The Walking Dead (Telltale)

November 27th, 2013

What an amazing game.  I suppose you’d call it a gruelling point-and-click struggle for survival set in the milieu of the zombified graphic novels of the same name.  It’s actually in very similar territory to Beyond: Two Souls, which I played a couple of weeks back – an interactive drama, you might say – but I think overall it’s a good deal more successful, because although it lacks the visual bells and whistles it scores huge on the human interaction, imagination, narrative drive and drama.

They make a neat decision not to repeat the story of the graphic novels, telling instead a parallel one of their own devising with a few nods to the original material and a couple of characters in common.  Lee, a college history teacher, is on his way to jail for murder when the world ends, and he soon finds himself surrogate father to a little girl called Clem, struggling desperately to survive against the predatory dead and the even worse living as one of a group of mismatched companions.  Like all the best zombies, it creeps up on you.  Initially you’re interested, a little baffled, perhaps somewhat turned off by the rough and ready looks of the thing, but quickly the characters, and the spiky interactions between them, the desperate need to survive against the odds in a world gone to hell, start to pull you in.  There’s a ruthless realism to the way characters career into and out of the fast-moving narrative, a genuine sense that death could come for anyone at any moment.  It’s arranged into five episodes and the second is certainly the weakest, both visually and in terms of plot, but the drama builds bit by bit, until by the fourth episode, if you’re anything like me, you’re absolutely gripped, totally bound up in the people and their fraught relationships, and that continues right to a wonderfully tough, haunting, uncompromising end.

The visual style is, well, kinda basic, I suppose you could say, very much taking graphic novel as the cue, and in the first couple of episodes it can look pretty clunky at times, but it gets better with each instalment, they use angles and events cleverly and by the brilliant last couple of episodes it’s suiting the material down to the ground and by no means getting in the way of the drama.  The individuality and expressiveness they get out of the characters is impressive, even if their expressions are generally some combination of shock, agony, rage or horror.  I guess those are the times.

There are shocks a-plenty, some slightly arcade-ish sequences, a fair bit of hunting down object x to do thing y, some occasionally rather frustrating gameplay as you struggle to move the cumbersome cursor over an attacking zombie and cleaver its head in half, but the heart of the game is in talking to other characters, trying to manage the relationships between them, making tough decisions when there’s often no clear right call, and trying, and failing, to keep everyone alive.  And it’s just very well written and acted, both in terms of the dialogue itself and the way it creates drama and gobsmacking moments.  Sometimes things go wrong.  Shockingly and spectacularly, leaving you thinking, could I have done something differently?  In that I think it really does get to the heart of the graphic novels and the tv adaptation – it’s not so much about the zombies, as the way the people react to the unbelievable pressure of a constant fight for survival.  A fight they often lose.  If you like things simple, heroic, and optimistic, this may not be for you.  Everyone else should play it NOW.

Posted in games by Joe Abercrombie on November 27th, 2013.

16 comments so far

  • Iain says:

    Check out the next chapter….called 400 Days. Sequel due next year. Telltale also rumoured to be developing a Game if Thrones adventure too. Amazing game and hard to finish through all the tears!

  • Andrew says:

    Telltale have another game in much the same vein, The Wolf Among Us. The first episode of that came out just last month and it’s a refinement of the Walking Dead formula – even less puzzle-solving to be done, just all about the story. Definitely worth a look.

  • Kevin B. says:

    And it’s currently on sale on steam at 75% off! So there’s no excuse not to try it.

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    Yeah, played 400 days. Interesting, and they’ve clearly made progress technically, but the lack of a central thread prevented it from really producing the drama.

    I will certainly check that out, but probably when it’s finished a season. I’d find it too frustrating to play in five chunks, I think.

  • Kyle H says:

    I haven’t played The Wolf Among Us, but I actually want to play it before it’s complete. The wait between episodes 4 and 5 of Walking Dead was one of the most intense cliffhangers in video games.

  • Dan V2 says:

    Just noticed that Season 2 is now available for prepurchase on steam!

    Great news!

  • Anna says:

    Agree sooo much!
    And then everyone should go get TellTale’s Fables adapt in game form (Wolf among us) There’s only 1 chapter so far but 4 more will be happening later!

  • Paul says:

    Will Santa be delivering the next PlayStation or X-Box to you?

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    Neither right away. Probably a PS4 in due course, the consensus seems to be it’s the better machine for gaming, but I’ll wait to see how things develop and what games appear that really make me want to take the leap. Nothing that’s making me need next-gen yet, and the only game I’m aware of in the next few months that I really want to play (Dark Souls 2) is PS3 in any case.

  • TheFourthHorseman says:

    The story was good even if not amazing, but I got tired towards the end of there being no game (of interest) to really speak of.

  • Burak says:

    Even though it can not be called a game, I enjoyed it very much.

    My biggest gripe with the game was, that my choices at branching points did never have a long term impact. When you have the option to save someone’s life, that person will have little interaction with the story after that point and will die eventually. Halfway across the last episode, I realized a certain decision I made about Lee at the start of the episode can not give a different outcome, because otherwise the two endings would cause the story to branch out too much in season 2. I realize it would be technically very difficult to make the game branch out that much; nonetheless this makes me feel disillusioned.

  • akarthis says:

    The story was ok. It could be a better game in technical terms.
    But the interaction with the characters was amazing.
    I really don’t remember any other digital character i cared so much as Clem.

  • KA says:

    Hi Joe,

    a Little bit offtopic but I think you should try and give Dishonored a shot. I have not seen you reviewing it so I conclude you have not played it so far.
    Somewhere between Thief, Bioshock Infinite and Deus Ex I would say.

  • Steven says:

    I actually found myself wondering while reading one of your other recent game posts if you’d played this one yet. This was my favorite game of last year by a sizable margin. I’m a pretty jaded gamer these days– I tend to expect or be underwhelmed by most video game plot twists, sometimes even find myself zoning out a bit during cutscenes and dialogue if the story isn’t gripping me sufficiently… The Walking Dead stunned me though, made my body physically tense up at points, and hit me harder than practically anything else I’ve played.

    It probably helps that I went into it with reasonable expectations, given that I’m not too familiar with the graphic novels and I actively dislike the TV series.

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    I don’t tend to review things unless I finish them. I played Dishonoured, on paper it’s the sort of thing I should love (big, big fan of Thief), but, I dunno, it didn’t really inspire me. I was busy at the time and got distracted by something else and never went back to it. [shrugs]

  • Dishonoured is a terrific game, but it takes a while to really get going. When it does, it’s great. The two expansions are also excellent, showing a totally different POV on the world and events.

    And THE WALKING DEAD is a genuinely great game, for my money far better than either the comics or TV show (or both, combined for that matter).

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