The Walking Dead
I’ve written about the difficult player choices in Telltale Game’s episodic game, The Walking Dead, previously, but at that point I was just at the beginning of the story. I actually finished the final chapter a little while ago, as I’m a bit back-logged on posts (due to a mild sickness), so now I can bring you an actual review.
This game is very much everything you’ve heard about it. It’s an emotional ride, providing a number of moments that certainly broke my heart, and it’s a great game because of that. I’ve already written about the depth of the story and its choices, in the post linked above, and that idea only strengthened as I played through the rest of the season. My biggest gripe, however, is that these choices weren’t always clear. Most of the time I could decipher the emotional intention behind the 3 dialogue choices I was presented with in the midst of a conversation, but there were a number of occasions when I made a choice that looked good in text-form, yet came out hostile when executed. Basically, the game failed to let me know how my character would say the things I told him to say. A simple use of the word ‘fine’, as anyone who is accustomed to over-used humor about women is aware of, can be interpreted so many ways, and there were plenty of times when I made a choice to have my character say a certain thing, that then played out in a VERY different way than I was intending it to. It wasn’t about words being misconstrued by other characters in the game, but rather by my character actually being aggressive when I intended him to be calm, or taking a side when I wanted him to defuse the situation.
My second issue with the game spreads into the realm of technical game-play mechanics. I loved the visuals, and there were certainly some tense situations that made me jump or were great fun to play through, but sometimes the difficulty or uncertainty of what to do lead to my character’s death. You might think it unfair to criticize a video game for being hard and not letting me cakewalk my way through without dying, but that’s not my complaint. No, what I found disappointing were these times when, during a very emotional and dramatic moment, I was unsure of how to stay alive and the game would kill me. In a situation the game-makers have obviously crafted as intense, with powerful music driving home the emotional ideas, being killed off and having to restart really took me out of that moment. Perhaps it’s a corner they painted themselves into, with their ideas of mixing story-telling and gaming, because in a regular game, dying can be annoying, but it’s hardly a momentum-crashing thing. In The Walking Dead, there were a few points where I had to repeat a moment a few times, simply because the control was suddenly clunky or unexplained, and in this game that’s more akin to pausing a movie during a climatic moment and re-winding it because someone was coughing, and then again because someone came in and started talking. It really broke the emotional moment that had been otherwise constructed so very well.
I mention those two complaints here, at length, because other than that, I really have no other complaints about this game. The characters were all rich and engaging, with very honest arcs and motivations. Choices were, at times, painful to make, and the need to make hard decisions on the fly really added to the depth of this new, chaotic world. The relationship between the main character and the others, especially the little girl he’s in charge of, was something I really connected with. Speaking of that little girl, I don’t know if I’ve loved a game character that much in a long time – if ever. Certainly it’s the fatherly instincts in me, but watching this sweet little girl take such comfort in me and my character, and seeing her innocence consistently wiped away, really just made me want to scoop her up and protect the heck out of her. They tapped into that bond very, very well. With all of this connection and emotion, I was actually surprised when the ending wasn’t as gut-wrenching as I had expected it to be, but perhaps that’s because I’d already been put through the ringer in previous episodes. Perhaps, as the kids say, I just had no more feels to give :). It wasn’t a happy-go-lucky ending, and in this world, I’m certainly not alluding to any spoilers you wouldn’t already assume going in, I’m just saying that I didn’t bawl like a little girl… as I’m prone to do. I think the fact that the conclusion is pretty much set up by the ending of the second-to-last episode makes it a little easier to take. A little ;).
The Walking Dead is an absolutely wonderful game, wrapping up creative puzzles and dynamic emotional content into a story-driven package that really smacks ya around – just like the show does. I was late to this party, but after my great time with the game, you can be certain that I’ll be buying the season pass for the next batch of episodes as soon as it’s available.