Review: The Walking Dead / Developer: Telltale Games / Publisher: Telltale Games / Format: PS3, Xbox, PC / Out Now
Leave it to the Walking Dead franchise to bring an adult gamer to tears. Be it the soul-destroyingly depressing comic books or increasingly miserable television series, the adventures of Rick Grimes and friends have always been harrowing stuff. Yet for all the blunt trauma of the comics and the quieter gloom of the TV show, it's this colourful videogame which emerges the most emotionally affecting.
Telltale Games' The Walking Dead has been available to play via download for some time now, its five episodes gradually rationed out over several months. Now the whole bloody, tumultuous affair has been collected to disc, available for offline gamers and more casual fans to pick up and dip straight into. The Walking Dead introduces us to convicted murderer Lee Everett, being shipped to jail on that fateful day of the zombie outbreak. The cop car crashes, Everett escapes and takes refuge in a nearby house, where he encounters a little girl named Clementine. Her parents lost in a world which suddenly seems much bigger than before, she clings to Lee as her new babysitter. For that's what The Walking Dead videogame effectively is – a babysitting/parenting simulator. Oh god, the responsibility!
Where Telltale Games will put a lot of people off is in its being a glorified point-and-click adventure. From a storytelling perspective – in terms of things happening – it's incredibly linear. The most control the player has over Lee is choosing his dialogue and wandering around in search of key treasures. This is no free-roaming land of the dead, more a cross between Heavy Rain and the old PS1 game Atlantis: The Lost Tales. The lack of interactivity will lose the game a lot of fans. There are far too many lulls in the action (which is excellent, when it does arrive) in which you're required to drag Lee around (the man walks slower than a zombie) looking in boxes, trying to fix whichever van/train/fence/boat/weapon the group needs at the time. Your fellow survivors are no help either. It's little wonder you'll wind up resenting stupid lazy Kenny and his awful plan.
Where it will win even more fans, however, is the story. Ambitious, incredible and heartbreaking, it tells a stunningly touching story about the friendship between a man and the child he's sworn to protect. In keeping Clementine safe, you'll be asked to make a series of very difficult decisions. Do you steal food from a car you find in the woods? Which survivor will you save from certain death? Can you kill that bite victim before he changes and comes for you? And please, please can we get rid of Kenny and his horrible son, Duck? While the story is largely very fixed, character interaction isn't. How you speak and act towards other people will dictate their attitude towards you. So when you need a little support in the game's later stages, their helping will depend on how good you've been towards them. Even worse, Clementine's opinion of you will change over the course of the game. If you disappoint her, she will let you know. I've never felt so awful as that time I made Clementine cry because of my crappy babysitting.
Like the comic books, it's properly shocking at times. To spoil the game's twists would be a crime, but rest assured that the comics' abrupt character deaths, mutilation and revelations remain intact. As a story or interactive comic book, it's astounding. As an actual game, it's lacking.
If it's proper zombie killing action you've after, you'd be better off with such games as Resident Evil, Dead Rising or The Walking Dead: Survival. Admittedly, the latter is a terrible game, but at least it doesn't force you to deal with things like consequences or emotional attachment. Better that than the heartbreaking glut of emotion that is The Walking Dead. Aw no, Clem! Please don't cry! I'm sorry!
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