I don’t post reviews of computer games that often on my blog, in fact I think this is the inaugural one. This is mainly because I pretty much suck at most games so I don’t play too many of them. Last week for Halloween Steam had a sale on a lot of horror games, and the two seasons of The Walking Dead were heavily discounted. I’d heard good things so I took the plunge. I’m quite a big fan of The Walking Dead, being first introduced to the show (which has been up and down in quality but I’m enjoying the latest season) and I’ve also read the first two compendiums of the comics. This game ranks alongside the best either of the two other mediums have to offer.
It’s set in the world of the comics and tv show without being an adaptation, so the story is wholly original. You play as Lee Everett, and the game begins with you being transported to a prison when the zombie outbreak occurs. Soon after this you run into Clementine, a young girl who is searching for her parents. You take her under your wing and for five episodes you try and protect her while making decisions that shape the game experience.
In some ways it’s generous to call The Walking Dead a game. It’s more like an interactive movie, which suits me fine as I’m terrible at games. It’s a point and click game with a load of cinematic sequences, so for a large part you’ll be watching the story unfold. In a lot of games this would be a weakness but the story is so engrossing and the characters so well-drawn that it’s a compelling tale and one that completely drew me in. When you do take control of the character you’ll be talking to people and choosing what to say, and people will react different depending upon which options you choose. You’ll be figuring out solutions to problems by exploring the world around you, choosing who lives and who dies, and killing zombies. The game very much holds your hand so for people who want a challenge and like to be in complete control this will probably be a turn-off, and I have to admit that there were sometimes when Lee made a decision in a cut scene and I was thinking I would have chosen to do something different.
But overall the choices are what makes this game great. However, they aren’t going to change the main narrative of the game too much. Certain events are locked in so it’s not going to be a completely different story, rather the choices will affect your experience of the game and how you feel about things. You’re the one that shapes Lee’s morality and the example he sets to Clementine, so will you try and reason with people or will you attempt to convince them by force? Will you steal food or will you take a moral high ground? After you make a choice you’ll often get a little alert as to how people react, so if you choose an option that scares Clementine you’ll feel so awful. The Walking Dead masterfully manipulates you into these feelings, and it works! This is a game that will make you feel, there are moments of genuine tension throughout, only made more so by the fact that you only have a limited amount of time to make each decision.
This is where the difficulty in the game lies, because some choices are so hard. I studied Philosophy, so I’m used to thinking about ethics and morality, and delving into thought experiments where you try and figure what would be the ‘right’ course of action given two unpleasant options. This game brings that and gives you a countdown so you can’t think about it too much, and most of the time you’ll be going by your instinct. But you’ll also want to think about how it will affect your relationship with Clementine and the rest of the group. A lot of the characters are truly maddening as well, and I found myself cursing at them more than once.
I mentioned that the game holds your hand. It constantly autosaves so if (when) you die you can simply click and it will continue from moments before your death so you can try again. Some of the puzzles require a bit of working out but the main problem I had was with the sensitivity of the touchpad. I’m playing on a laptop, and when you have to shoot zombies a big cursor comes onto the screen. Occasionally there seemed to be a lag when I tried to move it and this caused me to die, but since you come back straight away it’s not too much of a problem, it’s more of an annoyance than anything.
The Walking Dead is an excellent story that lets you have a part in how it unfolds. You’re not going to make any grand changes to the plot but the choices you make are going to shape how characters react to you and, ultimately, how you feel about the game. I loved it and I can’t recommend it enough. Bring on season 2!