Review: The Walking Dead Game

Zombies are video game fodder.  When game designers need something to throw at players for some guilt-free killing zombies rank at about the same level at Nazis.  We take offense at being deemed expendable, good only for scientific experiments and target practice.  Gamers should feel just as guilty for killing us as they would for blasting a pixelated hole in grandma’s head with a digital shotgun.

That’s why we approve of The Walking Dead, from Telltale Games.  If you’re looking for an endless shooting gallery of the undead go back to Resident Evil or Dead Island.  In the real world, there is no such thing as infinite ammunition.  Those nameless zombies are your friends and neighbors. 

The game tackles the zombie apocalypse with realism that breaks the boundaries of traditional survival horror titles.  To call it a game is disingenuous. It’s about experiencing, participating in and driving the story.

This is based on The Walking Dead comic book series by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore which deals with interpersonal relationships as much as it deals with walkers.   There are no lone wolves.  In any catastrophic event, independent survival is unlikely.   You need to depend on a group and build a community.  Your actions and conversation choices affect your ability to fit with and survive in that critical community structure.

The game is being released as five separate episodes.  In the opening of Episode One, Lee Everett, that’s you, sits handcuffed in the back of a police cruiser on the way to prison having been charged with murder.   

During the ride, there are signs that something of significance is happening back in Atlanta as the police radio calls for all available officers, sirens whip down the highway toward the city and helicopters streak by overhead.  Soon enough, a car accident gives Lee another chance at freedom.  It’s up to you how he makes his way.

Lee meets up with a young girl, Clementine, who he takes under his protection.  Treat a character with kindness or cruelty and they will remember it in kind.  There’s a definite consequence to your actions which reminds me of the Choose Your Own Adventure books that were popular in the 80s.  

While there are occasional action sequences calling for a quick response, the game is primarily focused on interaction and exploration.  In a couple high tension scenes, you must choose one of two survivors to rescue.  Saving them both is impossible and either choice has a direct impact on the subsequent storyline that ripples into Episode Two and further. 

As a fan of The Walking Dead comic, I’m pleased to see the game’s graphics match the original style.  It feels like you’ve stepped right into the pages with a key exception.  The game is in color.  The black & white tone of the comic lets the artist express more gore than might be acceptable in a color version; the game doesn’t shy away from blood and gore.  There’s enough to satisfy all but the most extreme horror fan.

Fans of the comic will recognize characters along the way.  There’s an encounter with Hershel at his farm and ,later, Glen joins your group.  Lilly, a minor character in the comics with a major impact, appears in the game.  She eventually joins the Governor in a fateful confrontation at the prison.  She has a pivotal role in the climax of that showdown, yet little is known of her.  The game fleshes out her character and may explain why she went off to the Governor’s camp in a later episode.

I did encounter a graphics issue running the game on my Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit machine.  When the it transitioned from the title screen, I could hear the music, but the window was blank.  On a lark, I changed the Privilege Level on the Compatibility tab of the game icon on my desktop to run the application as an administrator and it worked.  Another quirk of the PC version is the movement keys.  

They didn’t feel as natural as a game controller.  It’s available for the X-Box and PS3 and you can tell where the emphasis was placed.  When navigating to controller settings, I expected to see a keyboard and a legend for key mappings.  Instead, an X-Box controller was presented.  This could have been better managed with only a little more effort from Telltale with more attention to the PC or Mac end of the market.

These annoyances didn’t sour my overall enjoyment of the game.  Once I got accustomed to using the arrow keys along with the mouse, it was smooth sailing through the zombie apocalypse.  I look forward to experiencing how they introduce other characters from the comic series – Rick, in particular.  With Lee’s criminal history there’s a foundation for some drama. 

The comic follows Rick from waking up in a hospital while the apocalypse is already well underway through to his meeting with Lori and other survivors.   Opportunity to meet up with him during the game’s storline is slim.  Maybe we’ll find that Rick arrested Lee in a backstory segment.   Only one way to find out and I eagerly await the next installment.

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