Monday, March 11, 2013

The Walking Dead (PS3)

So I had the good fortune to play through The Walking Dead by Telltale Games, which I'm guessing is the first video game based on the acclaimed comic and now television series The Walking Dead. This game is based on the comics, and is not to be confused with the newer game, subtitled Survival Instinct, which features the fan favorite and original characters the Dixon brothers (Daryl and Merle) from the TV series.

The first thing you'll notice if you play this game is that it's not your typical zombie survival horror gaming experience. Unlike Resident Evil, where you go around killing zombies and exploring, picking up health and ammo and the like, this game plays more like an interactive drama (it's even split up into five "episodes"), where you get to make decisions about what to do and what to say, which allegedly changes the course of the story.

This is actually the game's biggest strength. Because in emphasizing the drama, emotional horror, and character dynamics, this game effectively gets at the heart of The Walking Dead series and what sets it apart from the myriad zombie stories that permeate the media. It sets out to ask the question, what would you choose to do when faced with difficult decisions in the zombie apocalypse? What's your plan? Who do you side with in your group? Do you trust strangers? Can you do what it takes to survive?

It's a really fun, really intense, and heartfelt gaming experience, where you have to guide your character, Lee Everett, a convicted murderer (it was a crime of passion) on his way to prison when the zombie apocalypse breaks out, while protecting the little girl Clementine who got separated from her parents, against all odds. As in The Walking Dead comic and television series, you meet new people during your journey for survival, some of them die, and then you meet some more - not all of them worthy of being trusted. And there are characters you'll come to hate, and other characters you'll come to love (all the more sad when it's their time to die).

If I have one main complaint against this game, it's that it doesn't have nearly the replay value you would expect, given its boast that the story adapts to the choices you make. The truth is, there's really only one storyline, and while your choices do affect dialogue and character interactions, and whether or not you survive to make the next decision, the broad strokes of the storyline are all set in stone. It seems the biggest decisions you can make are which characters' lives to save and when, and even then, it's always the secondary characters who have a minimal effect on the thrust of the story.

I realize that creating a game that changes based on the player's decisions is a massive work effort. I honestly do. It's almost like creating multiple games at the same time. And I suppose I'm spoiled by Japanese visual novels - of which Fate/Stay Night is an excellent example - where your decisions can lead to totally different story threads. At the very least, I would have expected The Walking Dead to have more than one ending, depending on your playing personality, but alas, there is not. I just think that maybe the way the creators advertised the effect your decisions have on the story could maybe have been clarified a little, because as it stands, it writes a check it can't deliver.

But this doesn't ruin what the game has going for it, which is a lot. If you treat the decisions not as "how will the story unfold", but "what choices will I make in the zombie apocalypse", it still serves to be a very exciting gaming experience. Will you be honest or lie to your group members? Will you help a stranger in need or leave him to his fate? Where do your loyalties lie? Will you be a friendly person or a dick? Do you follow your moral compass, or are all bets off in this new and terrible world? And I guarantee that many of these decisions will not be easy to make, or to follow through with. Plus, at the end of each episode, you get to measure your choices to select pivotal decisions against everyone else who has played the game, via stats that are compiled online.

In conclusion, The Walking Dead by Telltale Games is a worthy addition to the Walking Dead series, adding a parallel and standalone storyline to the main plot (featuring mostly original characters, but with a couple notable cameos), that successfully captures the mood and gravitas of the series. If you are a fan of The Walking Dead, and appreciate what it does differently from the endless stream of zombie stories coming out these days, or you are in the mood for an intense and horrific drama (there are no happy endings in the zombie apocalypse), then it would be well worth your time to give this game a play through.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds really cool. Though it's a shame about the lack of different storylines, especially when lots of games have alternate endings. I guess it was wise of them not to simply copy Resident Evil, even though I'd love for a really terrifying Walking Dead game. If I had a PS3 I would play this for sure.