Well, if the zombie apocalypse ever really happens I’m absolutely boned. That’s what I’ve learned from playing Telltale’s The Walking Dead. I tried to be rational and stay optimistic, but in the end all it got me was blood on my hands. You just can’t be civilized in an uncivilized world. So thanks for the lesson I won’t soon forget, Telltale.
The Walking Dead is truly a special kind of video game. It’s a title that calls back to the adventure games of old, where most of the gameplay revolves around walking up to things and clicking on them, and talking to people. It’s not rocket science, nor does it require an itchy trigger finger (except in a few instances). However, what the game lacks in action, it more than makes up for with gut-wrenching moral dilemmas. You will make some truly tough choices in The Walking Dead, and you will feel their repercussions, for better or worse (worse usually). Better yet, because of the choices presented throughout the game’s five chapters, you could wind up playing an entirely different game than your friends by the time it’s all over, leading to plenty of “well this is how my story went…” conversations.
There’s a gravity to every decision you make in the game, whether it’s deciding who gets to eat the last candy bar in your food stash, or if you should chop off some dude’s leg in order to save the rest of him. The bevy of choices Telltale Games presents are typically of the heartbreaking variety. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll quickly learn that in order to survive, you’re going to have to be a dick every now and then. That’s not typically my MO in real life, but during the zombie apocalypse all bets are off, and it’s really the only way to succeed at the game’s one true objective - protect a little girl named Clementine by any means necessary.
Telltale just nails exactly what differentiates The Walking Dead from, say, Dawn of the Dead, or Night of the Living Dead, or, God help us, Zombie Strippers. The Walking Dead, from the comics to the AMC show, is about people, not zombies. It’s about what lengths humans will go to survive in the face of impossible odds. Telltale absolutely gets this, and pulls it off arguably better than Robert Kirkman himself and the folks working over at AMC.
You will meet a lot of great characters over the course of The Walking Dead, anchored by some truly excellent writing and scripting that transforms them into fully realized individuals with their own sets of morals and beliefs. Sometimes these morals and beliefs will conflict with your stance on a matter, and you’ll be forced to act. Sometimes the pacifist angle will take, leading to a crisis adverted for the time being, but most of the time it will not. It’s in these instances that you will learn just what type of person you are when your back is to the wall. And that’s why The Walking Dead works on so many levels – it’s a game where choice and consequence actually matter and often lead to the player having to hold a mirror up to his or her own soul. And you won’t always like what stares back.
Now, while The Walking Dead is an achievement from a design and storytelling perspective, the visuals don’t quite live up to that high standard; although, they do sport a neat comic book-y aesthetic that matches the source material with which the game is based upon. There are also some technical hang-ups worth noting; mainly, framerate issues during heavier action sequences (PC seems to run smoother, though), some weird graphical glitches, and the complete lack of an inverted aim option.
But those few issues don’t hold back an otherwise enthralling video game that manages to get the blood pumping on a consistent basis and will probably pull at your heartstrings by the time the final credits roll. The Walking Dead proves, without a shadow of a doubt, that a good game does not necessarily mean the pedal must be to the metal at all times. In fact, as long as you have some memorable characters and a morally complex story to tell, hell, you can have your audience by the balls with just some simple button presses every now and again. That’s the power of storytelling.
Just take a lesson from a man who has been through the emotional ringer – be prepared to sometimes be an asshole. Oftentimes it’s what separates the living from the dead. Oh, and trust no one.
Our reviewer paid for all five chapters of Telltale's The Walking Dead digitally through Xbox Live with his own money (the game will be available in a retail bundle on Dec. 11, too). Before starting this review, he played through the game in its entirety, then cried into a bucket of ice cream for hours.
Erik Norris is the Gaming Editor for CraveOnline. You can follow him on Twitter @Regular_Erik.