UWG Top 10: #9- The Walking Dead

Image above from flickr user: Tim Peacock

There are zombies but wait, it’s much more interesting that all that. Image from http://www.destructoid.com

It’s a privilege and a burden to be given the task of evangelizing the Walking dead to the you, the good readers of United We Game. Unlike the other games on this list, the Walking Dead is not a trailblazer of ground breaking game play. The other, rightly vaunted, games on this list tend to stick in the memory for bringing new mechanics, control schemes and interactions with the game worlds to the fore.

The Walking Dead, however, uses a fairly basic graphic adventure game. The usual complex puzzles are stripped back to their very basics and take very little thought to complete. Graphics are low rent and the control scheme adequate at best.

This all pales into insignificance however when the true merits are considered. This is the game that finally treats the slowly ageing gaming population as the adults they’ve become. Gaming finally growing up but don’t worry there are still zombies in it.

Like all the best fiction, the zombies, become only a secondary adversary. This game isn’t about zombies, it’s about people, just like Jaws isn’t about the shark. Both these movie monsters serve only to drive the characters into situations where they can do nothing but show their true colours.

So for those don’t know, in this game you play Lee, a convicted murderer (whether or not he did or didn’t do it is left ambiguous for a good portion of the game) on his way to jail until an unexplained zombie outbreak kind of gets in the way. He happens upon a young girl called Clementine (Clem for short) and the pair quickly form a bond as he becomes her protector and she gives him a reason to survive. As mentioned above, there is a basic adventure game template but puzzles are straight forward. They are meant to keep you moving along, interested in the plot and serve as convenient time to wander your environment and talk to your ever evolving group of compatriots.

Nearly everything in this game is in place to serve as character development. How your comrades react to changing situations, the locations they’re in, the conversations they have, the looks on their faces and their reactions to your choices. Choices, indeed, this game gives you choices. Remember that claim I made earlier about this being an adult game? The moral choices you make are what defines how you play Lee but they are not the usual cartoonish moral choices that first appeared in Fable and Black and White. These are real characters and your choices mean consequences for them, suddenly the weight of the choices is real because each character has been subtly developed throughout the game.

The whole “Good” and “Evil” path was developed many years ago and has not really developed in games. It was seen as enough to let you be a devil or an angel. A few games began to iterate such as Mass Effect and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Introducing grey areas to your choices or making you really think about the outcomes of your decision. Too many games basically rely on there being two separate play throughs, right up to the modern day, a good one and a bad one. You do the good one because you’re a nice person and then do the evil one to see the difference.

The Walking Dead gives you choices but there is no right choice, no wrong choice. There’s just a choice, your choice. Sometimes it’s completely instinctual. Each choice has a timer, you can’t sit and ponder. Let me give you an example, in the first episode (the game is split into five episodes) you have to decide which of two characters to save. You’ve spent perhaps twenty minutes in total with these people, you have but a few minutes of conversation with each of them to base your decision on. There is no right choice. You’ll question your decision for the rest of the game. Therefore justifying the need for the dilemma to be there in the first place.  There’s no point to having a choice if you decided at the start which of two options you are going to select each time.

This interaction between character and player agency is the true genius of the game. In reality, there is no branching path, your choices don’t effect the final outcome of the story but that doesn’t matter because this is your story. You are reacting to these characters because of how you feel about them.

This is why I champion this game, it may not be the genre defining entry that some other titles on this list are but it pushes forward the template for the whole medium. Now, characters can be more than electric ninjas and busty maidens and they can mean something real to us because they are flawed but striving for the best world they can. Players can make a choice that felt truly important. Conversations between characters can be for more than just plot development.

All this and I haven’t even mentioned the fantastic voice acting and brilliant plot. They are all part of the package. Due to the episodic nature of the game, certain sections are stronger than others but each is an important development to the harrowing conclusion. Oh, and that conclusion. The less said for the uninitiated the better. Just experience it. If you haven’t played it then grab a copy and spend an evening with some complex, annoying, strong, terrified and brilliant people.

http://benrosslake.wordpress.com/

10 Comments Add yours

  1. cary says:

    This game is on my wishlist and I really hope to get to it someday. (It’s a funny thing trying to avoid spoilers for a game as prevalent as this one has been in the news!) I’ve heard that the decisions you make within the game kind of stick with you. As great as it is to play a game where all you need to do is run, jump, and shoot, playing a slower game that requires mental effort serves as wonderful reminder of how much less “game-y” games have become in recent years. The Walking Dead is an important stepping stone in the evolution of video games.

    Like

    1. duckofindeed says:

      I have actually never heard of this game before (only the TV show and the comic), but now that I’ve read the review, I’m interested in looking into it now, too. Having a game with meaningful choices is very appealing, and it’s something that’s so hard to find. Maybe I’ll have to see if I can find this game next time I’m at the store.

      Like

      1. benrosslake says:

        Do it! Do it!

        It’s not a hard game and you wont get too stuck at any point but it will stay with you after like few other games.

        I’d also say it’s excellent to play through with a friend or partner and you can both contribute to the conversation choice options. You should be able to pick it up pretty cheap either online or instore these days. .

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  2. Hatm0nster says:

    I loved the choices in this. That little pop-up “[character] will remember this” always got me wondering “I wonder if that was really the best thing to do?”

    Excellent description! It’s definitely a game that any enthusiastic gamer needs to experience!

    Like

    1. duckofindeed says:

      This game sounds really interesting now that I’ve read the review. Maybe I’ll have to look into it. The whole idea of more meaningful choices is quite intriguing….

      Like

    2. benrosslake says:

      The amount of times that popped up and I grimaced thinking that I may have lost a characters loyalty forever…. still haunts me.

      Like

    3. benrosslake says:

      The amount of times that popped up and I grimaced thinking that I may have lost a characters loyalty forever…. still haunts me.

      Like

  3. gimmgp says:

    Nice article; I can feel the love for this game shining forth from your words.

    Chalk it up to being sick of zombies in games, I have skipped this title and moved straight on to Fables: The Wolf Among Us. Even though I missed out on The Walking Dead, I can see the gameplay elements and compelling story shine in Fables. It’s great to see how Telltale Games has updated the point-and-click adventure to modern playing.

    Those ambiguous pop-up notifications drive me crazy, too.

    Like

  4. benrosslake says:

    Even if you’re sick of zombie games its worth a play through, especially if you’re enjoying the Wolf Among Us.

    I’m just hoping that Telltale can start to move the genre forward. I think they’ve got a lot of projects on the go and they are sticking to a familiar template. They need to add a bit more to it.

    Like

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