I’m a big fan of The Walking Dead. It’s got violence, drama, attractive women; what’s not to like? What I like even more, however, is Telltale Game’s series The Walking Dead – The Game, which is based in the same universe as the graphic novel / show. While the show certainly has its moments, nothing compares to the intense, adrenaline-fueled moments where you have to make an impossible decision yourself. It’s easy to yell at the television screen and shake your fists into the air when a character makes a “stupid” choice, but what happens when that decision is dropped onto your lap, and you only have ten seconds to make it?
That’s precisely what The Walking Dead – The Game does. With every gut-wrenching episode it rips out your heart and munches on it like a lovesick zombie. What gives these moments their incredible impact, however, is the fantastic writing. It’s one thing to have characters that I get attached to, but when the game picks two of them and tells me to choose which one lives? That’s an incredibly hard decision to make. Especially when the one out of luck gets eaten alive in a bloody mess. This inevitable, violent end that seems to be awaiting all of the characters also brings an anxiety with it. Much like in the show, things can get out of hand quickly and unexpectedly; making scary moments just as terrifying as the shambling corpses themselves. What makes things worse is that there are so many redeeming characters to get to know. The cast truly shines as different personalities clash in ways that you would expect, and ways you wouldn’t. Even when someone I hated ended up dead, I found my jaw had dropped in shock of the sight.
The Walking Dead is incredibly simple when it comes to gameplay. It acts like more of a puzzle game in its execution than anything. Though there are plenty of action sequences, they’re simple point and click events that require minimal skill or effort. Don’t think for a second that they’re not intense though. In most situations, Lee (the person you control) is in a perilous, adrenaline-pumping situation that makes the controls shake; making you feel the anxiety of trying to save yourself in an incredibly intense situation. Any other time you’re in control you’re either making choices in a conversation, or walking around exploring, which is okay, because this is a narrative driven game, and that’s a good thing as that’s its strongest trait. What I really love is how Telltale weaved all the mechanics of the game and created a web comprised of your heartstrings. Regardless of what’s going on, expect yourself to be emotionally invested. The immersion this game achieves is truly remarkable; I played through the entire first season and the add-on 400 Days in just two days; on the edge of my seat the entire time. It just wouldn’t let me go.
The greatest thing that The Walking Dead – The Game achieves, however, is the establishment of the power of choice. To me, more is achieved here than Mass Effect ever did in its epic trilogy. I felt it rather obvious when a choice in Mass Effect would effect a later game, but in The Walking Dead I felt like every step and word was going to come back and hit me at any second. It’s certainly unnerving; especially when you realize that no one is safe, and sometimes there’s nothing you can do to save that one group member you like. It’s a huge change from other games that shelter your characters in a little bubble away from harm. It makes you feel vulnerable; like an exposed nerve waiting to be struck—especially when it’s a distinct possibility that you’re going to be the one responsible.
I’m not exactly sure what the purpose of this article is. Perhaps I simply wanted to rave about a great game, or maybe I’m running out of things to write about. What I can say for certain, is that The Walking Dead – The Game achieved something that I think is amazing: it outdid its source material. In an industry that tends to butcher franchise-based games, this is truly a great thing. I truly consider The Walking Dead – The Game as the same caliber as the Batman Arkham games in this regard. It’s fantastic to see the potential in a game realized by people who know what they’re working with, and how best to utilize it. I can’t wait to play Season 2 when it comes out on disk, as it will be too difficult to wait for each episode to come out. Well done Telltale, well done.