Sunday, June 17, 2012

Telltale Games' The Walking Dead

Please note that this is the rough draft for a review I wrote for Please check out the final draft of the review here.

I have been a huge adventure games fan ever since I first played The Curse of Monkey Island waaaay back in the 90s. Yes, I understand that that's not that long ago for some people who have been playing since before graphics, but I was just a kid back in the 90s. Anyway, I loved the story-driven aspect of it all. The puzzles could be fun, too, but the story is what grabbed me. Games like the Monkey Island series because they were funny, games like Grim Fandango because they were funny and serious at the same time, and games like The Longest Journey because they were simply amazing. And yet, despite critics saying that adventure games have been dead for decades, companies like Telltale are still around, doing nothing but adventure games, and they aren't going anywhere, especially if they keep making games like The Walking Dead.

Let's get something strait, I am a fan of Telltale Games. I already admit that I have a positive opinion of them as a company and I like their games, but I am also aware of their flaws. To be entirely honest, Telltale has the deserved reputation of making solid, episodic adventure games. Not bad, not great, but solid. They are the vanilla of adventure games. They have their ups and downs, but overall they're just reliably and consistently good. Nothing too special. Until now, at least.

I'm sure you've heard a lot about The Walking Dead, heck, there's already been one review here at Buy Zombie. So I'll skip the overview of how to play and the basic plot outline that I would normally do and skip strait to the review: The Walking Dead isn't just Telltale's best game yet. So far it's shaping up to be one of the best adventure games ever made. Now I say that with a couple caveats. It's not a perfect game. There are a couple of plot continuity errors that clash with the comics, so if you're a purist they might upset you. The episodic nature of the game means that at the time I wrote this article, you still have to wait a month in between the release of each chapter, and being forced to wait will kill you, trust me. These are minor things, really, though. The biggest problem is much more fundamental. You see, this game is entirely about choice. You make decisions, and then you live with the consequences. The problem is that so far, while there are plenty of choices you have to make that do affect small things, after several playthroughs, they start feeling artificial, since the plot still follows the same basic track. Up until the end of the first chapter, very few choices seem all that important.I should point out, though, that this criticism should be tempered by the fact that there are four more chapters, and that we are promised that our choices in the game will have a longer lasting effect on what happens later in the game as well, so it very well could be that by the time the fifth chapter rolls around, the different choices will actually end up creating a story that feels different with each playthrough.

That aside, the rest of the game is simply incredible. The characters, especially Lee and Clementine, are believable. You really come to feel attached to Lee and Clem, more than in most games I've ever played. The tension is palpable. After the first 10 minutes or so of the game, right after the first encounter with the zombies, I had to pause the game because I was shaking so bad from an adrenaline rush. Granted, I'm more than a bit of a weenie when it comes to watching horror movies, but that scene was really very well-done. I wasn't expecting that level of suspense from the game, at all. The dialog is interesting, the story is compelling, the visuals are incredibly pleasing, despite the limitations of the game engine, and there are some surprisingly funny moments thrown into all of the drama and horror. And the emotional moments... wow, the emotional moments. There are a couple scenes that are simply incredible, especially when you're in the pharmacy office with Clem... it's hard to describe, and I don't want to spoil it for anyone, suffice to say that you'd never think that a scene in a video game about putting a band-aide on a finger could ever make you choke up with emotion. The setting, the content of what's being talked about, the background music... To whomever wrote that scene I say bravo, sir or ma'am... bravo.

Bottom Line: Everyone's already talking about this game, and it lives up to the hype. I don't know if Telltale can keep the momentum up for this game, since the first episode set a pretty high standard. But I hope they can, because if they do, then The Walking Dead will go down as one of the greatest adventure games of all time.

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