Review by DDJ
"Like eating lobster: a tasty treat in such a difficult shell that it's barely worth the effort."
Review in Brief
Game: A point-and-click adventure game set amongst a zombie apocalypse in Georgia, following a team of wanderers trying to survive and reach safety.
Good: Incredible, well-characterized cast; compelling, twisting plot; a well-implemented interactive narrative system with realistic options and a real feeling of influence over the game's direction; impressive attention to realism.
Bad: Too often plodding and boring; glitchy frame rate; a deceptively narrow story tree for the interactive narrative; not nearly enough gameplay to carry an entire 15-hour game.
Verdict: A testament to point-and-click adventure games' obsoleteness; the best the genre can do still isn't engaging enough.
Recommendation: Potentially entertaining to fans of the genre, but there are far more engaging experiences to be had.
"Like eating lobster: a tasty treat in such a difficult shell that it's barely worth the effort."
Point-and-click adventure games kind of had their heyday back in the 1990s. Companies like Sierra, LucasArts, and MicroProse put a lot of attention into developing these games because they supported a relatively engaging, complete, flexible game experience without an enormous graphical commitment. The qualities that made for a good point-and-click adventure game were writing, pacing, tension, and tone, elements that were determined by the quality of the design rather than the financial resources put into the implementation. The genre saw itself decline a bit, however, once technical specifications improved and designing games with more compelling, complex gameplay and improved graphics became more feasible, as well as more expected. Throughout the late 1990s and 2000s, the genre suffered and declined as the medium failed to present the type of engaging, game-selling experience that would justify the financial investment of a full-price game. To put that more bluntly, no one was going to spend $50 or $60 on a point-and-click adventure game when that same money could buy the latest Call of Duty, Final Fantasy, or Grand Theft Auto game.
The advent of alternate distribution channels, however, has revolutionized the gaming industry and brought back many old genres. Supported by the cheaper sale prices available in downloadable markets, and further augmented by the explosion of the potential audience through casual gaming-friendly consoles (Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS) and mixed purpose devices (iPhone, Android), we've seen 2D platformers, scrolling shooters, and several other once-dead genres experience a resurgence. It is in that context that Telltale Games' The Walking Dead appears. The game arrives in a medium that allows it to avoid direct competition with bigger-budget releases, delivered episodically at a lower price point. It shows up at a time when long-lost genres are getting a second look. Perhaps most importantly to its success, it's billed as a tie-in to a popular television franchise, even if its actual connections to that franchise are relatively meager. The game is developed largely by former LucasArts employees, the same individuals that created many great games in the genre back in the 1990s. The question, then, is with the ideal situation, does The Walking Dead succeed?
In my opinion, The Walking Dead is only a moderate success. It has significant flaws, and even its strong points actually have pretty notable weaknesses that only emerge upon closer inspection. It appears better than it is, if that makes any sense, like a brilliant-looking painting that was actually executed from a color-by-number stencil. But the most important overarching point is that The Walking Dead, in my mind, is nearly as good as the point-and-click adventure genre can be executed in this day and age, and in executing the genre, it shows that the genre has not aged well. While there is still significant appeal in some old genres that can beget retro-style games, point-and-click adventure games are a relic better left in history because, realistically, all of their appeal could still be included in a more standard, engaging, active genre of game.
The Walking Dead is a point-and-click adventure game modeled after The Walking Dead television franchise. If you're unfamiliar with point-and-click adventure games, it can be a little disorienting at first. Gameplay completely consists of interacting with your environment in different ways and participating in conversations. In any given area, there are objects in the scene that can be examined according to a prescribed set of interactions (looking, picking up, or executing an action). In some areas you are permitted to walk around and control your character, talking with other characters; in others, your only control is to examine things around you. Your decisions in this regard can impact the plot of the game; for example, in one area, you can pick up one of three tools that could be used as weapons. In the subsequent scene, which, if any, you picked up determines what your options are. The plot always moves forward as a result of some action you complete, either talking to the right person or picking up the right item, initiating a sequence of events. The other major part of the game consists of participating in conversations. Many of the things your character said emerge out of dialog choices. You often have the option to take different characters' sides in arguments, suggest different approaches to problems, or interact differently with certain characters. The game adapts to these decisions that you make, tailoring your relationships, and in some instances the game's events, to your decisions.
The plot centers around a main character named Lee and a girl he finds early in the game named Clementine. Clementine's parents disappeared before the zombie apocalypse began, and Lee takes it on himself to take care of her. Together, you move through the story line, encountering other characters along the way whose fates you often can impact. The game's major overarching narratives are survival and finding Clementine's parents, and the different characters that enter the game bring their own agendas with them regarding survival. The game takes place in Georgia, stretching from Atlanta to Savannah, and goes to great lengths to render these areas realistically. It is important to note, though, that the game has little if any practical tie-in to the television show's plot. No characters are shared and no events from one impact the other. The only shared element is the premise (the zombies are conceptualized the same way in both) and the broadest notion of the location, with both the show and game taking place in Georgia.
Disclosure of Biases
I'm actually from Atlanta, born and raised, and have spent a significant amount of time in a few of the locations in which the game takes place. The realism of the game's execution of several geographic elements (such as Atlanta's skyline, Savannah's layout, and the riverfront of the Savannah river) likely increased my enjoyment of the game in a way that it would not for others. I am not familiar with The Walking Dead television franchise (although my wife, who watched me play the whole game, is), and thus if there is any increased enjoyment that originates from knowledge of the show, I would not experience it. I have never played a point-and-click adventure game that I can recall, and I do not find the premise of the genre particularly engaging, and thus my criticisms of it may be more personal taste than objective analysis.
By the time I'm writing this review, The Walking Dead has already won some Game of the Year awards (although my personal pick for Game of the Year, Journey, has one more, so there), so needless to say, it definitely has some good elements. It has a strong emergent narrative, a compelling cast of characters, and is likely a good nostalgic throwback to those who grew up on point-and-click adventure games. As we'll see, though, in many places it isn't quite as good as it appears.
Excellent, Well-Developed Cast
In my opinion, the best feature of The Walking Dead is its cast. Throughout the game, you encounter eleven major characters that join your "party" in a way, and over a dozen more minor characters that you encounter along your travels. Each character has a very distinct personality that is very well-characterized; considering how much of the game's content is its plot and story, it's actually quite remarkable that there are hardly any out-of-character moments throughout the game. Characters are conceptualized so well that often it is easy to predict how different characters will react in upcoming situations. This character conceptualization includes as well complicated family and interpersonal relationships that are also portrayed naturally and effortlessly.
The character conceptualization is critical because the game effectively relies on how sympathetic and consistent its characters are. Oftentimes in the game, the player is tasked with deciding what character will live and what character will die, and the only way for that to be an impactful, emotional, difficult decision is if the player actually feels some kind of personal connection with the character. The character needs to feel like a real person in order for the player to feel like they are doing more than just deciding which path to take through a stagnant story. The strong character conceptualization is the foundation from which every other element of the game flows; without it, the game would have been nothing, but with it, the game provides one of the most engaging overall narratives I can recall in gaming, even if the engagement is difficult to maintain minute-to-minute.
The greatest achievement in this conceptualization, though, is the main character. Lee, the playable character, has through his conversation options an astounding number of potential personalities. He can be compassionate, hard-headed, rude, quiet, helpful, argumentative, ruthless, or an abundance of other options. What's remarkable, though, is that the game is written such that any of these options fit in nicely with the rest of his dialog. His basic character is flexible enough that, when supplemented with the dialog choices that the player makes, his entire character transforms. Even more remarkable, however, is that through the writing and voice acting, even if the player decides to randomly go completely against their general style, personality, or attitude, it still seems to make some sense. There are enough hooks in his basic personality that even if the player makes him generally, calm, angry, or quiet, it makes sense when he breaks his regular character conceptualization. In fact, it adds to the character, even as the player defines who the character is for themselves.
Telltale Games develops in the point-and-click adventure genre a lot, and one of the major reasons for that it is a good genre for television or movie tie-in games because it allows the developer to avoid "finding" gameplay in a franchise not oriented toward it. The major failure of many movie or television tie-ins is that they force gameplay into places where it isn't natural, but the point-and-click adventure genre is effectively a narrative structure with some opportunities for player decisions. As such, it lends itself well to creating games on franchises built on a narrative foundation. The other side of that coin, though, is that the game has to effectively buoy itself entirely on the narrative. There is no gameplay, no graphical brilliance, no complex system of interaction on which to fall back if the narrative is not successful.
Generally, The Walking Dead succeeds in providing a compelling plot. It is certainly not without its weaknesses as we'll get to later, but those weaknesses are largely because of the pressure for a narrative to support a game entirely. In most genres, the narrative can take a back seat for extended portions of the game; when traveling from city to city in an RPG, for example, the narrative is completely in the background while the gameplay and battle system are thrust into the limelight. In point-and-click adventure games, the plot has to entirely sustain the game while also providing occasions for player engagement. The Walking Dead's plot is sufficiently compelling for this purpose.
It's difficult to put a finger on what exactly makes The Walking Dead's plot so compelling. A large part of it is the emotional impact of many of the decisions that the player is forced or allowed to make, which flows from the character actualization mentioned above. The player often feels invested in the game because their character seems to have such a significant impact on the game's course. It's easy to feel engaged when you feel like an actual part of the story.
The more important element of the plot's engagement, though, comes from the relationship between the overall narrative and the minute-by-minute narrative. Any good story needs a strong overall narrative; the player has to feel like they're actually pursuing some goal or objective, not meandering through an ambiguous, vague plot line. However, when the plot line is too solid, it can feel like completing it is a chore: if the player knows exactly what the next hour of gameplay is supposed to hold, engagement drops and it feels like the game is just needlessly putting hurdles between plot events. The Walking Dead navigates this tension by making the overall driving goal clear: the player is trying to stay safe, of course, but also get to a sustainable safe place. There may not always be a strong overall plan for how to accomplish that, but the driving goal is there. The local ambiguity, though, keeps the game compelling as the player does not know what challenges or changes are going to arise in the immediate future. It doesn't feel like the game is "happening to you", as it does when there is no player influence on the plot, but at the same time it does not feel like the game is completely open-ended, letting you define every element of its direction.
Realistic Story and Conversation Options
One of the frustrating elements that often arises with games that try to give the player control over the story is that the options appear opaque or contrived. Oftentimes the options do not make narrative sense, and are essentially a narrative way of asking the player to choose from a list of options: "Do you want to go upstairs or downstairs?" someone randomly asks your character, and you're given the option of responding. In The Walking Dead, though, the options are significantly more organic and natural. Part of this is because your character is actually put in a position where he often makes the decisions, making it a bit more natural for him to be asked. Other times, though, it's because the story options so naturally flow from the plot events. At times, you're not even aware of the decisions that you're making. There are instances where you're tasked with choosing which of two characters to save, but you may not even realize that you're choosing between them; you simply save the first one you see and never realize that you had an option in the matter. That might sound a little annoying, but in reality it's very realistic: in those actual situations, you likely wouldn't have time to carefully consider who to save. You just act when you see someone in danger.
A key part of this, though, is that it's not just the decisions that are realistic: the way they are presented is also realistic. When given conversation options, the conversation continues around you; people aren't staring at you waiting for a response. In most conversations, there is an option to remain silent, so if you do not choose to say something (or if you choose to say nothing), the conversation ends naturally. There is always the impression that you're actively participating in an organic conversation, rather than having an artificial conversation wait on your input to proceed. In many conversations as well, the time you have to reply changes; there are times when you are given a set of dialog options with which to respond to a tense, immediate situation like warning someone about an incoming zombie, and in these instances, you have only a brief time to choose the option. This recreates the natural situation where it's difficult to find what to say quickly, and retains the realism of the conversation structure. All of the options available are usually logical and natural, though, so there's never a hilariously wrong or strange interjection; the options are all very realistic, while simultaneously being significantly different and preserving the character's personality. It's all quite impressively implemented.
True Impression of Story Influence
Every game struggles with the idea that the player has no real impact on the story. In most games, the entire story is entirely scripted out, and the player has no actual influence over any element of it: the only question is whether they win or lose. Some games try to give the player some control, either through moral choice systems that determine their character's personality or through a tree of pre-determined instances that change the structure of the game. The Walking Dead suffers from a huge demand in this regard; the seeming opportunities for the player to impact the story are not few and far between like in other games, but rather come up consistently. They are the entire fabric of the game, and if every decision branches the story tree, the tree would actually be massive. It's extremely difficult to make a complex story tree that can really respond to a breadth of player decisions. Typically, either the game only provides a few decisions, or the decisions do not impact the actual course of the game, or the decisions do impact the game and the game feels very disjointed as a result.
In The Walking Dead, though, there is definitely an impression that the decisions the player makes impact the game. The decisions are not minor, going so far as allowing the player to choose who lives and who dies, but at the same time it seems the game has accounted for every possible outcome. The entire game flows very naturally regardless of the decisions that the player makes, meaning that the player almost would think that their decisions were irrelevant, except that the game goes to great lengths to reference the player's past decisions. This starts with simple white text that appears on the screen when the player has done something significant; it lets them know the interpretation of the action and how it might be significant later. For example, it might say, "Kenny appreciates you taking his side" as a way for the game to acknowledge the player's decision. Later in the plot, the characters will actually reference that decision; Kenny, for example, might stick up for you in an argument because you stuck up for him, or another character might dismiss your opinion because they know you tend to agree with Kenny. There's a real impression that the game plot reacts to your decisions.
This also creates an interesting sort of meta-experience as the player starts to wonder the true extent of the game's story tree. Early on, for example, the game asks the player to choose between two characters, one to save and one to let die. The character that you save becomes a key player in the long plot of the game, suggesting that the decision to save them actually was very significant. The player starts to wonder what would have happened if they chose to save the other character, and how much that would have actually affected. That gives the game some replay value; the player can replay and find out the consequences of a drastically different set of actions. Of course, in actuality, doing so would show the player that they never had as much control as they thought, but we'll get to that more later. The point here is that the game does a great job of making the player feel like they have a lot of impact on the story.
This, of course, is something that might only stick out to me, but Telltale Games has put a lot of effort into recreating the real world for the game. The skyline of Atlanta, featured at the beginning of the game, is perfectly accurate. In Savannah, real maps are used to navigate, and real city blocks can be seen; several real hotels and establishments are featured, the riverfront is recreated perfectly, and the streets really are identical to the real city. One of the key locations, the Marsh House, is a direct copy of an actual hotel -- the Marshall House -- and resides at the same place geographically as the real one. In one scene where the player looks around at the skyline of Savannah to get their bearings, real church steeples can be seen, and the Marsh House is realistically located compared to the player's previous position. It won't mean much if you've never been to Savannah, but if you have, it's quite a treat.
Despite its good elements, my overall impression of The Walking Dead is actually a bit on the negative side. There are definitely some mistakes it makes and some things that could have been done better that would've raised its esteem in my eyes, but in the end I also think it definitely had a ceiling. Point-and-click adventure games are obsolete in the modern market, I think, and while they can occasionally be fun, they can't compete with traditional releases or even some of the newer indie trends available on digital marketplaces.
The top reason for my ultimate frustration with The Walking Dead is that, well, it's kind of boring. That's a sad thing to say, but it's true. Maybe it's that video games have developed such a tendency to be complicated graphical thrill rides that a game that strips some of that away just doesn't manage to be quite as engaging, but whatever the reason, I wouldn't describe playing The Walking Dead as fun. Maybe it's not supposed to be fun, either. It's interesting, sure, but it just isn't very engaging or entertaining. I wanted to go back and play it through again to see how different choices would change things, but I just couldn't make myself. It wasn't entertaining enough the first time to burn more hours on it a second time.
Part of this boredom is actually my criticism of the genre as a whole, and we'll get to that more later. Aside from that, though, even The Walking Dead's implementation of the genre is flawed and yawn-inducing. I've heard that the game is remarkable for the way it balances different levels of tension, but for me, while it definitely had impressively tense moments, they are far too overshadowed by many tension-killing sequences. This tends to occur whenever you find yourself with an open area to explore and no time limit. There is no pressure from the game to finish, and thus the game has no obligation to make the solution to the area obvious. You might spend several minutes interacting with things, talking with people, trying to figure out how to advance the plot. It doesn't feel very organic, and really it just feels like the game is teasing, "Hey, bet you can't find the waypoint I want you to find!" It kills any semblance of tension and frustrates the dickens out of those of us that want to get on with the plot and find out what happens. It's almost a punishment for enjoying the game.
I understand that part of that function is that the game wants the next developments to happen organically. In real life, we certainly don't always act with a goal in mind. Sometimes we're just milling about chatting, and the game wants to mimic that. That doesn't make an engaging experience, though. An engaging experience emerges from understanding what needs to be done next and executing it, not aimlessly poking around trying to find the button the game wants you to push to advance the game. I'm not saying that everyone wants to or should want to rush through the game, but the game should at least make it clear what needs to occur for it to advance at all rather than letting the player wander around with no direction.
Another element that adds to this ploddingness is that the story arcs tend to be a bit too long. There are five story arcs in the game, and each one was initially released as an "episode". In terms of the amount of story development and plot progression in each episode, they are roughly analogous to a television episode; and yet, they each take over two and a half hours to play. The longest, in my play through at least, took over three hours, and the shortest still took almost two. It's simply too little plot for too much playtime, and as a result it often feels like the plot has been dragged out to artificially elongate things. There are puzzles that pop up that definitely contribute to this: several times there are puzzles that effectively equate to finding the right item in the room and using it in the right place, but between Lee's slow walking and the big areas, that alone can take a couple minutes, and with basically no gain. It feels like someone reminded the game that it's supposed to be a game, so it tosses in the most simple game sequence it can to still qualify as a game.
The length of the story arcs tends to diminish the desire to replay the chapters. The breadth of the choices available in any given episode means that it's actually very appealing to go back and see how different choices would change the progression of the story, but considering it would take at least an hour of play time to find out the impact of most alternate decisions, the appeal disappears fast. That also has a negative impact on the tension of the game; the tension is managed such that every story arc feels most natural when played all in one sitting, and there aren't periods mid-episode where it seems natural to turn the game off and return to it later. The length, however, makes that difficult to do, so the player is left to either forcefully allocate a long block of time to playing, or to lose some of the building tension by turning off the game and returning later.
Generally, the biggest praise I've seen given to the game is that its tension is well-managed and delicately controlled, yet in my experience the tension is better described as rather haphazard. It's said that the game recaptures the tension of classic horror games because typically, you have no weapon with which to defend yourself; you know, however, that everything that could happen is scripted and that you'll be given the opportunity to respond, and that largely defeats the tension that could exist because of your character's supposed vulnerability. There are tense, shocking moments and long, tense scenes, but the balance against those scenes is far too elongated and calm to really describe the game as consistently engaging. It's engaging in parts, but there are long sections that are just plodding and boring, and those tend to dominate my recollection of the game.
The second major issue with the game is that, unfortunately, it's actually very glitchy. The top problem here is the frame rate. Despite the game's relatively meager and lightweight graphical demands, the frame rate stutters like a scratched CD throughout much of the game. This isn't just an aesthetic issue, either: it often delays the time given to the player to make certain decisions, both story decisions and conversation decisions. On multiple occasions, I inadvertently stayed silent through a significant conversation option simply because the frame rate stuttered so badly that it skipped the option altogether. It also breaks the synchronization between the characters' lips and their dialog in many places, leading to a very jarring dissonance and shattering any immersion the game had previously provided. It's frustrating, disengaging, and for a game of its graphical style and demands, unacceptable.
Less on the glitch side but still a clear problem, the game also struggles with some minor continuity issues that can nonetheless be somewhat distracting. A few times, dialog references past events incorrectly, or events that did not occur at all. Sometimes this manifests itself in the visual element of the story as well. In one sequence, you're tasked with passing out jerky and crackers to different people. At one point, if you choose to pass someone jerky, it nonetheless shows the person receiving crackers. With the story flexibility that The Walking Dead provides, perfect continuity was of course going to be a challenge: at the same time, though, the fact that the flexible story is the game's only real defining feature raises the stakes on its implementation. If you're a one-trick pony, you need to do that one trick really, really well.
One last point that doesn't really belong here, but doesn't belong anywhere else either: the game also lacks an 'invert axis' option. For those of us used to an inverted axis when controlling the camera or crosshairs, that's extremely frustrating.
Deceptively Narrow Story Tree
Upon completing the game, I was really curious to see what some of the other story results could have been. Part of me wanted to replay some of the episodes of the game to intentionally make very different decisions and see how that would change the outcome, but with the length and overall ploddingness of the game, I couldn't motivate myself to actually do so. So, instead, I looked up online, through various FAQs and wikis and forum threads, what the impact of some of the more significant decisions was.
That's how I discovered an unfortunate truth about The Walking Dead: the story tree actually is very, very narrow. Your decisions have almost no influence on the overall course of the game. I wondered how the game could have a canonical story despite having so much left to user choice, but in reality the user is only responsible for changing the "flavor" of the game's story: the overall structure and major events remain the same regardless of the player's decisions. For example, early in the game, you're tasked with choosing which of two characters to save. I chose to save a certain character that went on to be a major player throughout the game's events; the character's family, for example, comes with you on the journey, while the other character's family wants nothing to do with you. I was curious if saving the other character would completely change the party that follows you through the game. When I looked further, though, I learned that no matter which you choose to try to save, the same character actually gets saved: all that changes is how the other characters react.
Looking through all the story options and decisions, it becomes pretty clear that almost all the decisions in the game boil down to one of three categories. There are, as above, choices that are simply illusory: you actually have no say, and the game is going to proceed as it was no matter what you choose to do. In some cases, it might let you think that your decision was significant (for example, attacking vs. sneaking into an area, when you learn later there's nothing in that area at all), while in others it might not actually let you finish making the decision for which you were pushing. Either way, though, your decision has no actual bearing on the story's direction and events. A second category is that your decisions simply change some of the interchangeable dialog you see in later scenes. For example, in one early scene, you're asked to take sides in an argument. Later, the characters reference which side you took. The only real change, though, is that a bit of dialog was selected based on your earlier decision. The change doesn't impact the actual direction of the game, only the conversations that happen within the already-constructed overall plot. Finally, the third type of decision is arguably the most significant type, but it still leaves something to be desired. Several times, you're asked to choose who lives and who dies, but in reality, if you ever have control of this, it's for characters that are going to disappear at some point in the near future anyway. You never have the opportunity to save a character who is going to be with you through the long haul, but only to save characters that are just going to fill in the background for a while before finding a different way to exit a little later.
An analogy is the best way I can describe the difference between how the game's story tree appears and how it is actually structured. The way the game feels, it seems like there's a story tree: each decision represents a branch, and while different branches might share much in common, there's a broad story tree that reflects all the different options. You can pick one branch out that traces the decisions you made, and you can see how other branches resulted from other decisions. In reality, however, the game's plot is more akin to a standard moral choice system: your choices might change what your character does or how he looks, but it doesn't actually change the course of the game. The impact of your decisions doesn't stretch that far past interchanging the dialog or inserting new references into existing conversations. There are clear times when the game inserts a line or two that wouldn't have been there had you not made a certain earlier decision, and it's equally clear that the game could've proceeded just fine without that reference.
Now, don't get me totally wrong here. I'm not saying there's necessarily anything wrong with an "emergent dialog" that's secretly this simple. Really, you'd never notice unless you went out of your way to investigate the impacts of different choices, and that kind of goes against the spirit of the game. The fact that the game still gives the impression of player control over its course is itself quite a remarkable achievement and shouldn't be understated. The problem, though, is that this emergent dialog is really the only distinguishing feature of the game as a game. Without this, there's nothing else to make the game anything more than an episode of a television show that requires you to click the right point on the screen to proceed. This feature has to carry the game, and the fact that it's actually smoke and mirrors significantly belittles its ability to do that. That's what leads me to my last criticism...
Not Enough Gameplay to Carry a Game
Let me frame this criticism as a question: what element of The Walking Dead's appeal could not have been included in a game that put more of a focus on gameplay? If the appeal of The Walking Dead is its compelling plot, its well-defined set of characters, and its seemingly flexible and adaptive story narrative, what part of that could not be executed in a shooter, or an RPG, or an action game? Why did The Walking Dead have to be just a point-and-click adventure game?
Of course, there are answers to this. Most notably, other genres mandate that the narrative find room for gameplay. If The Walking Dead was a shooter, it would have been necessary to focus mainly on lots of long shootout segments that would have gotten in the way of the plot. Were it an RPG, there similarly would have had to be artificially included battles that wouldn't mesh with the nature of the narrative. There are reasons why it couldn't have been implemented as-is in another genre, but the question is whether or not the changes that would have been required to convert the game to a more gameplay-oriented genre would have damaged the premise more than they would have added to it; and in my mind, they would not have. The appeal of The Walking Dead is not inherent to point-and-click adventure games, but rather it is unique to Telltale Games' excellent implementation of it. The weaknesses of the game, however, are largely the weaknesses more inherent to the genre. Point-and-click adventure games, in my opinion, simply cannot provide a competitive gameplay experience with other more popular genres. The result is exactly what it sounds like: a game without a game, barely a step up from a visual novel, and while capable of expressing an interesting story in its own way, far too outdated to compete on the big stage the way games of its genre used to.
Ultimately, that's the simplest way I can describe The Walking Dead: it bored me. The plot was interesting enough that I wanted to know what happened, but I didn't want to actually go through the slow, deliberate process of finding out. I would have been just as satisfied looking up the plot online and reading a synopsis, or watching a fast-forwarded recap on YouTube. I think the game executes the genre about as well as it can be executed, but the genre just doesn't afford for a sufficiently entertaining experience to keep me engaged.
The Walking Dead is a relic of a bygone genre, the point-and-click adventure game that largely died out with the advent of more advanced graphics and more advanced gameplay styles. Like many older genres, it's received a "reboot" treatment in connection with the new distribution channels that enable lower-priced indie games to compete in the real marketplace. The game gives a lot to like in that realm: it has an extraordinarily well-characterized cast and a very compelling plot, and it does a great job of creating an interactive narrative around its framework. The player really does feel like they have a significant say in the direction of the game's plotline, even though a little more investigation reveals it's largely smoke and mirrors. Still, the impression of influence is itself quite an achievement and basically carries the gameplay experience.
The problem with The Walking Dead, though, is its genre. Its positive features, largely, could somewhat easily have been included in a genre of game that actually lent itself to more active, compelling, engaging gameplay. You could have this same kind of interactive narrative in a shooter, or an RPG, or nearly any other genre of game because, to such a large extent, it's smoke and mirrors: it changes the dialog that occurs in the game, but has very little impact on the game's actual linearity and scriptedness. As such, any other genre could have been utilized while preserving the plot, characters, and flexible narrative that make the game at all good. Without that, though, the game is unfortunately boring and plodding. Playing it is something of a chore, even though the reward is significant: it's the lobster claw of video games, a tasty treat encased in such a tough, difficult shell that it's barely worth the effort.
I wouldn't actively dissuade people from playing The Walking Dead if it sounds appealing, but I wouldn't recommend it either. If you enjoy the genre, you're likely to enjoy the game I suppose, but there are far more engaging experiences to be had.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Originally Posted: 01/14/13
Game Release: The Walking Dead: A Telltale Games Series (US, 12/11/12)
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