Telltale’s episodic The Walking Dead series has been a dark horse of sorts. In an era where point-and-click is almost dead, no one expected a mash of ‘90s point-and-click nostalgia and the current obsession with zombies. But contrary to logic, the game’s actually pretty damn good. Interestingly, back when Telltale announced a game based on the zombie apocalypse-based comic series, eyebrows were raised and concern was felt, especially after looking at the company’s attempt at a point-and-click Jurassic Park game. As soon as the company released the first episode though, fans of zombie games around the world breathed a sigh of relief.
QTEs? In my adventure game? Get out!
Right off the bat, this doesn’t feel like the average zombie game. You hardly kill any zombies at all. Most of the time spent is doing point-and-click adventure things such as solving logic and situation based puzzles and interacting with the characters. While many would say that the genre is more or less dead, with games from some indie studios and Telltale themselves being the only exceptions, The Walking Dead shows that the genre can still kick ass. This felt especially great thanks to zombies having been done to death (no pun intended) by games and movies. Taking the focus off combat let Telltale stick to its strengths—writing, and boy does that show! But we’ll get to that later.
Combat is almost always decided through QTEs
This isn’t to say that you don’t kill any zombies at all. After all, how could it be a zombie game when you don’t actually kill any zombies? Except for a few sequences, most of the “combat” is mano-a-mano and is comprised entirely of quick time events where you’re either mashing a button, or trying to crawl away while desperately looking for a weapon to use against the undead. A couple of times though, the game gives a rifle and lets you go at the zombies. Now, don’t get your hopes up (or down, depending on taste), the game doesn’t turn into a full-blown Left 4 Dead clone or anything. These are just a few sequences when you’re, for example, covering your fellow survivors as they make a run for it.
While this may help make the game feel more intense, the gameplay part itself is lacklustre, especially at the times when you have weapons. At other times, the game is a simple point-and-click adventure, with all the good and bad that comes along with it. While it has great story and writing, something the genre is famous for, it also suffers from many of the genre’s other faults. The biggest being pixel hunting.
Instead of making the entire object interactive, the game employs a node-based system where only certain points on the object can actually be interacted with. This is dealt with by making the nodes big—sometimes bigger than the object. This isn’t really a problem if you’re playing with the node visibility enabled. However, this can be a major pain in the ass for purists who prefer the nodes to be hidden, especially when you miss out on important stuff and have to keep backtracking to find the one crucially needed to progress.
Zombies are never good news
A mature story? In a game? Get out!
The Walking Dead seems to be following a recent trend of incorporating mature storylines. The narrative focusses more on the survivors’ need to survive and the interactions between them. Additionally, the game shows how a zombie apocalypse can bring out the absolute worst in some, while bringing out the best in others. The already dog-eat-dog world becomes more of a man-eats-dog-who's-eaten-another-dude world, as even survivors in your own group start hating each other’s guts. You'll be witness to many internal power-struggles, and will often end up having to defuse the situation.
The game’s biggest strength is its branching story. While this isn't a game-changing feature, the changes in the story, depending on what you do, give the game a whole lot of replayability. You’re also encouraged to be very careful with what information you divulge, and to whom. Speaking up, or in other cases, keeping quiet just might be a matter of life and death.
Having said that, the most remarkable aspect of The Walking Dead is the relationship between the protagonist Lee Everett and eight-year-old Clementine. You end up as her guardian of sorts after breaking into her house while looking for help. After repeated cutscenes illustrating Lee’s bumbling idiocy, you and Clementine decide that it would probably not be a wise idea to stay in a house bang in the middle of a zombie-infested neighbourhood. Eventually, the relationship transforms into a full-blown surrogate father/daughter dynamic, and you, as a player, actually start getting attached to Clementine and feel protective about her. All of this is helped immensely by stellar voice acting for all of the characters.
The relationship is the real star of the game
No Tessellation? No DX11? Get out!
Not much can be said about the graphics of the game, except that it won’t exactly be used to showcase next-gen, or even current-gen, hardware. Instead of going for mind-bending GPU melting visuals, Telltale made the smarter choice of going with a stylised cel-shaded look. This probably helped the company stay on schedule for each episode while also making the game look like it was ripped straight out of a comic book.
Despite the lacklustre gameplay, The Walking Dead manages to be one of the best games of the year purely on good script writing. The replay value thanks to the branching storyline is a pleasant bonus. It pushes gaming as a creative medium much further than most AAA games have managed to in the past. The Walking Dead is easily one of the best games to come out this year, and can be counted among the likes of Planescape: Torment and Spec Ops: The Line when it comes to the quality of writing, both in plot and in dialogue.
Here are our reviews for The Walking Dead Episode 1 and Episode 2.