The Walking Dead: Season Review – Reminiscing
You can find reviews for each episode below:
Adventure games have always had a strong reliance on a captivating narrative to entice players to continue playing. With the arrival of The Walking Dead, a game with such strong and impacting decisions came along that a paradigm shift occurred that demanded attention. In this episodic game series, based off the comics of the same name, every call matters and transfers to later circumstances. Players could engage in a truly living story for the first time, where the choices they made would follow them for better or worse, even several episodes later. Combined with stellar writing and an abundance of dramatic events, this title may be light on action content, but it’s soaring with evocative scenes.
Set in Georgia, the game is presented with heavy cel-shading that reinforces the comic book style. Dark splatters are applied to the heavily saturated colors of the world, where every decayed building is more depressing than the next. Periodically, the action will take on more colorful pastures and forests, but the tone will always remain grim through the use of grime and filth everywhere. Character animations do their best to keep up and in particular the overly amplified facial expressions boost more dramatic moments in the game. However, it’s the audio part that fills up the atmosphere with the correct tones. Even if the score only features minimal string arrangements, each pluck or note hits with precise timing, which sends shivers down the spine. More so, the frequently laden conversations make sure the player stays firmly seated throughout any episode. With almost tangible strength, the game presses this ambience down onto the player and its only foible is that this ambitious scope sometimes strains the engine and causes mood breaking stutters.
Decisions are made by making conversation choices that are timed to press the urgency of the matter. These can range from anything; choosing which direction to take to bargaining and reasoning or even making a critical choice of who lives or dies. No matter what the verdict is, there will be consequences and these can have many variables as well. More so, certain choices will factor in with a character’s stance. For instance, bad mouthing someone from the group of survivors may cause resentment later on and lead to those affected denying help. It’s possible to prompt these reactions on the screen, but for purists there is a cinematic mode that makes these scruples only known through pensive facial expressions. These inner workings in groups paired with having to make crucial calls are what truly drives this effort onwards. Just like in a real zombie apocalypse, time is of the essence and every small step feels like a chasm to overcome. It’s not a bright, shiny world out there anymore.
The story also makes the perfect premise for additional social tribulations. With playable character Lee Everett starting off the game in the back of a police car, the tone is immediately set for disaster. Along the way, he’ll discover more stories of families, characters and even children trapped in this nightmarish reality. In particular, the game focuses its later episodes on the interaction between him and a small child that got left behind, though there will still be plenty of other singular personas to work with. Even the most mundane people shine, as their lack of substance is directly of consequence within a group of survivors. Those that can’t carry their weight effectively bring others down with them. It’s in these encounters that The Walking Dead shows exactly how writing a game well can elevate a title beyond the sum of its parts. Brief moments with most characters are enough to provoke some emotion when any adversity hits them. It’s much worse when long-lasting characters come face to face with a gruesome death. If strings play on for more than 5 seconds, then be prepared for one tightly gripping scene that is sure to stick to mind for some time to come. In particular, the third and fourth episodes are filled with these emotional moments that will test a player’s ability to choke back tears.
Luckily, there are still slight game elements beyond the narrative. While the series starts off a bit more scattered with dull, traditional point and click puzzles, the series quickly picks up the pace and maintains a high rate of streamlined events. By using a cursor to point, Lee can scope his surroundings to search houses for useful items, examine surroundings for exits or interactive objects and so on. Usually, this is needed to find objects needed to move on, like car batteries that are useful to jump into a working car with no power. Additionally, the cursor can be used during some high-action shoot out scenes, where zombies swarm the screen like a classic arcade shooter. Periodically, this gets combined with dramatic scenes, such as trying to escape while fending off the horde at the same time. A sense of urgency is constantly present, when there is any action involved. Any sound can alarm zombies, any hesitation might lead to death; there is no rest among the wicked. Although there are sporadic resting periods within captured moments, the game otherwise pushes players on constantly and that for the better. Time will waste away as any episode stays captivating from front to back, with little downtime at all. Both narration and action keep the stakes high and the timespan low.
It’s unfortunate that not any game design is as fleshed out as the atmosphere, but luckily this is a minor gripe. Those that would feel inclined to have more content for their game must understand that The Walking Dead’s ambience is paramount and high in replay value as well. Sure, broad strokes of the story will still be the same, for consistency’s sake, but Lee can be played as a multitude of personalities and different characters can leave the group, resulting in different situations later on.
Still, perfection is hard to achieve in an atmosphere where every little nuance is so important. Beyond the stutters that break the immersion, some episodes mismatch the pacing, which takes away the constant high of adrenaline. Usually, it’s the ending sequences that just miss the boat on concluding on a high note, though the final will do the exact opposite. The season conclusion of The Walking Dead compresses the entire buildup of the series in one gut-wrenching scene, more emotional than any other before it. It’s a shame that the last episode is merely a setup towards this stellar ending; it doesn’t ride the same consistency as its predecessors. However, seen as a series, the content void last chapter blends in as an epilogue to previous parts and caps it off with an ending that makes playing worthwhile every second.
With its unrivaled narrative, The Walking Dead sets a new standard for any game that wants to tell a story. Impacting, difficult choices along with traditional puzzles and cinematic moments aplenty simply use this tale to further their own success. This game is about its characters and it will leave plenty of emotional imprints on players before a satisfactory open ending leaves us all hungering for more. There are some minor errors and not every episode is equally exquisite, but seeing the level of true consequence, there is a lot that can be forgiven. That’s not bad for a game with zombies that doesn’t actually focus a lot on the undead.
|The Walking Dead is a game to be played and to be discussed later on. Quite like a good movie does with the psyche, this evocative feature holds our attention through its cause and consequence in conversations, but also with its cinematic action. What it lacks in traditional gameplay, it makes up for threefold in unparalleled writing that generates an atmosphere unlike any other game has created. Emotion is the heart of this game and it wouldn't work any other way.|