The Walking Dead: The Game was one of my favourite games of last year. In fact, I’d be pushed to say it’s one of my favourite games of all time. Let’s get one thing straight however; I hate point-and-click adventure games. I didn’t enjoy Broken Sword, I didn’t enjoy Monkey Island, I didn’t even enjoy Grim Fandango, often hailed as the pinnacle of the genre.
I find the worlds static, the dependence on puzzle-based gameplay frustrating, and the characters and environments over-dramatised. Combine this with dry humour and quirky dialogue to encapsulate what I feel is essentially a niche genre, targeted at the eccentric and unconventional of the modern world.
Despite all this, I loved The Walking Dead: The Game. But then The Walking Dead: The Game was never really a point-and-click adventure. Despite its episodic format, the game stuck true to the mature narrative and storytelling of its comic counterpart, a product that I only explored post-game completion.
Whilst environments were static, the pace of the game was much faster, emphasised by the niggling fact that zombies were always a shamble or two away. Puzzles were implemented, but took a back seat to the narrative, and made sense within the context of the surroundings, opposed to the baffling combination of items required in other games of the genre. Dialogue was excellently written, and arguably features some of the best voice acting ever heard in a video game.
Taking place in the same world as the comic and TV series, the story focuses on Lee Everett, a university professor and convicted murderer. A far cry away from the heroic antics of other video game protagonists, Lee’s history and background is left ambiguous, and open to the player’s interpretation. Furthermore, this chequered history also summarises the core foundation that overshadows the entire game. Nothing is ever black and white.
Sentenced for murdering his wife’s lover, his plight is something we can all empathise with, if not justify. The thought of returning home to find our partner in bed with someone else is an image none of us would wish to see, therefore it’s not difficult to identify with Lee’s actions. By setting Lee up as a flawed character, Telltale immediately make him human, as opposed to the robotic American heroes that populate the gaming world.
More significantly, Lee is black. Video games have a habit of stereotyping and typecasting characters based on appearance, if only to help gamers visualise and identify individual characters, especially when there are so many to remember across a short campaign.
He walks with a swagger, curses on every other word, and can often be found participating in a power trip? “He’s the black dude.” She panders to your every need, thanks you at almost every turn, and has large assets (and we don’t mean in finance)? “She’s the hot female.”
So it goes on in gaming, but it takes games such as The Walking Dead to make us realise skin colour, your body shape or attractiveness don’t matter. They shouldn’t matter. Actions define a game, not appearance, and Telltale nails this spot on, creating a character that everyone can identify with, and not because he’s stereotyped, but because he’s human.
Thankfully, the characterisation of Lee isn’t just a one off, and for most, probably isn’t regarded as the highlight of the narrative. That spot will most likely be reserved for Clementine, a young girl who finds herself under Lee’s care after being left home alone. Whilst innocent and vulnerable at first, she quickly adapts to her surroundings, with Lee becoming mentor, friend, and eventually a father, as the uncertainty of her parent’s whereabouts extends.
Whilst Telltale claims the story and narrative is shaped by the choices the player makes, there’s always a fixed linearity to proceedings that the player can never deviate from. To summarise, after leaving A, you may be able to do B or C, but you will always end up at D. This foundation underpins most decisions throughout the game, but it’s not until you reply the game a second time, or take to Youtube to watch other playthroughs that you realise the overarching storyline is essentially a constant.
Nevertheless, the game still feels like your story, thanks to its wide selection of dialogue choices, which allows you to define the way Lee interacts with other members of the group. Therefore, it’s not so much the story that is tailored by the way you play, but the characterisation of Lee.
Whilst zombies are a part of The Walking Dead: The Game, they merely serve as a backdrop for the tense interactions between the real threats of the game, humans. When action does kick off however, affairs are resolved via a series of QTE’s. Some may argue this implementation is cheap, and over-used in modern gaming, restricting player input for favour of cinematic action. However, this helps keep the tension and anxiety a constant high, where battling with the controller and mashing buttons are the most successful methods of resembling a grapple with the walking dead.
Telltale isn’t afraid to take your dearest from you either, with a wide range of characters experiencing death over the course of the game. Rather than losing sidekicks or under-developed characters however, The Walking Dead: The Game often snatches those at the forefront of the narrative, leaving you with a cast of little personality and lacking background. As you start to attach yourself to these characters, the game pulls the same tactic once more, pulling on your heartstrings repeatedly until you become overwhelmed with emotion.
It’s no surprise then that The Walking Dead: The Game is critically acclaimed, and if you haven’t experienced Telltale’s bleak world of despair, you owe it to yourself to do so. As a result, my anticipation for the second season couldn’t be higher, despite details being scare, although production has been confirmed.
We expect that the second series will stick to its point-and-click adventure roots, with a genre turnabout unlikely, especially as The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct encroaches on first person shooter territory. What is unknown however, is the new role in which players will be cast. Without giving direct spoilers, we already know we won’t be returning as Lee, which leaves things wide open for interpretation. Whilst many feel the baton may be passed to Clementine, I personally feel that she featured better as a facilitator of the narrative, with her protection providing purpose to the story. By casting players in this role, her safety is essentially guaranteed, at least until the end of the season, therefore removing some of the tension that gripped the first series.
I’d personally like to return to the second series as Kenny, another flawed character whose fate was left unknown at the conclusion of the final episode. Despite his brash, aggressive attitude, his heart was always in the right place, with the protection of his family always at the forefront of each and every action. By reuniting Kenny and Clementine, and eventually Omid and Christa, Telltale can set up a good foundation for building a new group, and providing a fresh narrative for season two.
What I’d like to see more of however, is the smaller interactions that often got overlooked as the first season progressed. Whilst interacting with a photocopier or rummaging down an alleyway may seem monotonous and insignificant, the perspective offered on such actions post-apocalypse cause more room for thought than perhaps predicted.
An interaction with a photocopier can quickly be turned into a brief dialogue about the menial nature of office life, a recap on the world that once was, providing brief respite from the harsh nature of Telltale’s world. These little snippets could really help to provide deeper immersion to The Walking Dead, where subtlety reins king.
Finally, I’d like to see Telltale live up to the expectations set by their initial statement, whereby the player was told actions would define the story and be tailored to specific choices. Ultimately, this wasn’t true, as explained earlier, and by providing greater scope in progression, this will help increase replay value, as well as give those choices a greater impact.
It shouldn’t be long now until we hear word on an estimated release date for the second series of The Walking Dead: The Game, if only to capitalise on the huge success of the first series. Seriously, if you haven’t played this game, download it now. Whilst the concept may be focused around the walking dead, the characters presented are more human than any other game to date.
Just don’t become too attached. You’ll only have your heart broken.