The Walking Dead has always been about human interactions and relationships. The zombie apocalypse setting is merely a MacGuffin to drive the story along. This makes the mechanic of an adventure game from genre veterans Telltale Games all the better. We’re given a world to watch. Instead of sitting on the edge of our seats, players sit back and guide our starring character, Lee Everett. Truth be told, this is Lee’s story, not ours. In the same vein, this isn’t our story either. Sure, we get to make choices. Before each episode, a notice is (briefly) shown that the game changes depending on the actions we take. But the weight of these actions are entirely up to debate. This is both good and bad.
The game’s highlight is undoubtedly the characters. Often we become vested in individuals in a game because of how they perform on the battlefield. Their ability to crack out one-liners, or rather their ability to not say anything of the sort. The Walking Dead is different. The people I encounter and those who join my group don’t bring anything on the table to enhance my gameplay experience. I make decisions based on their personalities. And boy, do they jump off the screen. It’s hard to recall the last time I grew hatred for someone over thirty minutes. But thanks to the setting of the zombie apocalypse, stakes are magnified. I can’t pop out of cover like I’m Marcus Fenix and except my co-op partner to prop me up. I can’t hide behind a tree and wait for my shield to recharge. ZombiU‘s strength was focusing on surviving by making us an everyday human. That aspect is magnified here.
The two biggest relationships you’ll make are with Clementine and Kenny. Clem, a 9 year old girl, looks up to you as a father figure. She also serves as a method of keeping Lee grounded to humanity. Without her to watch out for, there’s absolutely no reason give off emotions. Well, at least the way I played. I came in with two goals in mind: getting a boat to get off the mainland and protecting Clementine. They were priority 1 and 1A. The boat idea comes courtesy of Kenny, who acts as a “best bud” of sorts, though it’s entirely possible to routinely side against him. One of the surprises from the game is how Kenny reacts to the situations around him. Some of the game’s heaviest moments I felt all personally came from Kenny. I even felt a sort of companionship to him; he was there through everything. He had the idea, and he had my back when I needed him.
It’s pretty clear that The Walking Dead works best when it sticks as both an adventure game and an interactive story. The puzzles are far from the hardest things in the world, but they’re effective enough to keep the game flowing from one plot point to another. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the actual “gameplay,” if you can call it that, cannot. If there’s any criticism against LA Noire, it’s been that the actual gameplay sequences were weak. Well, if they were weak, then I don’t want to call the glorified quicktime events and brief glimpses of a faux-shooter present in The Walking Dead. Controlling these things are a nightmare on my 360, though it was made a little easier when I was finally told I can use the right trigger to perform an action sequence halfway through the third mission. More importantly, they just feel out of place. I’m here because I want human interaction and to see the consequences of choices, not to kill zombies. There’s a countless amount of games for that. Speaking of those consequences, truth be told they don’t hold that much weight. Sure, how other people in the game view you is changed, but there’s still a linear plotline being followed. The only difference in the game’s absolutely fantastic finale is dialogue.
But nevertheless, it is a fantastic finale. And I did enjoy The Walking Dead. It tells a fantastic story and made me think long and hard about decisions I had to make, even when I didn’t have long to think about them. Yet, at the end of the day, I can’t help but feel frustrated. Sure, my choices affected relationships throughout the game, but it didn’t affect the game itself. The gameplay elements were downright out of place. And episodes sometimes had a tendency to drag on. I’m looking at you in particular, episode four. Play it for the gripping story it tells, but don’t expect to be able to tell one your own story.