Note: While the game was released between April to November of 2012 in 5 instalments on the PC, Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network, the final retail version on disc is only now coming out. This review reflects this fact and is a review of said version.
The story is by far more compelling than any other Walking Dead media form (with the exception of the original comic series). You play as former university professor and convicted murderer Lee Everett, as he seeks redemption from his past crimes in the form of Clementine, a young girl he protects in the ongoing zombie apocalypse, mainly set in Georgia. Some familiar faces make cameo appearances if you’re familiar with the comics and the TV show, but they don’t lend much to the overall story.
A huge host of characters lend supporting roles to the game, and every single one of the members you pick up and instill into your group is incredibly important and each uniquely and hugely significant to the game as a whole. The game forces you to choose a side when two characters have an argument, and there is no right and wrong, they are so well written and well portrayed that you can project yourself onto Lee as your character and make decisions based on what you decide is right, not what you think would be beneficial as a gameplay perspective (I’m looking at you, Mass Effect). Overall the story does many things right, and while it stumbles upon the last episode attempt to wrap things up into one cohesive ending, it is near perfect and will make you feel emotions that you may have never felt from any game, or any other form of Walking Dead media. It’s ok to admit that you will cry during the ending.
The graphic style is a comic book style, cel-shaded graphics that look serviceable but doesn’t lend much to in depth interactivity and uniqueness. The style reflects well upon it’s comic book counterpart and it looks fine, but it’s nothing outstanding and it doesn’t enhance (nor harm) the game as a whole.
As for sound, everything is absolutely stunning. The voice acting is brilliant and acclaim must be given for the two leads, Dave Fenroy as Lee and Melissa Hutchinson as the 8 year old Clementine. The game would have faltered without their brilliant voice work and it’s amazing to see how well the two interact with each other, how natural and flowing their narratives are. The voice acting overall is just top notch and it’s easy to see (or hear) how much effort Telltale Games put into hiring and directing the voice actors. There were a few graphical hiccups here and there and loading scenes could knock me out of the immersion but overall the presentation is fantastic.
Telltalle’s The Walking Dead is a point and click adventure game (where you don’t directly control Lee via the traditional arrow/WASD keys, but clicking on a location to make him move there or interact with an object), but unlike most point and click adventures it emphasizes dialogue and choices over actual puzzle solving. The game is roughly 80% driven by dialogue, with a few puzzles and a few QTE style/killing zombie sequences thrown in to keep the pace steady. Despite these attempts to liven up the gameplay, this is all about dialogue and choice. And it is the most compelling attempt to make a dialogue driven game so far.
In specific moments during an ‘episode’, you are given a set choice. These could range from saving one person over the other, or sparing the life of a stranger who tried to kill you, to choosing which member of your group needs to go. Each decision is under a strict time limit and are very, VERY hard to choose, so the game does a fantastic job into injecting the sense of panic and split second decision making one must make whilst in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. Telltale do a fantastic job of making both options equally as important, whilst the first episode had a pretty simple choice to make, by the third episode you would be struggling to choose due to the nature of these decisions. It’s absolutely sublime storytelling.
Many of these dialogue moments have trees, much like in Mass Effect or the Fallout series, where you are given a set of answers (which sometimes have a timer attached to them) to choose from depending on your ‘mood’, or to remain silent altogether. Each answer defines who Lee will become by the end of the game. Again, while the end of the game falters in managing to tie up all these loose ends and turning points, many dialogue options will change and you will have different experiences having chosen one person or option over the other. Telltale has wisely added a ‘rewind’ feature that allows you to make different choices in replay games if you so choose, along with adding servers that tracks which users picked what. It’s fascinating to see that something you chose to do was only done by 10% of the players, whilst you might have gone with the general public on another choice.
The Walking Dead is not an action game, it is barely a zombie game. It is a dialogue driven dramatic piece of story telling that uses the zombie apocalypse as a backdrop to study the effects of human behaviour when they are brought down to their lowest common denominators, and it is absolutely brilliant. There is nothing like this and you simply must play this, whether it be on PC or XBLA or PSN or now their retail hard discs on sale. The story, the dialogue, the voice acting all comes together to form one of the most emotionally driven games I have ever played. I cannot heap enough praise on this, and all I can say now is that I personally cannot wait to see the next installment of Telltale’s The Walking Dead.