The Walking Dead is one of those series where the fans start to internalise it after a while. They lumber along, shabbily dressed and moaning quotes in a low drone, and attempt to infect anyone who hasn’t yet seen or played it. A mass of scrabbling hands pound on your window until they’ve cracked open the skull of your ignorance and are feasting on the cranial goo within. I may have lost control of that metaphor, but happily, they’ve got good reason to.
The attention The Walking Dead seems to garner is down to a couple of factors. The first is its developers’ pedigree. If one is trying to have an existing series converted to point-and-click adventure game form, there are few better companies than TellTale. Their other work with comic book series, namely Sam and Max and The Wolf Among Us, has been well-received by fans and newcomers alike. As such, it’s hard to imagine them doing a bad job with The Walking Dead, and true to form they haven’t. The first series took a lot of Game Of The Year awards in 2012 and that level of quality has been followed up with an explosive opening episode packed with slightly horrifying events.
In fact, sometimes it seems like it moves a little too fast. From an opening in an abandoned bathroom, Clementine’s newly Lee-less adventures sail through a forest chase, to befriending a dog, to being rescued by other survivors, to having to carry out a makeshift suturing that falls somewhere between Heavy Rain and Surgeon Simulator, all in the space of a couple of hours.
Not, of course, that any of it is done badly. The moral choices available are many and not signposted so obviously that any choice is easy. They will have implications down the line, but the beauty of episodic gaming is that it obscures story details from the scourge of internet spoilers and renders most choices natural. Seeing the statistics given at the end of the episode is a nice touch, allowing players to compare their actions to others’ and decide whether or not they’re heartless villains. Hopefully not.
Plus, the game leaves enough story threads trailing into the next episode to really raise some interest. Why is Sarah such a Pollyanna? Will they remain in the house? Who’s the man at the door hinted at in the “next time” trailer? Who’s still alive?
A common problem with the zombie game genre is that it rarely features much in the way of characterisation. Much of the other well-known series are heavy-handed societal metaphors with characters draped on top as an afterthought. In The Walking Dead, the undead barely feature as more than an occasional threat and are present more to provide motivation for the existing characters to go and do what the narrative demands of them. In fact, you could replace them with almost any other threat to humanity – aliens, killer robots – and it would work just as well. Although perhaps “Little Girl Simulator: Attack of the Kill-Bots” isn’t as catchy a title.
Retaining the comic-book graphical style was a well thought through decision, keeping a distinct and attractive look while minimising the level of actual graphical fidelity required as well as the system requirements for future titles. The end result is that the game will look pleasant for some time – no Sam and Max style jarring graphical shifts between series here.
Jared Emerson-Johnson continues to produce excellent music. Every piece in the episode fits perfectly and the rather haunting tune that plays over the credits is hard to forget. True, none of the tunes are as eminently hummable as some of the work he did on Sam and Max, but they aren’t supposed to be – this isn’t a happy game.
I suppose The Walking Dead joins Spec. Ops: The Line in that genre of games that aren’t fun so much as satisfying. No longer is the point of game development simply to create an enjoyable experience for the player. It’s to make them think, challenge their morality, and ultimately leave them a more introspective and emotionally intelligent person. I don’t know if TellTale and The Walking Dead succeed in doing that, but the fact that they’re trying is admirable.
Although the game stands at a little less than two hours, £4 an episode for the season pass is an excellent deal and not one to be passed up lightly. If you played the first series, you can import your save file, and if you haven’t played the first series, what are you doing reading this? Go play it!