Season 4 of The Walking Dead TV series is set to resume in a couple of days and it’ll be great to get my zombie fix again! To celebrate, I finally got around to writing a game review for The Walking Dead (A Telltale Games Series), which I played and finished at the start of the year.
The Walking Dead is an episodic single-player graphic adventure based on Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead comic book series. Instead of the usual zombie shooting spree you see in most games of this genre, this focuses instead on story and character development. As the protagonist, your must do your best to survive amidst a zombie apocalypse, interact with other survivors and make difficult decisions that will ultimately impact the storyline. Since the game adapts to your choices, playing this feels like one of those “Choose your own Adventure” books, and each gaming experience is unique.
My immediate reaction upon finishing it was that it was one of the most “mind-blowing” games I’ve played in recent history. Pun intended. [Note: OK, I changed my mind. The Last of Us was mind-blowing x 10. Separate review on that.]
The story centers on university professor and convicted murderer Lee Everett, who helps rescue and care for a young girl named Clementine shortly after the onset of the zombie apocalypse in Georgia.
As Lee, you must work with a band of survivors to stay alive in several scenarios, spread out in five episodes. If you’re familiar with the horror drama TV series, which was also based on Kirkman’s graphic novels, you’ll be pleased to encounter some of the original characters who make in-game appearances, including farmer Hershel Greene and Glenn. You also encounter a host of original characters.
Unlike other zombie games that focus on survival and combat (such as Left4Dead and Dead Island), this is more story-driven. As Lee, you have to interact and talk to other characters and answer questions which will affect the game’s story. You can choose to be a good guy, an asshole or stay silent and not take sides.
For example, in one scenario you are tasked to divide limited rations, and you have to decide who in the group gets to eat (which affects how the different characters treat you). In another scenario, you have to decide to save only one of two of your companions. Later on, you have the power to leave certain companions behind. Usually the decisions need to be made very quickly (there’s a timebar for you to press a button within a limited time) for added pressure. There are situations where you will die if you don’t react fast enough. There are also a number of puzzles & fetch-quest type missions that you’ll need to solve to progress in the game.
The game uses very stylized graphics mimicking the look of the graphic novel. The shell-shading and how the characters are drawn makes playing the game feel like you’ve been sucked into a very engrossing comic book.
The landscapes and settings are very nicely done. The landscapes have an eerie quality to them. Lee’s jerky and klutzy movements and the camera movements and angles really adds to the whole pressure-filled atmosphere, especially when you’re trying to get away from enemies.
The game doesn’t really have a very complicated battle system. All you need is good aiming skills with the joystick and quick reflexes in pressing the right button.
Occasionally, you will have to kill lone zombies, deal with a horde or take on human enemies, but they’re pretty easy to dispatch of. What’s more challenging is making the split-second decisions within the game and living with the decisions you make. There is also a rewind option, so you can go back to certain key points.
After you’ve gotten over the initial shock of the game’s ending, and let the whole experience simmer down, it is worth going back to the game to replay. After every episode, in-game statistics show how players choices when confronted with difficult choices. Since players influence the story within the entire game when making these decisions, choosing differently will result in subtle changes in the game. Though a lot of the main story arcs are pre-determined, it’s interesting to see how other characters will react to your decisions depending on how you treat them or how you answer them. It helps to have friends playing the game at the same time, so you can compare notes on the different outcomes.
Each episode lasts about about 2 hours or so, so you’ll probably spend 10-15 hours for all 5 episodes on your first playthrough. The story felt pretty heavy so I didn’t play through everything continuously. Knowing all the choices now, I do want to replay a game making choices I won’t regret and be sure to save copy of it. All in all, I can say that this is one of the best games I’ve played this year and I’m looking forward to the sequel.
FINAL SCORE: 10/10
UPDATE: The Walking Dead: 400 Days, an additional episode was released in July 2013 as downloadable content for the first game to bridge the gap between this season and the game’s sequel. Game developers have announced that the choices made in Season 1 and the “400 Days” DLC will affect the decisions in Season 2 of the game (which is yet to be released).