Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Walking Dead (video game, non-spoiler) review


    The Walking Dead franchise has done more to mainstream zombie movies since, well, just about anything. It's been a fight to do so for some time now and there have been plenty of victories along the way. The fact World War Z was made into a 100+ million dollar film starring Brad Pitt says everything you need to know about the progress made. I didn't think the movie had anything to do with the book but, hey, baby steps.

    I'm a personal huge fan of The Walking Dead and my only hesitation at reviewing the series is, A:] I'm not sure if I could add much more to praise and B:] I'm terrible at reviewing individual episodes of a show. I just started reading the comics and have a long way to catch up. Why did I start reading the comics? Not because of the television show, which is a superb adaptation (I hear), but because of the video game.

    The Walking Dead video game by Telltale is a extremely popular game which has won numerous awards--mostly, for the fact it's a break from the "old standards" of gameplay which have dominated the medium since the beginning. While adventure games are nothing new, this is one of the few games where the primary appeal is talking.

    Yes, talking.

Lee and Clementine are some of the most likable characters in video game history. I exaggerate not.
     This is the real feature which blows my mind about The Walking Dead video game. Vast sections of the plot are determined by what sort of statements you make to your fellow crew members. I love it when dialogue plays a major role in the story but, outside of Bioware and Bethesda, there's not that many places that do it. Certainly, not to the extent in this game. Even then, these games are mostly combat while talking and decision making is the point of TWD.

     The game is divided into five separate "episodes" that form short video games which can be played independently of one another. This isn't the first time I've encountered that, having been exposed to the concept in the extremely enjoyable The Wolf Among Us video game (which would be the Fables video game if not for another major series already having that title).

    The premise is unrelated to the events of the show/comic save for a few cameos. It is a wholly original survivor's tale. African American History Professor Lee Everett has been convicted of a murder he may or may not have committed. The importance of this grows less as the mores of the old civilization pass away in the Zombie Apocalypse. Like everyone else in the universe, Lee is taken off-guard by the sudden rise of the dead. Escaping police custody as a matter of survival, he comes across a young girl named Clementine and becomes her protector in the wake of the world's collapse into anarchy.

The zombies are a constant struggle to survive and can kill in one-blow. Which is the way it should be.
     To talk anymore would be to spoil but what makes the comics so invigorating is the same thing which makes this game great. The illusion of safety is punctured repeatedly and no one is safe save possibly Lee (and even this is in question). Characters are vividly realized and go through emotional journeys based on events and your treatment of them. Yes, the majority of events will happen no matter what you do but they feel perfectly justified when they do.

     I'm particularly fond of the characters Kenny and Lilly. Kenny is a fisherman far from the coast who is trying to protect his wife and son from the zombie apocalypse. Lilly is a USAF mechanic who is guarding her cantankerous old father. Both of them believe they have the best interests of the group in mind but can't agree over which way to butter bread. Really, of the initial group, I can't think of anyone I didn't like and if I wasn't too fond of later additions then the story still maintained its momentum.

The human emotion in this game is tremendous. You feel for these characters.
     Despite this, I would be remiss if I didn't bring up a few minor technical issues. Lip-synching and the transition of scenes on my Xbox copy was occasionally a bit choppy. Likewise, I didn't much care for the story in the second half of the game as much as I did the first half. I think I became so attached to the main characters that I felt the emotional high point of the game was in reached in Episode 3 and could never quite get where it used to be. This is, of course, largely redeemed by the absolutely killer ending. It's one of the few times I've been moved in gaming and won't be a story I forget.

    Another complaint is the illusion of choice is, just that, an illusion. Even if I appreciate the way Telltale makes you feel every decision Lee makes has weight, the truth is they don't. Lee can choose how he responds to events but only a few differences happen regardless of your choices. All roads lead to Rome and this is disappointing. I would have preferred if Telltale had been more upfront with the fact this is a story they're telling and you're just along for the ride. The Last of Us and Bioshock Infinite are no less effecting for the fact you can't change the ending.

    Overall, I think this is probably one of the best games I've ever played. It's very different from almost everything I've ever played. Anyone who doesn't believe that video games are an art form should give this game a whirl as if it doesn't change their mind, nothing will. Yes, there's some serious flaws and I dislike being deceived about the importance of my choices but that's like smudges at the base of the Mona Lisa. I have to judge the game on the scale of how much entertainment I derived from that and this game blows nearly all of its competitors out of the water. If you don't play this game, you're denying yourself a real treat.

10/10

Buy at Amazon.com 

2 comments:

  1. Now, don't get me wrong, I love this game, buuuut:

    A big problem I have is Ben. Or, specifically, his role in the story. He does nothing for the group other than to cause problems accidentally. It'd be one thing if the entire group was making mistakes-but 90% of the main character's problems in the last few episodes boil down to "Ben did something stupid". More over, his mistakes have extremely dire consequences.

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    1. Well, that's Ben's theme of course. He hates himself for how useless and scared he is. He's not someone who has anything to contribute to the group but his life is worth saving anyway. Which makes his suicide all the more pointless as Lee struggles desperately to save him because, well, Ben is worth saving just because he's a human being. At least, that was my read on it.

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