We take a look at Tell Tale Games’ hugely successful and gripping video game adaptation of the hit TV series ‘The Walking Dead’ which has appeared on consoles, PC and Android/iOS devices. The video game is based on the comics and is well into season two, but now that there’s more of a story to jump into is it a good time to see what all the fuss is about? Take a look at our The Walking Dead Video Game Series review for the full picture.
The Walking Dead Video Game Series review:
Today we’re taking a look at TellTale Games’ well established and highly successful The Walking Dead video game series which is available on consoles, handheld devices, PC platforms and is now in its second season after a blisteringly tense and shocking finale in season one. To begin, we have to go back to the beginning which starts off with lead character Lee Everett, an ex university professor being driven to jail following his conviction for murdering a senator who was sleeping with his wife. There’s little backstory revealed about events prior to this moment as players quickly find there are bigger events in the world that take precedence over any past misdemeanors. Lee is unwittingly drawn into the zombie apocalypse as the story unfolds which reveals a tale of survival of the fittest amidst the zombies, or walkers as they are referred to as and a world gone mad as fellow survivors abide by their own rules in a now anarchic society struggling to cling on to its existence versus the walking dead.
From the offset and what is perhaps paramount throughout the entire first season is Lee’s relationship with 8 year old girl and lone survivor Clementine who he finds at her abandoned parents home and swears to protect her from the ensuing madness. Without going into too many specifics of the story, it’s this foundation of protection which is toyed with as Lee’s entire focus revolves around not only his own will to survive but the need to provide the best he can for Clementine whether that be fighting off the undead or making sure that any interactions with other survivors is for her benefit. It’s an odd relationship given the dog eat dog world that’s presented further into the story, but does give Lee a far greater motive to live and numerous difficult choices to make than if he were a lone survivor merely looking out for himself. The clever use of having a vulnerable partner which players never get to control directly until season two is what makes the story and predicaments contained within so tense and fulfilling.
Players are presented with numerous choices made by way of conversation with others and it’s here where the consequences have an impact on the flow of the story, although they might not reveal themselves right away. What’s neat is the fact that in many scenarios there’s no real right or wrong answer admist the moral minefield presented, and at times an element of sacrificial reasoning is presented to the player which tugs at the emotional strings and shrouds choices in various shades of grey. Make a choice which perhaps sides with one character, will often result in making another behave differently towards you especially given the fact that there’s little time to actually make the choice as only a few seconds are given. This in itself highlights the importance of paying attention and understanding the relationships with others through conversation and making a judgement based on their individual character traits.
Season one has a distinct focus on setting the tone of the game, highlighting the zombie presence as an ongoing threat, although touches on the interpersonal relationships and problems that arise from differing opinions. There’s an element of shifting between social groups which remains a common theme for the entire series, but the reality of staying within a group to hold out until some sense is made of the situation is the recurring theme. Season two opts to change the pacing a little as players take control of an older Clementine, and it’s here where there’s a shift in focus towards the depravity and danger of other humans. The zombie presence is always there in the background, but the story cleverly suggests that humans can be equally as dangerous.
Throughout each episode there are moments of clear cut choices which are often interspersed with a bit of action, but these rest within the realms of simple quick time events and pointing a crosshair at the screen before being eaten alive in what can be loosely described as traditional gameplay. Aside from these events, there’s an air of point and click adventuring where players have control of the character – viewed in third person – and can move them around boxed in areas freely, but are guided to click on specific points of interest. Usable items can be collected, but there’s little thought required of their use due to the rather obvious moments when they come in handy. Season two somewhat changes the on screen display method which keeps familiar elements but also adds more inputs during key moments. In a nutshell, it’s all easy to play where the biggest issue is time itself and not reacting quick enough and falling foul to the odd zombie bite here and there. Luckily there’s little punishment as players restart the same scene pretty much where they left off. This is certainly a story focused experience rather than a traditional game where paying attention to each scene requires focus and little distraction. In some ways, it’s an interactive movie so for those seeking all out action are going to be quite unfulfilled here despite the game’s premise.
Being based on the comics, the game’s looks are in keeping with a graphic novel approach offering simple details and flat colour tones. That’s not to say the game is devoid of finer detail as there’s fair bit where it counts such as when sinking sharp implements into the skulls of zombies. It’s a visceral, brutal game at times which is made all the more visually effective due to its clever use of camera work providing close up shots of the action. Whilst it could be construed as simply being a cartoon for adults, there’s a certain charm to the presentation which makes it all the more pleasing on the eye despite the overall lack of details you’d expect had the game opted for a more realistic look.
Atmosphere is crucial here what with the chilling intro music and the shuffling sounds from the zombie masses, although the main meat of the audio pallet is smothered in voice acting which remains top quality from all the characters. There’s not one performance which could be taken as being over the top or unfitting with the game which makes for a more believable cast. In this regard the game does a fine job of conveying thoughts and emotions which ultimately has a profound effect on the player and decisions made, although this is also in part thanks to an excellently penned script which meanders around several thought provoking themes and tests which characters the player is likely to warm to. The only real criticisms here are in season two which sees Clementine addressed by other characters in an unnaturally adult manner which although expected given the circumstances, feels a bit jarring at times.
The Walking Dead series is split into several episodes which are then divided into sections, although the transitions aren’t noticeable when playing. Starting from Season One this is made up of five episodes which can last over an hour or more each. There’s an additional bonus episode with the 400 days content which introduces several controllable characters who you then go on to meet in Season two. It has to be stressed that to get the full understanding of the game, and some references in Season Two it’s certainly prudent to have played all of Season One beforehand. Whilst it’s feasible to just jump in to season two, it would be a shame to do so as you’d be robbing yourself of key information surrounding some of the relationships. The game does provide options to not be concerned with the past, so newcomers can pick up on the story and there’s an option to replay each episode to see alternate outcomes based on different choices being made.
As a game, The Walking Dead video game series is something that’s quite different to your typical action laden zombie mash up. There’s a far more detailed and engaging narrative on offer that makes the experience sit within the pastures of interactive movie rather than a game. If you can live with the fact that there’s a lot of passive watching events unfold, mild exploration, some quick time events and a limit on actual shooting, then you’ll find a series that’s well worth the price of entry for each episode, or better yet as a package with a season pass. The story here is quite simple relying more on characterization but sinking its hooks into players right off the bat, the rest effortlessly falling into place as characters are introduced and allegiances formed making a well rounded and original take on the zombie apocalypse which has been done to death in video games.
Score 9/10 – Review By Robert Cram