Looking upon gaming as a whole, the point and click adventure games are somewhat of a hidden genre. Often overlooked by the much bigger and stronger boys in the playground, like shooters and action games, it’s rather rare to talk to someone who has played more than a couple ‘real’ adventure games. However, one company continues to wave new releases in front of peoples’ eyes in order to kickstart the popularity and this time, they may have hit the sweet spot. Telltale’s new game The Walking Dead recently stumbled onto the scene with a few tricks up its ripped and rotting sleeves.
The Walking Dead is set in the same universe as the comics and TV series with which it shares the name and focuses on the survival of a small group caught in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. You play as Lee, who escapes from a police car due to the driver inevitably turning into one of the walkers. As you try to find your way out of the monstrous mess, you stumble across many different groups and one brave little girl called Clementine who proceeds to cling to you as if you’re her dad. If you’re used to blasting the heads off of zombies, then this certainly isn’t the game for you as The Walking Dead aims to show a different take on the forthcoming apocalypse by delving into the lives of very ordinary people and their feelings as they watch their familiar world take a turn for the worse.
Keeping in the theme of the already popular series, the game is being released as individual episodes, allowing you to delve deeper into the emotions and back stories of every person you meet. Not only is this similar but there are also cameos from certain characters, aimed at attracting the existing fans into absorbing the story in yet another format. However, if you don’t know anything about the series, don’t panic, as the game explains the situation extremely well and if you know the first thing about the shambling living dead then you’ll pick it up easily. Anyone can pick up this game and instantly feel immersed in a universe that feels like an old friend.
At the start of the game, you can choose between having hints placed around the different areas or going it alone. With the former, items that you can interact with are marked with a helpful circle to gently guide you along the right path, which is a very useful mode if you’re not used to the typical point and click genre. However, if you have more confidence and consider yourself somewhat of a veteran, you can opt out of this helpful feature and wander around tapping the action button, hoping to come across something useful. Although it doesn’t change the difficulty greatly, it’s enough to challenge the wide variety of people playing the game.
Most of The Walking Dead is aimed around finding items in order to solve puzzles such as getting into a locked room or escaping from impending death. You know, the typical survival tasks. Actions such as these feel very much at home on a PC and have done for years, but the console releases were what caused some raised eyebrows. Previous games that tried this, such as Heavy Rain, felt clunky at times due to the limitations of analogue sticks, so how could another game improve? Well rather than making drastic changes between console and PC, Telltale blurs the boundaries between the two by adding a reticule that acts as your mouse cursor and, along with levels of sensitivity, seems like the obvious and seemingly flawless way to go. Despite being a rare feature on your PS3 or Xbox 360, you’ll feel at home using it and will more than likely forget about its existence after just a few minutes.
In order to keep things fresh and make you remain on your feet, you’ll often come across a quick-time event, often in the form of stopping a zombie gnawing at you or one of your party members. Failure could quite easily end in death and the severe lack of time threatens to keep you feeling tense as you peek behind the next door or boldly step into a new area. Although it does give a brief warning before throwing you in these situations, it’s exactly that; brief. Look away for a second and you could find yourself in a mad scramble to escape from danger, heart pounding in your mouth as the rotting flesh groans its way towards the screen. The lack of weapons and support is what really sets this game aside from the rest of the zombie crowd, giving a whole new meaning to the word survival. One that really should have been there from the beginning.
As well as being timed with your own life on the line, a couple of times you’ll find yourself in a situation where two members of your group are in the walkers’ grasp and you only have the time to help one of them. No doubt you’ll freeze like a rabbit caught in headlights at these situations, but there really is no time to think about the pros and cons of both characters at risk and you’ll have to listen to your gut instinct. Whoever you decide to try and save will remember your loyalty, changing the events of the rest of the first episode and each one in future. However, this also has the reverse effect of the person you sacrificed (or family members if no-one else steps in to give a hand) remembering that you would happily watch as they get torn apart by the rotting beasts. This break of relationship could be almost detrimental to the rest of the series and could put you at a real disadvantage in the outbreak.
Relationships aren’t just affected by these scenes though and just taking the time to go and see how someone is holding up could change their attitudes towards you in the future, as does giving them supplies such as energy bars to take them out of the horrific situation for just a few brief moments. Almost everything you choose to do will have an effect on the other characters and so you’ll find yourself playing the episode over and over again, seeing the many different ways you can progress. A nice little feature that adds to this relationship building is the statistics page once you finish the episode. It tells you what percentage of people made the same decisions as you in-game and really gives an insight into who is liked the most by the whole gaming community – creating an unspoken link between you and other players.
The variety of characters that you can befriend (and make enemies of, if you so wish) is incredible and each comes with their own little story that shapes their personality right before your eyes. The Walking Dead very much focuses on these individual stories and characterisation so it’s nice that you can start a long conversation with each survivor on how they ended up here and what they were doing for the world before the dead decided to take a stroll. Not only do you meet farmers, vets and journalists, but also a handful of the younger generation – one that is barely touched upon in other famous zombie games. It’s certainly interesting to view how a child or teenager would handle the situation, see how the fear is different to that of an adult and watch as they make some of the more rational decisions. All of this reminds you that were an apocalypse to happen, children aren’t disposable and would probably be the best types of people to keep a firm head on their shoulders.
As you talk to these people, you’ll be given a choice of what to say and a fairly nice time limit to decide. If you’re not sure on how best to approach a situation, then you can watch as the timer ticks away and become somewhat of a silent protagonist, letting everyone else fight their own battles. Although this may work in some situations, be aware that it could also just anger everyone much more. The different choices let your build your own personality of Lee, whether you want to be rude, neutral or the nice guy, it’s completely up to you. Freedom is what really puts the player in the game and remains one of the best features you could ever stumble across.
To convince you to go and interact with everyone is the high quality of voice acting. Each murmur, each consolation and each argument shows the high emotions and realistic feelings of everyone, portrayed solely through phonetics. Not one person seems to let anyone else down and that teamwork is something to be admired. Sound effects constantly make you jump or send a cold shiver down you back, reinforcing the fact that this does also have its horror elements too, though not wildly raving about them like so many other mediocre games.
As the series originally started in comic book form, the game sticks very close to that in its art style. Everyone looks as though they’ve jumped straight out of the pages to welcome you further into their world. It’s certainly different to what you’re normally used to but works very well, twisting a very different medium into that of gaming. However, the areas and items look a lot more comic styled than the characters which does occasionally detract from the immersion as they sometimes look as though they’re two different games glued together.
Apart from this, the animation itself runs smoothly (probably because game-like characters are easier to animate than a comic book) and you’ll rarely, if at all, see them jerk around or pause mid-step. However, what you may find is that your game lags between certain scenes, though this may be down to the age of the technology you’re playing on (for example, our phat PS3), or possibly down to the fact that the game is trying to load so much but just doesn’t manage in time. Nice that they’re trying to fit in so much though, isn’t it?
With its compelling story and different take on the zombie apocalypse idea, The Walking Dead is a must-play for existing fans and newcomers alike, despite the few technological issues that could bring you back to reality, if only for a brief moment. By the end, you’ll no doubt be planning your own survival plan. Just don’t try to think about it when you’re trying to sleep. Sweet dreams.
Extremely clever and captivating, The Walking Dead will make you glad that your brain is very much intact and safe. 9.5/10