Video Game Review: THE WALKING DEAD (2012)

For Clementine…

 

Developer: Telltale Games

Platforms: PC / MAC, PS3, XBOX 360

Rating: M

 

 

 

(Reviewer’s Note: This review is for the PC version of the game.)

THE WALKING DEAD is a cultural phenomenon that has been sweeping the world since it’s first comic debuted in 2003. The comic’s enduring popularity has led to it’s proliferation into other media, including a successful AMC television series and a spin-off prologue novel. Now, Telltale Games has delivered THE WALKING DEAD video game, a point-and-click adventure in episodic installments. Do they succeed in delivering an experience that will satisfy fans and gamers alike?

In THE WALKING DEAD, the player is Lee, a convicted felon in transit via police cruiser to prison for committing murder. It is by happenstance that his transfer occurs at the same time that the dead start coming back to life and eating people. After the cruiser crashes, Lee makes his way to a nearby home where he meets a young girl named Clementine. After banding together and encountering a group of other surviviors, Lee and Clementine discover that survival will depend upon learning how to fight, knowing who to trust, making the hard choices, and sacrificing when needed, even if this means losing what they cherish the most.

THE WALKING DEAD is a point-and-click adventure game, which means you spend much of your time exploring environments, talking to other characters, and utilizing objects to solve puzzles and progess the story. This may sound tedious to some gamers more accustomed to action in their games, but the settings and situations always have an air of tension and menace to them. Danger is always just below the surface, and can pop out at a moment’s notice, whether it’s a horde of zombies (known in the series as Walkers) or humans with malicious intent. Dealing with these dangers usually involves quick-time events and occasional shooter elements. These are implemented very well, leading to some nerve-wracking action and horror sequences that will keep the player on edge and with twitchy fingers.

Choice is another important element to the game. The choices you make directly shape the narrative as it plays out and determine what characters will inhabit it. Sometimes, it’s a simple conversation exchange that can impact another character’s opinion of you. Other times, you need to make tough choices, such as deciding which characters get to eat your limited food rations and which ones will need to go hungry. Then, there are times when you must choose between two characters: who you save, and who you leave to die. The concept of a “good choice” or a “bad choice” really doesn’t apply here. The morality of your options is always murky at best, and rarely will the consequences be readily known. Good luck getting through this game with a clear conscience and no human blood on your hands.

These gameplay elements would be mere curiosities if the story and characters didn’t work. Happily, the opposite is the case. THE WALKING DEAD boasts one of the best narratives you will encounter this year in any medium. Even with the evolving nature of the story, there’s still an excellent rhythm and pacing that never hiccups or stalls the events on-screen. The flow of the game feels natural, as if you are telling the story yourself instead of just rearranging the pieces that were written by an incredibly talented team of writers. The character work is equally strong. The cast you encounter is diverse, interesting, and engaging. Some you will love, others you will hate, but all of them are complicated and fascinating to behold.

Adding credence to the story and characters is the amazing artwork in the game itself. Instead of aiming for graphical realism, the art is closer to the look of the comic book source material. The game genuinely looks like a comic book come to life. Each setpiece you encounter is imbued with a life and personality that only good animation can offer. The same applies to the characters themselves. They are crafted with numerous details that give insight into their nature. The animation on their faces and in their eyes is particularly strong and helps to deliver some of the most emotionally engaging moments in any video game.

The performance of the game is the only area with negative criticisms. During the experience, there were some framerate stutterings, occasional out-of-synch audio and video, and an odd ghosting effect over some character models. There was also one instance of the game recognizing a different choice than the one that was made. Thankfully, it was a relatively minor choice. If it involved a life-or-death decision, the only option would have been to exit the game and restart from the last checkpoint, which is never a good option. These bugs and glitches were minor and infrequent, though. For the majority of the time, the game ran like a dream.

THE WALKING DEAD is an absolute triumph. Occasional bugs and glitches aside, it is an incredibly frightening, suspenseful, thought-provoking, and emotionally devastating experience that will leave your nerves shattered and your heart heavy. Telltale Games has created what could be the best game of the year, and is definitely one of the best horror experiences ever. If you love THE WALKING DEAD franchise or if you love video games, there is absolutely no excuse for missing out on this one.

THE WALKING DEAD is now available for PC and MAC, and via XBOX Live and the PSN. A physical retail version will be released in December of this year. The game comes with the highest of recommendations from this critic.

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