Review by thecrobar

"A different kind of Adventure Game"

The Walking Dead is one of the more surprising titles to become successful in the last few years. Assuredly, some of this popularity has to do with the bare bones of what it is: a game with zombies in it based off of an incredibly popular television show based off of a sort-of-obscure graphic novel that also has a lot of zombies. What makes the video game incarnation of the franchise so unique is that it's a point and click adventure game. It's a genre that has- barring the odd indie game or David Cage related property- been almost entirely dead for about 10 years. To see the genre come back at all is shock, especially with the kind of critical acclaim that the Walking Dead is getting.

I consider myself to be an adventure game aficionado. As a gamer growing up with violence conscious parents and a PC, I played a lot of adventure games since they were always a safe option. I credit this early education in euclidean thinking (of course you bait your pile of honey with gemstones, it's the only way to catch a gnome!) with a lot of my dissatisfaction for modern gaming intelligence. When you've mastered the complex puzzle logic of adventure games, most other puzzles seem lacking by comparison. They didn't always make perfect sense, but there was often a sort of fantasy logic that drifted through them and tied everything together. These games were surprisingly cerebral and, looking back, I'm surprised I was able to get through games like Myst, Seventh Guest, or King's Quest.

Compared to these games, the Walking Dead is not really an adventure game. There is rarely anything that might be called a puzzle, and most of the problem solving in the game involves finding an object that will allow you to interact with another object. Many older adventure games used this same style of problem solving; but they forced you to cart your loot around the countryside like paranoid vagrant waiting for the day when rotten cheese might save your life. In TWD you'll rarely have an item for more than five minutes, and the more likely scenario is that you'll find an object that needs an item before finding the item itself. The only time I found myself “stumped” was during an attempt to start a train, and this was only because I had overlooked the railroad engineer's gracious “this is how you start a train” notes. If you have any kind of experience with video games- much less adventure games- these puzzles aren't even going to pose the most transparent of challenges.

If the game were sold on just these traits then it would be a failure as both an adventure game and a piece of entertainment. Thankfully, the game makes up for this is another area: the dialogue system. This is really the entire point of The Walking Dead. You, playing as Lee, get to decide how your fate in a zombie apocalypse. You quickly establish a group of survivors, and much of the game is about dealing with their various egos since it seems no one can agree on something until you chime in about it. You have the requisite “do-anything-to-survive” types along with the more altruistic ones who might wish to save as many people as they can; all the standard elements of a dramatic post-society survival party.

The most interesting of these companions is Lee's surrogate child Clementine. You meet the little girl at the start of the game, and many of your later decisions will undoubtedly be framed by thinking what's best for her well being. This is a pretty brilliant point of writing for a game. It motivates the player to think of a character beyond themselves; a character that's completely helpless and has to rely on your choices to survive. Games of this nature typically slide into the realm of good versus evil even if they pretend not to, but TWD is all about survival. Regardless of your choices it's made clear that Lee is trying to be a good person, and that he's looking out for Clementine. Even if you choose questionable actions during the game they're always framed with regret and the thought that you're doing what's best for Clementine- even if that means stranding a dangerous companion in the wilderness or stealing supplies from someone else.

The dialogue system does have its quirks and problems. If you are the kind to want roleplay, then you're going to have a tough time of it. It's not a morality driven experience like Mass Effect or Deus Ex, but a character driven one that's about choosing the best course of action. Characters are distinctly more human and fallible then many other games: they want you to like them, but they have their own moral failings and personal issues that get in the way of that. If a character sees you as selfish they might call you out for it, but ten minutes later they'll do the same thing they accused you of doing and expect forgiveness. It's not an altogether pleasing system, and it will often feel like the game is pushing you to choose sides rather stick to a moral ground. For a roleplayer this will mean that you'll often be equally hated and loved by everyone no matter which choices you make, which kind of makes the entire point of choosing a kind of morality a pointless exercise in TWD.

The Walking Dead also includes a healthy number of action sequences and quick time events. These scenes do a good job at breaking up the puzzle solving and conversational aspects in the game, and they're surprisingly well constructed. It's not merely about pressing a button at the right time: you'll forced to manually aim your attacks to hit your targets and the actions on screen will often match the sort of movements that you have to perform. They even get pretty creative, requiring fast/accurate response times that if missed will change the scene entirely. Quick time events are something that's easy to hate, but TWD does them in a way that's engaging enough for them to be entertaining and rarely takes away from the experience.

If there is a problem with the game, it is the glitches. I played the Xbox 360 version of the game and I was plagued with problems throughout my entire experience. I'm normally a pretty tolerant person when it comes to technical issues, but TWD approached my breaking point and almost made me quit the game entirely. I suffered a bevy of technical problems with textures failing to load and dialogue failing to play at the proper time, but the worst thing I encountered was the deleted save files. The game is episodic, and upon completing the first two episodes my game froze at a statistical results screen and wouldn't continue past this point. I decided to start the third episode, and the game immediately began at the start of the game and autosaved over my file. I begrudgingly started anew, reached the same point, and had the same problem happen again (this time I had a back-up). I was forced to delete episode two off of my hard drive and load episode three as a new game- which randomly picked all new responses for my old decisions, meaning that my save from the previous two episodes was useless. This same problem happened at the end of episode three, and required the same solution. By the time I finished the game I had played Episodes 1-2 twice, and had only carried over my save from episode 4 to episode 5. In searching for solutions to these problems I found that my experiences were hardly uncommon, and that players who have purchased the disc version for the Xbox 360 have even received download codes as their discs were too glitchy to play. The PC version seems the most stable, but even that is questionable.

This forced style of play reveals the other uncomfortable reality about the game: your decisions, while interesting, are not really all that important. Even without the ability to carry on choices between episodes, I still felt as if I was playing the same character across each one and nothing was ever dramatically different. It's hard to say more without spoiling the games plot points, but that is itself the problem since the game plays out almost identically no matter what you choose. The changes to the game only only on the surface level: people's responses and dialogue will vary, but the actual actions they perform will not. The central plotline of the game is still interesting enough to motivate you through the experience, but the importance of your choices has been greatly exaggerated by the gaming press and the marketing behind The Walking Dead.

The Walking Dead is best seen as a divergence from the classic idea of adventure games. The puzzles in the game are still cerebral, but they're focused on the conversation aspects of the game and choosing the best way to interact with others. This is the best way to consider The Walking Dead: a puzzle game based around dialogue, with the solution to the puzzle being how to best interact with other characters. The game's lack of truly meaningful choices make both roleplaying and replaying redundant: you'll basically be playing the same game only with altered dialogue. That said, the game is still something that should be experienced if only because the time and monetary investment to do so is light on the wallet and the busy schedule. It's a cheap game that can be cleared in a dedicated weekend, and unless you have some inherent hatred of the concepts around it there's really no reason not to try it out (just make sure to pick up the PC version).You'll get the most out of the experience if you come into the game attempting to play as yourself and make the choices that you would make, which is itself a rare enough feature to be notable compared to most other games on the market.

Pros:
-A good, emotionally driven central narrative
-Well made quick time events
-It's something "new", and a good experience

Cons:
-Terrible Glitches. I'd recommend backing up your save each time you quit the game.
-The ability of your choices to affect the outcome and flow of the story is relatively limited
-Overly simplistic and mindless puzzle solving


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 01/24/13

Game Release: The Walking Dead: A Telltale Games Series (US, 12/11/12)


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