After receiving widespread critical acclaim over the course of the first season of the episodic download game series, The Walking Dead has finally followed the tracks and shuffled its way to retail. Telltale have missed an opportunity though as this release features no extras, like making of videos, interviews and so on. Hell, if they’d chucked a poster in they could have called it the Collector’s Edition.
I’m making a fuss about this because as many of you will be aware you can download the series on PSN/XBLA for around £15 or even cheaper on PC or during a sale, but the RRP for this is £30. I love having physical copies of games, but you may want to buy this digitally or wait until this version drops in price, which it surely will. At least with this on the shelves it may stop people buying Activision’s awful -entirely unrelated- The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct by mistake.
As somebody that only played the demo of the first episode of the series, I was able to approach this release with fresh eyes and the smug feeling of not having to wait ages between episodes. I also had extremely high expectations after seeing the wealth of awards it racked up last year.
So, a quick rundown of the game itself. It’s based on a comic book series where a group of people are trying to survive a zombie apocalypse and plays in a similar manner to the old ‘choose your own adventure’ books of your youth, turn to page 37 to go into the cave, turn to page 56 to go into the woods and so on.
You control Lee, a recently escaped convict (don’t worry, he’s actually a really nice guy) who takes a young child, Clementine, under his wing after stumbling upon her after his first encounter with the undead.
For the most part, you directly control him in small explorable 3D environments. Items can be gathered to pass onto your group to gain favour with them, to build defences or to arm them in your absence with some items having an impact on how the story plays out. Action scenes generally take the form of quick time events like matching button prompts or lining up a target before hitting the button in a struggle with a zombie. It’s never difficult and very non-gamer friendly, not that regular gamers should be put off.
The replies you choose during the game’s many conversations have the biggest impact on the game and are what really draws you in more than the action itself. There are serious, unchangeable consequences that are always weighing heavily on your mind. This is where The Walking Dead really stands out.
Action choices do of course play their part too. Some you can see coming, but others are sudden and require fast thinking leaving you with consequences you may come to regret. When tasked with the grim choice of whom to save you may find yourself struggling to choose, or conversely very keen to feed them to the zombies the first chance you get.
Being able to off characters you don’t like in stories or films is something all of us have wanted to do before and this game utterly empowers you with crucial decisions and really pulls you into the events in ways we’re just not used to and it’s all the better for it.
I really enjoyed Heavy Rain, and while Quantic Dream’s effort beats this hands-down in production values (it’s very shiny), Telltale’s journey feels much more involving as your actions directly affect the group and the dialogue choices you’re provided with do a great job of reflecting the range of options you’d like in that situation. The lasting effect of your choices throughout the series is something unmatched by other games out there too.
Despite the comic-esque, hand-drawn visual style the facial animations do a great job of portraying character’s emotions, letting you know how events or responses have affected them. The voice-over work is of an excellent standard throughout too with the interactions between Clem and Lee or Lee and Kenny being highlights of my own playthrough. Intensity, shock, light-heartedness, sadness, madness, selfishness, hope – it’s an emotional ride from start to finish.
The music in the game rarely rises above a mild background sensation, but it paints the atmosphere with desolate senses of quiet and sadness that matches the mood of the group throughout, as loss is never far around the corner in each episode. At times, it feels very similar to the score of Fallout 3, understated but always close by.
The original downloadable releases were prone to a few bugs and glitches. Sadly, some of these are still present. Slow-down was particularly apparent towards the end of the first three episodes, with audio and image synchronisation falling apart.
The worst offender was near the end of episode three, where I needed to approach someone (no spoilers) without being shot by moving and stopping until close enough. However, the game kept reading me as still moving despite being motionless. After checking online, I discovered that players across all three platforms had experienced this issue. No manner of fixes worked, meaning I had to watch the rest of the episode on YouTube.
I was able to choose the next chapter while the game generated random story choices, seemingly just the ones from after where I was screwed as I had the same group with me afterwards. However, there’s a choice in this missing part that you’d want to choose yourself as it affects something later on. Thankfully the game apparently auto-chose the option I would have wanted I found out later on. With any luck, this glitch won’t pop up on your playthrough.
This glitch almost ruined the game for me though. The rest of the game was going to have to seriously impress me in order to get any sort of respectable score. Well, play it through to the end I did, and yes there’s no way I can give something this emotionally moving an average score. Although, Telltale need to sort their shit out and get this game-mauling glitch fixed and improve their shoddy QA for Season 2.
While it can be argued that much of The Walking Dead experience isn’t really a ‘game’, as you watch more than you play, there’s no denying that you control so much of what you do watch. After all, you don’t pause a film and chose what the hero does, who lives or who dies. Here, you have that power and it’s a wonderful thing to wield. One playthrough will take around 13 hours, but you’ll want to fire up a second save file immediately afterwards to see how differently you can play it.
- One of the best stories in years
- And you have so much influence on its events
- Excellent voice acting
- Episode 3 glitch meant I had to skip a small chunk of the game
- Slowdown, glitches and pauses will test your patience
- Zero extras and currently costs a lot more than the digital version
The Short Version: Despite some infuriating cons, which should have been fixed a long time ago, I can finally see what all the fuss was about. While a little light on traditional gameplay elements, the choices you make in conversations or in the heat of the moment have impacts that truly resonate throughout the rest of the story and it’s these consequences that drive you to see how it all ends.