The Walking Dead ReviewChristopher Erb
Point-and-click adventures were a staple of the early PC gaming days, but faded from the scene as consoles grew in graphical capability, and PCs themselves proved more and more up to snuff for bigger and more intensive play experiences. In recent years, however, the genre has been slipping back to the forefront, in great part due to Telltale Games. Following an overhaul of the classic Monkey Island series of games, and decent outings with the Back To The Future and Jurassic Park movie licenses, Telltale got their hands on the already multi-pronged media juggernaut The Walking Dead. One of the last things anyone expected was that a point-and-click game would be one of the most involving, deep, and well-told gaming experiences of 2012, much less one based on an existing property. The Walking Dead, however, pulls this off magnificently.
Loosely tied to the television show (via the character Glenn), but more based upon and featuring some tweaks of characters from the comics series, The Walking Dead is split into five episodes comprising the first "season," which focus on the character of Lee Everett and his unintentional ward, Clementine. After surviving the crash of the police cruiser hauling him to prison for a crime of passion, Lee finds himself hip-deep in a world full of "Walkers," corpses that have returned to life. After limping his way to the nearest town and liberating Clementine from her tree house hideout, the unlikely duo begin working their way across the Georgia countryside, trying to figure out just what's going on, and what might have happened to Clementine's vacationing parents. Along the way, they fall in with all manner of other survivors, some in passing and others that end up joining Lee and Clementine for the better part of their journey.
While rooted in point-and-click mechanics, the gameplay of The Walking Dead is less about solving puzzles or finding items that interact with one another for progression's sake, and more about Lee's interaction with the other people he's surviving alongside. The game tracks your responses and conversations with pretty much everyone, with your results having impacts on other interactions further down the line, and letting you know whose good sides you're on and who you've pissed off. For those seeking even more immersion, players have the option to turn off the prompts regarding character reactions, leaving your course through the game more reliant on gut feelings and reading expressions rather than having the game hold your hand. This decision tracking also comes into play at the end of each episode, and the game as a whole, with bars reflecting which sides of major decisions certain percentages of players took. It's an interesting look into the psychology of your fellow players, and what people may or may not have considered the "right" thing to do.
As for the characters with whom Lee interacts, every single one of them is written, performed, and animated in such a way that they're all memorable, and they all have foibles and quirks that make them just as potentially likeable or dislikeable as real, everyday people. While there's a bit of archetypal nodding, given the backgrounds of certain characters and the game's setting, each and every character is unique and distinct, even in the case of many minor figures. This focus on character makes the game a great deal more about what life would be like in the face of an undead outbreak, rather than pushing a player to do menial tasks or shoot their way to survival. Of course, being its own brand of apocalypse, there's a good chance not everyone you encounter will survive, a fact The Walking Dead will remind you of from time to time, often in surprising ways.
Aside from the interactive core, there are some action sequences and quick time events scattered throughout The Walking Dead, but in such a way that there's a great balance between taking your fellow survivors and their feelings into consideration, and fighting for your (and their) lives. The story's progress weaves seamlessly between high points and tragic lows, with the laughs and lighter moments making for that much starker a contrast when things go sour. Some of the action sequences feel a bit too tightly timed for the occasional control sluggishness, especially on the console versions of the game, but the game tends to be fairly forgiving about failure, respawning you just before your slip-up.
Presentation-wise, The Walking Dead is simply beautiful. The visual style takes a cel-shaded leaning, but with a distinct visual motif that makes it feel lifted straight from a graphic novel. Said style still differs from the original source material enough to remain its own creature, which helps distinguish it from the other media bearing The Walking Dead in their titles. The musical score is fairly minimal, staying ambient or opting for everyday background noise most of the time, but picking up when important moments demand a little punctuation. Character animation is fluid and blends in well with the various settings, and primary and secondary figures alike feel natural to be around.
All in all, The Walking Dead is a tight, amazing little package, and one of the few games on the market today that will tug at players' heartstrings and manages to make their decisions feel like they matter. Each episode is perfectly laid out to wrap up plot threads introduced at its beginning, while leaving just enough dangling to make you want more, and the game on the whole is of just the right length to marathon if you can't bring yourself to wait. The Walking Dead is available in digital form on Steam, the App Store, Xbox Live Arcade, and PlayStation Network, with physical versions compiling all five episodes available for Xbox 360 and PS3 as well. If you haven't already, and you care at all about story-driven games, you need to play this in whatever format you can.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.