Have you enjoyed watching AMC’s The Walking Dead? Are you dissatisfied with some of the questionable decisions made by the protagonists? Did you sit in your armchair saying, with an air of smug superiority, that you would have done better in that situation? I certainly did, although I was reclining on a couch, rather than sitting in an armchair. If you answered yes to the above, I strongly recommend that you set aside your piggy-bank money for The Walking Dead by Telltale Games, available on the Xbox 360, PS3, PC and some other platforms not worth mentioning. You are in for a treat.
It was purely by chance that I stumbled upon this wonderful game. A friend of mine, the G-Man, recommended I download the first episode from Xbox Live. Episode 1 is free of charge, so I had nothing to lose by trying it out. The moment I completed the episode, I purchased the entire series. TWD is a point-and-click adventure, which may seem incompatible with the concept of high-octane zombie-hunting, but this format has spawned what are, in my opinion, some of the finest games ever made: Maniac Mansion, the Monkey Island series, Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade and The Lost Crown: A Ghost-Hunting Adventure. Generally, however, point-and-clickers are heavily focused on puzzle-solving and without a good storyline, they can quickly become very tedious. TWD, however, is surprisingly action-packed and heavily dependent on plot and character development.
As previously mentioned, TWD is divided into episodes, in much the same way as the television show. This is unusual for a single-player game: traditionally, one would purchase a DVD and expect a certain number of hours’ gameplay, with perhaps a little more from a DLC and/or any mods downloaded, before leaving the game on the shelf to gather dust and moving on the next title. Here, though, Telltale Games have bridged the gap between TV show and video game, bringing us an ongoing adventure which we will keep coming back to, thanks to a gripping plot and memorable characters. Having played the whole of Season One and the first episode of Season Two, I am left hungry – nay, ravenous – for more adventures. It is a sentiment shared by many.
Season One opens in sun-kissed Georgia, USA. A history professor named Lee Everett is on his way to prison for murder. Was he guilty of the crime? It is up to you, the player, to decide. Before reaching his destination, the world is plunged into a zombie apocalypse and he must flee from a horde of animated corpses, all bent on devouring him. Along the way, he rescues a young girl named Clementine and together, they embark on a series of adventures and misadventures, desperately trying to find safety, encountering friend and foe en route, all the time hoping the nightmare will one day end. Season One is centred around Lee (the main protagonist), his relationship with Clementine and his interactions with the numerous apocalypse survivors who cross his path during the game. Is Clem the daughter he never had or does Lee prefer to look after himself alone? Again, this is dependent on the dialogue choices and decisions made by the player. Many of the things Lee says and does in the game have dramatic repercussions later on. A poor choice of words may earn him a bitter enemy, while an act of selflessness can endear him to some of his companions, on whom his life may later depend. Like some of the best RPGs (The Witcher springs to mind), this is not a black-and-white game of good versus evil. As we must in real life, Lee is forced to make some very difficult decisions at various points in the game, decisions which cost the lives of others. I found this to be rather frustrating at times but it is surely testament to the skill of the script-writers. I take my hat off to them for conjuring up such an engrossing and intricate story.
One of the biggest surprises about the game is how fast-paced it could be at times. For a point-and-click adventure, this is very unusual, but makes sense, given that the survivors are surrounded by flesh-eating zombies. It is a desperate situation and the game really gives the player a sense of this with its pacing and plot-twists. Graphics-wise, it is designed in a comic-book style, although the visuals are realistic enough the enable the suspension of disbelief. I am grateful the designers didn’t opt for anything akin to that godawful manga style. Do not expect L.A. Noire realism, but the facial expressions are nevertheless very well executed. I came across a couple of glitches which, although very frustrating, were not game-breaking. All I had to do was quit the game and backtrack a scene or two – not a massive inconvenience, for it was the journey, not the destination, which captured my heart. A title like TWD, dependent as it is on plot and character rather than stress-busting gunnery or hack-‘n’-slash, deserves top-quality voice acting; I am happy to report that it did not disappoint in this regard. Indeed, I found myself emotionally investing in the game characters, the way I would in some of my favourite films and novels. I do not wish to spoil anything for prospective players, but expect some heart-breaking scenes along the way and a good few villains who will make you wish they were real so that you could punch the living daylights out of them. The challenges I faced in Season One involved more than simple hand-eye coordination – losing characters to whom I had grown attached was difficult and (perhaps not surprisingly, given the setting) TWD is probably not suitable for anyone who suffers from depression.
Following Season One’s denouement, a stand-alone chapter was added named 400 Days. Bridging the gap between the first and second season, it puts the player in control of five different characters: Vince, Wyatt, Bonnie, Russell and Shel. The player decides the back-story of these survivors and the decisions made here will have an impact on Season Two. Although not essential to the main story, I thoroughly enjoyed playing it and loved the fact that I could ‘flesh out’, as it were, some of the NPCs. How many other games give us the chance to do this? The first episode of Season Two, All That Remains, was released in December and is set in the same area, albeit a good few years later. A few cosmetic changes have been made to the interface, but essentially, expect more of the same: that is, superb voice-acting, a gold-standard storyline and a white-knuckle-ride of an adventure. Episode Two, A House Divided, is scheduled to be released in February, which is not soon enough, as far as I am concerned.
The Walking Dead is hereby placed in The Spideron Hall of Fame as one of the most enjoyable and intelligently-written video games I have ever played. It is not for the faint of heart or the short of attention span, but it sets a new standard in the point-and-click genre. I sincerely hope that Season Two is not the last.