Zombies really are the in thing at the moment, so it’s hardly surprising that this is already the second review of a game featuring the living undead on this website. I picked up all five parts of Telltale Games’ latest episodic adventure, based on the comic book turned TV show turned video game, ‘The Walking Dead’. Read on to find out if it’s a survivor, or just another brain-dead zombie.
Traditional ‘Adventure’ games represent a genre I don’t have a huge amount of experience with, so consider this a review from an outsider’s perspective. The only other game I have for reference is the first chapter of another of TellTale’s licensed IP’s: Back To The Future. This time around though, the game focuses less on solving puzzles, and more on character and plot development. The bulk of the gameplay involves negotiating your way through conversations with other survivors, friends and foes. There are still some basic puzzles, and simple action sequences, but none of them will tax a player too much. I think I died fewer than half a dozen times on my play through, and didn’t get stuck on a single puzzle for more than a couple of minutes.
The player takes control of Lee, a convict who is given a second go of things when the ‘Zombie Apocalypse’ starts. His chance at redemption comes in the form of Clementine – a young girl who’s lost her parents. While the dynamics between all the other characters are interesting, Lee and Clem’s conversations in the game’s quieter moments are where the game really shines. Clem’s brave-faced innocence is almost heart-breaking, and I found myself desperately seeking the dialogue choices that would let her down in the most gentle way, but without lying to her.
Relationships with other characters grow and develop over time too. In the first chapter, I stuck up for a character who eventually became more and more difficult to handle, to the point where it came to fisticuffs later in the game. Other times I would throw my lot in with a friend who would get their face munched off by a zombie five minutes later, leaving the other survivors pissed at me, with nothing to show for it.
The Walking Dead’s focus on choice is a powerful tool for really pulling you into the game’s world. Making a split second judgement on who to save and who to leave is always hair raising. Other characters take note of your actions and will comment on it later, sometimes demanding justification, or occasionally helping you to defend your actions. This really helps the game feel less linear than I suspect it is. One or two times I noticed that in the grand scheme of things, some of your choices that feel weighty at the time are completely negated later in the game. Of course, this has to happen in order to maintain a coherent narrative regardless of your choices, but Telltale do a great job at making it feel like you’re the one driving the story forwards.
Well Drawn Characters
I’m a sucker for a great aesthetics in a game. Gritty, realistic greys and browns in last years Triple-A FPS don’t do much for me any more. But painstakingly hand drawn textures in a game like Bastion? Superb! When you look back at the big games from the last twenty years, it’s always the cartoony or cell-shaded games that still look decent today. Take a look especially at the SNES era of games – it might just be me, but I think most of them still look great.
The Walking Dead’s visuals ticked all the right boxes for me right from the start. It looks and feels like you’re playing a graphic novel. Characters and objects are outlined by broad, rough pen-strokes, and backgrounds are painted in gorgeous water colours. Facial expressions are slightly exaggerated, but still life-like, and animations are smooth and believable. The games second chapter, which takes place on a ranch was a stand out part for me. During the day, everything is bright, cheerful and serene, but as night falls things start to feel much more hostile.
My only minor gripe with the graphics was that every now and again I’d spot some seriously low-res textures. It’s not as much of a problem as it would be in a photo-realistic graphical style, but I still noticed it and once you start spotting these sorts of things, it’s like nails on a chalk board. I guess its inevitable, given that this is a cross-platform title, and here towards the end of the current generation, consoles just can’t cope with the high-def and RAM hogging textures we sometimes get used to on the PC. I’m hoping that given the copious amounts of memory the next console cycle are getting, low resolution textures in PC games will become a thing of the past!
So what is it about the living undead that grabs our attention? They’re just such an easy enemy to utilise. They have next to no motive, they aren’t clever, they don’t talk, but they are menacing. The concept of someone you know becoming something monstrous and inhuman is an easy one to make terrifying, and in a world that has fallen to a zombie epidemic it is so easy to create the feeling that danger is around every corner. Is it this ease and familiarity with the idea of zombies the reason why we’re seeing them in entertainment SO much recently? Like I mentioned earlier, this is already the second zombie game review on this website, and I doubt it’ll be the last. However, like The Last Of Us, The Walking Dead is another zombie game that isn’t really about zombies. It’s about the characters, and about their choices, and it’s about surviving. So, while I may get tired of constantly seeing zombies in my games and on my television, I’m actually still looking forward to Season Two of Telltale’s The Walking Dead, because while zombies are a played out and brain-dead concept, this game was truly alive inside.