If you’ve followed gaming at all over the past year or so, you’ll have undoubtedly heard of The Walking Dead from Telltale Games (not to be confused with The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct, a very different game based off of the TV series). The Walking Dead sees players explore an apocalyptic storyline following a zombie outbreak, making choices that ultimately effect how the story is told.
At E3 earlier this month, Telltale Games unveiled 400 Days, a DLC expansion that follows the events of game’s first season. In today’s review, while we wait for that July release, we’re going to take a look at what the first season is all about and hopefully convince those of you yet to have played it to, well, play it … or at least get excited about what’s coming up next.
Out of the Frying Pan
The Walking Dead is a largely story-driven game where the evolving events are the main feature here, rather than opting for the action that many other zombie/horror games lean towards. Ultimately, The Walking Dead has as linear a storyline as most other games and without encouraging you to run off and shoot a bunch of zombies, the game manages to really immerse you in what’s happening.
Throughout the game, the story can be manipulated lightly by choices you’ll make as a player. Things you say and decisions you make will be noted, and can influence how other characters react or even who shows up in the future scenes. In the end, you’ll get the same result; decisions you make will have a very visible effect at times, but nothing that’s going to lead you off into a whole other storyline. However, decisions you make will enact enough minor changes to the storyline to make you feel immersed and in some sort of control of a storyline that, realistically, isn’t changing that much. In this way, The Walking Dead manages to engage you enough in the stellar storyline that you might otherwise have missed if this had been as static an experience as other games. Little details can change your gameplay in ways that will have you either regretting or celebrating your previous choices, something that, to date, only real life has been able to truly emulate.
Clementine and co.
During your tenure with The Walking Dead, you’ll meet a variety of characters that will enter and leave your life at times dependent on some of the choices you make. Early on in the game, you’ll meet Clementine, a character that you’ll never control but who forms a consistent narrative throughout the entirety of the game. Of course, other characters will come and go, the context of which may very well be up to choices you make as the player.
With the overarching sense that your actions might be influencing how a character reacts rather than an expectation that whatever happens was meant to happen, The Walking Dead manages to create an unprecedented level of affection (or, conversely, a very real hatred) for the characters that make deciding on actions and dialogue a concious decision, rather than one made by just randomly pressing a button.
The Walking Dead is a physiological experience. Not only will you see the results of your actions play out on screen but major decisions you make are collected and compared with those made by other players so that, following the conclusion of an episode, you can see how many people made the same choice as you and how many didn’t. When matters truly become about life or death, this can be a daunting experience and might well leave you feeling like a terrible person when you found out everyone else chose option B.
The Walking Dead is all about the story. It’s not an FPS or some other sort of action game, and the presentation reflects that fact. As the world and storyline is certainly not dynamically generates with story events set nearly in stone, the game’s audio creates a striking and, at times, horrific atmosphere.
On the other side of things, the game’s graphical style resembles and remembers its comic book origins. The game doesn’t feel cartoonish but, equally, the graphics don’t try to be anywhere near photo-realistic so even those who tend to stay away from horror need not be instantly turned off by a game that will obviously involve killing some zombies.
The Walking Dead is a truly unique experience. It’s less of a game and more an interactive story, but not in the “we’re just going to play out a movie and get you to press a button every so often” way. The story doesn’t branch off massively, but by relying on player choices, The Walking Dead does a fantastic job at retaining a level of immersion that many games fail to create. You really will care for some of the characters and you really will hate some of the others, meaning decisions are truly a psychological experience that makes you really think about how the NPCs will react and whether you’ll be in the minority when the statistics are presented at the end of each episode.
With the conclusion of the season, you can pick up The Walking Dead for $24.99/£20.99 from Steam (although it is also sold separately on iOS, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, if those platforms are more appealing for you). The 400 Days DLC is expected out in July and a second season is said to be due with a targeted release of this autumn. Stay tuned for a look at these later on in the year.
The Walking Dead sets the bar high. You’ll enjoy hours of immersive gameplay and might even come out of it with a lot of questioning of your own motives, making the game well worth its $24.99 price tag.