For months, many have been patiently waiting for Telltale’s sidestory to The Walking Dead to arrive on their game consoles and PCs. Sensibly so, because zombies walk very, very slowly. They’ve finally dragged themselves to my screen, and let me tell you: I think Telltale’s Walking Dead: The Game may shamble itself into the Hall of Fame.
Many have been enjoying the series on AMC, as well as the original graphic novels, but there have been complaints [which are par for the course, really] regarding how different the TV show is from the comic. Telltale has gone an interesting direction with this: Rather than telling the same story for what would be the third time… They’re instead telling us a new one within the same universe.
In The Walking Dead: The Game, instead of following Officer Rick Grimes, we are placed in the shoes of Lee Everett. Lee’s background is spotty, but this much is known: There was a murder, and Lee was found guilty of it. Whether he really did it has yet to have been revealed, and more interestingly, you can play him as either wrongly accused or cold blooded, and the game will adapt.
Let’s set the mood a little, shall we?
The Walking Dead: The Game — Debut Trailer
The Walking Dead: The Game — Story Trailer
[Warning: Mild spoilers!]
The decisions you make will change not only the rest of the episode; the entire season will be moulded by your choices, both good and bad. People will remember your support, your kind words… your lies. To keep it interesting, most decisions have to be made in the moment. Just like real life, how things play out can be determined by how quickly you respond to the situation. Admittedly, it’s hard to make snap decisions when you first start playing, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll quickly become the most dependable alleged murderer in Georgia!
Very soon into the first episode, Lee meets Clementine, a very bright girl of only eight years old. I only bring up her intelligence because it seems like she is head and shoulders above several of the introduced cast when it comes to who made out the best when brains were handed out. Without spoiling too much: There’s a ‘puzzle’ later which involves getting a radio working. The person can’t sort out why it’s not working when they do the following: Attempts to turn on radio without batteries [to which Lee thoughtfully notes, 'You know there's no batteries in this thing, right?'] and then once you find said batteries, she puts them in backwards. I know there’s a zombie apocalypse going on, but I’d like to think that operating a radio powered by AAs would be a relatively simple task even then. But, maybe I’ll let that slide, because the aforementioned character is a deadeye shot with a pistol, and without that, Lee could very well end up as a tasty sidedish.
Brain farts aside, the characters are believable and an excellent job is being done at slowly dishing out their histories without making it feel like a bunch of forced exposition. The only character at this point who I know very little about is Clementine. Though she has shown that she’s a very intelligent young lady, she is quite shy and hasn’t shared much about herself aside from her first name, her age, and the professions of her missing parents. [Your mileage may vary, depending on the dialogue you select!]
As great as the characterization is, I have to say that my favorite thing about the game thus far is the art and cinematic styles. Not only do the characters and locations look like art from a comic book or graphic novel, great care was taken in framing scenes as they were lifted straight from a panel. You can tell that the folks at Telltale are fans of the series and likely comic book fan by how much it feels and looks like an interactive comic. Speaking of interactivity, I feel I should mention this: If you don’t like QTEs [Quick Time Events, which are scenes in which you quickly press buttons or make motions to 'succeed' in the scene] this is not the game for you. Like the Jurassic Park game which Telltale released late last year, and Heavy Rain [which Telltale says was a great inspiration to them], this game makes very frequent use of them. I’m generally not a fan of QTEs in games, but in the case of games such as these, it honestly feels like it keeps the action rolling and pulls you into the moment. It can pull the panic out of you, believe me! I failed at a few, and ended up having Lee become nothing more than a buffet for a wayward walker.
Part of me wants to replay the episode just to fail at these events just to see how creative they got with the deaths. If you happen to remember the Dragon’s Lair game, you’ll understand the strange urge to watch death after death. Some of them are pretty gruesome, others are sort of funny in a dark comedy sort of way. The humor was likely unintentional, since I know I am a pretty sick puppy. [If you want to know where I'm coming from on this: I used to drown Mario on purpose in Super Mario 64 because there was something morbidly funny about watching him gasp for air and reach hopelessly toward the surface]
I’m an adventure game junkie and have learned over the years that for me, nothing beats the feeling of playing through an adventure with keyboard and mouse. I played through the first episode on my PC via Steam, but halfway through I got curious: What would it play like with a gamepad? I had downloaded the demo for Xbox 360, which I thought was disappointingly short, and the controls were my biggest gripe. To my chagrin, plugging in my gamepad transformed the gameplay into literally the exact same experience. It felt clunky, to me, especially since I now could compare it to a very polished keys and mouse control scheme which I had been using for a couple hours. Given the option, I will stick to keys and mouse. Unless they tighten up their gamepad controls, I can’t see myself enjoying the game quite as much. With keys and mouse, you move Lee around with your WASD and control the reticule with your mouse. With gamepad, left stick moves Lee, right stick moves the reticule. Generally, this isn’t a problem. But when you run into a situation that requires you aim at the zombie with the right stick, hold it still and press a button on the face of your gamepad… You’re gonna have a bad time. At least, I did.
My only other gripes are minor as things go: I spotted a number of typos in the subtitles [Yes, I'm one of those guys. Shush.], and there were two instances of people referring to Clementine as Lee’s daughter, even though I specifically [lied] and said Lee was her babysitter. Even though I was told people would ‘remember’ that Lee said that, in those two cases, they didn’t, and it broke my immersion for the briefest of moments.
Back on the side of ‘good things’, I want to express how much I enjoy the music to this game. It was composed by Telltale’s resident composer, Jared Emerson-Johnson. Like all of the Telltale games I’ve played up to this point, the score lends an extra layer to the game. It makes terrifying moments more alarming, and somber scenes all the more heart-wrenching. The voice overs and characters pull it through on their own, but the music helps knock it out of the park. If you’re one of those folks who turns down the in-game music to play your own soundtrack, don’t; you’d be missing out on the full experience!
Overall, I think Telltale has a winner on their hands, but it just needs a couple tweaks here and there to make it 100% awesome. They’re hovering around 98% right now, in my eyes. Fix the gamepad ‘nightmare in QTE’ issues, dialogue glitches, and the typos, and it’d be ace! In other words: If the series continues at the same pace and quality as Episode One, this is, without a doubt, a MUST BUY.
Now, some bonus content for your viewing pleasure, since I’m such a fan of death, mayhem, and chaos [not necessarily in that order], here’s EVERY SINGLE DEATH SCENE from Episode One. It, of course, has tons of spoilers, so if you intend to play the game, DON’T WATCH!
The Walking Dead: The Game – Every Single Death Scene from Episode One
Thanks for stopping by for our first full fledged game review! There will be many more to come, as well as some extra special goodies coming your way!
[Disclaimer: a Steam Season Pass review code for this game was provided by Telltale Games for the purposes of this review. No monetary exchange took place at any point. All opinions contained within this review are solely my own.]