The Walking Dead: The Video Game Season 1 Review—A Testament to the Power of Interactive Storytelling

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For the past few weeks or so, I’ve felt like a complete zombie.  Yes yes, that’s clever considering what I’m talking about, but it’s the only word I feel best describes my current condition.  Physically I’m totally there, but mentally?  I’m checked out.  I’ve had one thought in the back of my mind since last Tuesday, one thing that I’ve been thinking about constantly no matter where I am or what I’m doing.  I’m thinking about Lee Everett.  I’m thinking about Clementine.  And I’m thinking about the momentous, genre defining experience that is The Walking Dead: The Video Game.  And no matter what I do…I can’t stop thinking about it.

To put it bluntly, The Walking Dead has fucked me up.  Ever since I concluded Episode 5 of the game, I haven’t been able to revert my thoughts from the final moments of the series.  It’s the kind of ending that sticks with you, the kind that I think will be remembered to years to come.  And so is The Walking Dead: The Video Game in and of itself.

When I first heard that Telltale Games was developing a game based on The Walking Dead, I have to be honest…I had little interest.  I wasn’t a particularly huge fan of The Walking Dead property, mostly due to the fact that the only experience I had with it was the piss-poor TV adaptation at the time (it’s gotten much better though!)  But after all of the fantastic buzz I was hearing from pretty much everyone in the video game world, I decided to give it a whirl.  And boy am I happy I did.

For the most part, the buzz was completely correct; The Walking Dead is a fantastic game, an emotional rollercoaster of such power that you won’t be able to put it down the moment you pick it up (well “pick it up” in the metaphorical sense since, y’know…it’s a downloadable game.)  The story of Lee and Clementine is one of the most powerful stories you’ll encounter all year, video game or otherwise.  But what The Walking Dead Game does the best is something that, in my opinion, will become the future of video games: interactive storytelling.

Because when you think about it, what are video games but interactive storytelling?  The most engrossing games are the ones that push this concept forward, from the dialogue trees of Mass Effect to the free style, all most movie like qualities of Heavy Rain.  Well you know what?  In the storytelling department, The Walking Dead trumps them all.

And honestly, I can’t really pinpoint why.  On the whole, I just got invested much more to what was happening in The Walking Dead.  I love the hell out of Heavy Rain and Mass Effect, but my love for The Walking Dead is different.  I guess it would best be described as a personal attachment…probably the most personal attachment I’ve ever had with a video game property to date.

Even though I can’t explain exactly why I felt such strong an attachment to this game, I have to give most of the props to two very important things: the excellent writing, and the fantastic voice acting.  The script is solid and, even though it has a few disappointing elements that I had some problems with (as I’ll detail a bit below in the spoiler section), it was on the whole effective, with great dialogue and fantastic characters.  These characters are brought to life by the amazing voice acting from everyone involved, from the main characters to one-offs who die in an instance, the voice acting is pitch perfect.  Particularly of note are the voice actors for Lee (Dave Fennoy) and Clementine (Melissa Huthison) who, as the heart of the game, had the most riding on their shoulders.  And they succeed with flying colors.

Gameplay wise, things are pretty simple but, considering that the true focus of the game is its story, it’s no more complicated than it needed to be.  The dialogue system works, and I appreciate how the game gives you a timer to make your various dialog options in the speediest manner possible.  By having this timer, most of the dialogue choices feel much more authentic, as you make spur of the moment decisions that, later on in the game, you may actually come to regret.  Having this time limit just adds to the drama of the story, and I’m so glad Telltale Games made the wise judgment to implement it in the game.

When it comes to graphics, this is when The Walking Dead really shows its roots. This is an independently developed, downloadable adventure game and, despite having the rock solid Walking Dead branding, it doesn’t have the budget of a Call of Duty or Halo game.  Well I generally dug the graphic novel aesthetic that the game tries to adopt, some of the animations are a bit rough, especially when it comes to the character models.  Talking in particular seems to be hard on the game’s graphics engine, although this improves as the series goes on.

I wanted to give a quick shout out to the game’s music, which is one of the undercover MVP’s found within this game.  Well it doesn’t beat you over the head like the score of a Heavy Rain or Halo type game, it’s super effective when it needs to be, and helps really drive home the emotional impact of some of the game’s greatest moments.

Which, when it comes to it, is really where the game truly shines.  This is not a video game based on amazing graphics, or incredible gameplay.  It’s one based on a pitch perfect story, with instantly likeable characters and amazing dramatic moments that stick with you far after the game is complete.  The Walking Dead sets the standard for emotionally driven storytelling in a video game and, with Season 2 already in development, I can’t wait to see what the fine folks over at Telltale have in store for us next year.

***Warning: Following the review score, we will be delving into some very heavy spoilers for The Walking Dead: The Video Game.  So if you haven’t finished it yet, we REALLY advise you to stop reading now.***

Okay, let’s talk some quick spoilers.  One of my biggest flaws of the game is the fact that, despite the fact that it introduces some amazing characters, it doesn’t know quite what to do with them some of the time.  For instance, I enjoyed the presence of Mollie, but she just up and leaves at the end of Episode 4 with little fanfare.  The game also holds nothing back when it comes to killing characters off which, well effective most of the time, leads to some characters getting the premature shaft (Carly and Chuck in particular had a lot of room to grow, but were killed off very unspectacularly for the sake of shock value)

Another minor gripe I had with the game focuses solely on the final episode, “No Time Left.”  Well I thought it was a good way to end the series, and the final few minutes in particular were absolutely devastating, I really wish it was a tad bit longer.  And some of the deaths there, I’ve heard, are quite disappointing (boy am I happy I let Ben die relatively heroically in Episode 4 rather than let him go out like a punk in Episode 5).  I also wish we delved a little more into Lee’s pre-apocalypse backstory a bit in the final episode, particularly his wife’s affair and the affect it had on him.  And sadly now, we never will…sigh.

I’m going to go lay down and think about the inevitabilities of death again.  Thanks, The Walking Dead.

Enjoyed this review?  Absolutely hated it?  Well I don’t give a shit; just go read this article detailing the Five Most Powerful Moments of the Game.  Seriously…just go do it.