When I first heard that Telltale Games was going to make a video game based on The Walking Dead franchise, I honestly didn’t know how to feel about it. I’m a real fan of the source material, and while I did enjoy some aspects of AMC’s TV show, I felt that the show differed too much from the dark, character-driven comic book, and made the plot too Hollywood-esque.
The Walking Dead
Developed and published by Telltale Games
Available on the PC, PS3 and Xbox 360. Reviewed on the Xbox 360.
I thought that Telltale’s take on the franchise would have been handled the same way, banking on cheap chills and thrills instead of the insane crazy character drama and extreme violence seen in the comic panels.
Good thing I was wrong, because Telltale’s The Walking Dead: Season 1 is one of the best games of this year, hands down.
For the uninitiated, The Walking Dead tells the tale of convict Lee Everett, a former professor at Georgia University who just so happened to kill the lover of his wife. Upon being transferred to another prison, the police car that held him is driven of the road by a shambling zombie on the highway. Freed into a world that has changed in the blink of an eye, Lee must survive not only against the hungry undead, but against other people.
The story, spread across five chapters that were originally released monthly, is absolutely perfect, full of drama, frightening situations and terrible losses. It’s a tale that can have our group of survivors be safe and sound at one moment, and then in a flash they are violently thrown into a world of hurt. The story perfectly captures Robert Kirkman’s insane and fragile world, a place where the line between humanity and the ravenous dead is blurred beyond recognition. The world is frighteningly realistic as well, as characters are relatable and full of emotions that are genuinely human.
The beautiful visuals and excellent audio in The Walking Dead perfectly compliment the story. The comic-book inspired visuals, while somewhat exaggerated and cartoony, allow for some beautiful expressions, from horror and pain to delight. In my opinion, these are some of the best expressions in games to date. Character animations are also expertly done, and breathe life into the characters as they physically deal with the horrors they face. All in all the visuals are fantastic.
When it comes to the sound, the voice-acting is superb. Each character, be it major or minor, is expertly handled, and the voices perfectly capture the essence of the character. The sound effects are also well captured, like zombie growls and moans, gunshots, screams of pain, and more. And the music is moody and atmospheric, and never really distracts from the on-screen events.
Gameplay-wise, the game is a point-and-click adventure, with some third-person elements mixed in. Players take control of Lee in a third-person environment, and use a cursor to examine elements in the environment, take action or speak. Finding an item on-screen is never really complicated, and the game comes with a UI aimed at novices, so clickable items are highlighted beforehand, making things much easier.
The story is moved forward by speaking to others or completing simple fetch quests. Progress is never hampered by complicated tasks, and everything moves at a natural, logical pace, so players always know what to do, no matter where they are.
What’s really great about The Walking Dead is that everything is really determined by player choice. From conversations, to decisions, players are always given multiple options to shape their experience. Lee can be very aggressive individual, or a nice guy, or both. Depending on his attitude, the others will react appropriately and change up the story. Players can also choose how the story develops. Players will constantly be faced with situations that can develop in many ways, and players must rapidly choose an option that will take the game in a whole new direction. At the end of the game, you’ll have yourself a wholly unique experience that’ll differ from other player’s experiences, which is absolutely amazing.
The Walking Dead also features a bunch of moments that are more action-oriented, changing up the point-and-click formula for more dynamic gameplay mechanics. There’s the occasional button mashing segment where a player must fight off zombies and deal the killing blow, and segments where the game turns into a FPS, allowing players to shoot zombies before they get too close or harm an innocent bystander. These segments, while well done and perfectly capture tense moments, are thankfully few and far between, and don’t detract from the riveting character drama and plot progression. They are pretty fun, though, and offer up a nice break from all the exploring and clicking.
The Walking Dead is really one of the best games of the year. While point-and-click games are not new, and Telltale Games has been making games like these for a while, this excursion into Robert Kirkman’s world of the undead is absolutely fantastic, dark, and very emotional. If you’re looking for a deep, intricate story that’ll make you feel all sorts of emotions, and a unique gameplay experience, than look no further. This game’s for you.