’t familiar with this franchise, The Walking Dead is basically about people trying to survive the zombie apocalypse. What makes this franchise interesting is that The Walking Dead is more about the psychological and personal struggles of the survivors as they try and deal with zombies popping up everywhere. In The Walking Dead game, you play as Lee Everett, a convicted criminal on his way to prison who suddenly finds himself with a second chance at life and an orphaned girl named Clementine to protect.

Although The Walking Dead is an adventure game, you won’t be hunting through your inventory or combining items or solving puzzles that defy logic. Telltale Games opted for a more cinematic and action-oriented approach. If you click on something, you’ll be presented with a list of things to do like look, use, etc. If you have an item in your inventory that you can use, you’ll have the option to use it. It’s a welcome change from clicking and dragging objects until you hover over the precise spot where they can be used with another thing. During action sequences, shooting an enemy is a matter of hovering over the spot the target indicates and pressing a button. The game does make use of QTEs when you get in a tight spot, but you usually only have to press the same buttons (Q and E, in my case) and they’re not that much of a hassle. The Walking Dead is an adventure game, after all, not a shooter, so it handles things in an appropriately adventure game-y way.  At first I didn’t really notice the music, but it especially shines during tense or sad moments. The graphics are cel shaded graphics, giving it the feel of a graphic novel. At times, I thought the graphics looked a little goofy (especially when it shows close up shots of characters’ faces) but after a while I didn’t really notice.

There’s only so much you can do with a zombie apocalypse plot. Here are some zombies, zombies infect people who turn into zombies. Survive. Drama happens. What makes The Walking Dead interesting is it’s focus on the characters and the relationships between characters. Every character fills a niche, so to speak: you have the old bigot, the nerd, the intrepid reporter, the straight-to-the-point leader or the group who doesn’t have time for your shit, the average Joe and his family, and how you interact with them shapes the group’s dynamics. The characters (and the game) take note of your actions, from who you agreed with in a fight to who you fed one day when it was time to dole out rations, and while the same story plays out similarly regardless of your choices, characters will make references to your past actions and your choices will have some impact on future events.  Oh, and I hope you’re good at thinking on the spot, because those choices (in dialogue or out) are on a timer, and at most you’;l only have a few seconds to make a decision before the game moves on. (Fortunately, if you accidentally make a choice you didn’t like, you can rewind events and make a different choice, at the expense of playing through some scenes again.)

Although, as I said earlier, each character fills a niche, it’s easy to get attached to them. As an extreme example, I found myself constantly going to bat for a particular character despite finding them an annoying fuck up, and the game is not afraid to punch you in the gut when it comes to your emotional attachments. Characters will die. This game will rip your heart out and stomp on it. This is one of the few games that has actually brought me to tears, and unlike Mass Effect 3, the ending was actually satisfying (even if it did leave me clamoring for a sequel). One thing I did find interesting is that in many horror games, a character like Lee (who is a black man as well as a convict) would probably be the first one to die. The game also has two WOCs, Clementine and Christa, and one Persian-American, Omid. The DLC has Vince, who is Asian, Danny, who is Latino (who isn’t a very positive portrayal of a Latino man, sadly), and Russell, who is black. Considering that the rest of the cast is pretty much the same shade of pasty white, that number seems pretty small. However, that makes this game waaaay more diverse than about 99.9% of zombie apocalypse stories, where everyone is white apart from the token black character who dies before the first episode is over.

In terms of potentially triggering content, the game can get pretty violent and bloody. There’s also cannibalism and scary situations and violence involving small children. One character might come across as racist (though he claims that’s not what his remarks were about). From the DLC, one character is a convicted rapist, and the game can be a real downer in general.

In short, I am blown away by this series and although I don’t see myself picking up the graphic novels, I will definitely be checking out Telltale’s other adventure games (which includes season 2 of The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us, and upcoming games based on Borderlands and Game of Thrones). As a final note, I strongly recommend picking up the DLC, 400 Days, which is a series of short scenarios starring different characters that will have an impact on events in Season 2. I would say pick this up if your into zombies, interactive fiction, and/or adventure games that are stylistically similar to games like Indigo Prophecy than say, any of the point-and-click titles I’ve reviewed.

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