The Walking Dead for Xbox 360, PS3, PS Vita, iOS, Ouya, PC and Mac.
I’ve been a fan of Telltale games for a long time. They have a knack for adapting my favourite things into hilarious, tricky and fun episodic adventures games. After adapting Homestar Runner, Wallace & Gromit and Monkey Island, they were cemented as one of my all-time favourite game companies. I wasn’t as much of a fan of their Back to the Future series, but it was the awkward middle part of their transition from old fashioned adventure games to a new kind of interactive story. Although I hope that they one day return to their roots, this exciting new genre is incredibly exciting, and Telltale used it to great effect in the Walking Dead, creating one of the most genuinely moving and emotional game experiences that I’ve ever enjoyed.
The Walking Dead opens with history professor Lee Everett in a police car following his mysterious arrest. The appearance of zombies, here called ‘walkers’, drives the car off the road and Lee makes his escape. Soon he comes across a young girl named Clementine, whose parents are away, and it’s not long before Lee becomes her guardian through the zombie apocalypse. Lee meets up with a small group of other survivors and focuses his attention on protecting Clementine, his new surrogate daughter.
Telltale’s leap into the dramatic over the comic is handled incredibly well. I knew these guys could do irreverent and funny, but moving and tense? They nailed it. Lee is a highly likeable main character, although I suppose depending on the player he could also be an aggressive jerk. Lee is just how characters in games like this should be; plain enough that the player can project their will on them, but also with an independent personality of their own, something even Bioware never quite managed with Commander Sheperd. Although the supporting cast are interesting and likeable, what kept me coming back was the moving and heart-warming relationship between Lee and Clementine. Lee is a man who has lost everything, even before the rise of the walkers, and in Clementine he finds the motivation to be a better man.
The actual gameplay on the other hand? Truly terrible. There are a lot of quick time events and hurried decision making, and these work well, but whenever The Walking Dead tries to be a proper adventure game it fails miserably. The terrible character animations as we move Lee around break the immersion, and the puzzles are never more than a matter of go pick up A and bring to B. Although I liked it when Telltale made adventure games, I’d almost rather they go the whole hog and abandon that element, and focus entirely on the interactive story telling. It’s rare that I’m asking for more QTEs and less gameplay, but I honestly feel that that is what these games need.
The cartoony visual style, reminiscent of its comic book source material, works well and doesn’t detract from the sense of menace. The biggest visual irritation is the poor character animations, and hopefully Telltale with their new success can afford to invest in some motion capture for future projects. The voice acting is, unsurprisingly, superb. Much like with a great animated film, you forget that these figures are just polygons and start seeing them as people, and that’s really all down to the great voice performance. The poor facial animation means that the voice actors have to pull double duty to make their characters convincing, and all of them do.
The Walking Dead is a game which creates a new genre, and one which really nails the episodic gaming concept. After a shaky time with Back to the Future, I’m on board with this new, dramatic Telltale. Telltale is we knew it is dead. Long live Telltale.