The Walking Dead – Game
The Walking Dead game is an episodic adventure made by Telltale games. The current plan is to have 5 episodes, which are included in the $25 season pass on Steam, and if it is received well enough there may be another season after this one. It is essentially a point and click adventure title for the most part, but I didn’t realize that for quite some time thanks to the great story and voice acting. Based in the same world and even the same areas of Georgia as the graphic novel and the TV series adds some frame of reference to anyone who is familiar with either. I had watched the first two seasons of the TV series but I hadn’t read the graphic novel when I played the first two episodes of the game, but I have since read the first two “books” in the graphic novel. Having become familiar with all three, I can say with some certainty that you do not need to become familiar with one to enjoy the others. They seem to exist well enough separately but if you do watch the TV series, or have read the books, you will see a few familiar names pop into the game at times.
You play as Lee Everett and start the game in the back of a police cruiser on your way to prison for killing your wife, though there is some uncertainty as to your guilt. Along the way you get talking to the officer driving and he become distracted at an inopportune time, just as a zombie walks into the road in front of the cruiser. You are driven off the road and crash down a hill, and black out. When you wake up it’s hard to tell if you have been out for a long time, or if the zombie problems had just started about a week before the game starts and they just didn’t want to talk about it in the car. Escaping the car and the subsequent nearby zombies serves to set up the story and teach you the controls in a fluid way.
While hunting through a neighbourhood for supplies and help you find a little girl, name Clementine, who has been left with the babysitter while her parents went to Atlanta; it is assumed her parents were killed in Atlanta (mini-moral: when the zombie apocalypse occurs, don’t go to Atlanta). You decide to look after Clementine while heading back to your home town of Macon where your parents and brother live. Oddly you end up going to Herschel’s farm, but it’s not the same Herschel from the book or the TV show and I think it actually makes it more confusing if you are familiar with either of the other stories. For what it’s worth it would be just as understandable if he were some other farmer with a different name; I think I will just assume he was a different person who unfortunately had the same name.
During the game you are asked to make conversation choices, and action choices. Some of your choices will change how other characters react to Lee. You can make them more or less trusting, you might explain something that they later reference to another character later, or in some cases your choices will save one character at the expense of another. When that happens you will play out the rest of the game with the choice you made, so if you save the boy his father will be eternally grateful, but if you save the other guy you may lose your ride out of town. Interesting to note is at the end of the episode it will give you stats of the major choices you made and the average of choices made by other players. I found I mostly made the same choices as the majority or the results were split roughly 50/50. Certain choices I made I immediately regretted afterwards, but I’d already made my choice and I had to live with it. I do have the option after finishing the episode to go back and play the whole thing over again to see how the different choices play out and I may do that later. At the end of the episode it even teases the second episode showing that your choices have carried over even into the preview, which is a great idea for an episodic game.
The second episode starts a few months after the end of the first episode and quietly adds in a new character which is a little confusing right away. I was racking my brain trying to figure out if he was with the team before or not until it’s explained that there was a time between episodes where the group came across this new character and they welcomed him into the group to get access to his stockpile of food. You find out that the group has since gone almost completely through the stockpile, even with rationing and have resorted to hunting in the wilderness. Being low on food has also put a lot of the group at odds over who is leading, who is in charge of rationing, and who deserves to be with the group. This adds a lot of tension and character development before you get into the thick of the action of this episode, which revolves around finding a farm which seems too good to be true, where there is lots of food and an electrified fence to keep the zombies out.
The choices in episode 2 didn’t seem to be immediately acknowledged but I feel they will play an important part in later episodes. At least I hope so because I made some choices that personally I probably wouldn’t make but I wanted to protect Clementine, and for her sake I made a few alternative choices. The main “surprise” in this episode seemed very easy to guess early on, but that could just be that it’s nearly clichéd in zombie/post-apocalyptic movies and shows and I’ve come to expect it. There is a choice early on in the episode which doesn’t really seem like much of a choice (and the stats show that about 85% of people chose to do what I did) and it’s gruesome and visceral and it will stick with you if you aren’t part of the 15% who realize the other option.
The third episode starts only a week after the end of the second episode. Tensions are high at the motel between the few remaining survivors, and it seems a little side romance might be starting up. There is a nice investigation mission and Duck was helping Lee out, which added nice bit of humour. Later the group leaves the motel and heads down the road, unfortunately losing a few people along the way which made the group really small for a while. Eventually a train is found and Lee helps get it going again, luckily it’s already headed towards Savana, Georgia. The group meets up with 3 more characters along the way, and I’ll have to wait until episode 4 to find out how they play into all of this.
It seemed like every decision I made in this episode was important and immediately changed how every other character reacted to Lee. Many times I thought I’d made the wrong choice immediately after choosing it, and often thought about going through the game again to try some different scenarios. Ultimately I figured that this is one of the best parts of the game, you make a decision (sometimes quickly and under duress) and you have to live with it. Going back and replaying it might sour me on my experience, similar to replaying Heavy Rain. This time out almost every choice I made was the minority choice in the stats, which surprised me at first, but seeing as how I second guessed myself at most of those choices it probably makes sense. There is one part just after leaving the motel, if you have played it you probably know what I’m talking about, that made me physically jump in my seat because it caught me off guard. This is something that games rarely make me do, and it’s a pleasant surprise even if I didn’t like the outcome.
I’m very excited for episode 4 and sad that I’ll probably have to wait another month before it comes out.
The fourth episode starts as the train has rolled into Atlanta and Lee and the group are heading down the main street looking for survivors, supplies, etc. and working their way towards the shore to find a boat. Unfortunately someone in town keeps ringing church bells which draws the walkers to the group and they must hide out in an abandoned house. Later Lee finds himself in with a group of survivors who happen to have a doctor which works out well for Omid whose leg had gotten worse. They also meet up with Molly who confirms the stories the survivors told about a group of people who walled themselves into an area called Crawford when the dead started walking and were cut-throat in how they dealt with anyone who might be considered a burden to the group. Eventually it turns out that Lee and the group will have to sneak into the Crawford base to steal some supplies to get the boat running and keep Omid from dying. This episode ends on a seriously ominous cliff-hanger, unlike most of the previous episodes.
There were a lot of tough decisions and snap judgments that I immediately regretted making. A few of them just seemed really innocuous in the choices but when Lee said them it came out all wrong and people got pissed about it. Some more fairly adult themes in this episode and gripping drama. Lee really starts to show that he will do anything for Clementine.
The cliff-hanger at the end of this story was brutal and I want my episode 5 now.
Episode 5 – Sort of
I was really looking forward to episode 5, but when I went to start it up, it said I hadn’t finished episode 4 yet, I have this known bug where the save game gets corrupted. I didn’t know about it, so I finished off episode 4 again and it said episode 5 was “coming soon”. After restarting the game it said episode 5 was installed, but it wanted to start me in the middle of episode 4 again. I attempted to create a new save game file, but that just seems to have corrupted my initial save file where it thinks I’m at episode 3 but all the choices were wrong. This is extremely unfortunate, I now have to wait until a fix is released and then possibly restart the game from episode 1.
This brings up an interesting dilemma for me, do I make the same choices that I found myself regretting, or do I try different things and possibly regret something else even more.
I read a post on the forums about fixing the game by deleting a file (prefs.prop) and when I did everything was fine. I was able to start episode 5 with all my previous choices, so that was a huge relief. I may play through this game again in the future, but for now I’m glad I wasn’t forced to start from scratch.
This episode is probably one of the hardest to play through, it has terribly tough choices and heartfelt emotional scenes. The only complaint I have (other than the ending I won’t get into) is that it was really short. Where all the other episodes were about 3 hours each this one was completed in about an hour. My total play time for 5 episodes was 12 hours, so that is plenty for me, especially with such a great story. I will definitely be buying season 2 when it comes out.
Pros: Great story and voice acting, interesting graphic choice, gameplay expertly hides a point and click system that is nearly gone in this era
Cons: Sometimes it’s difficult to realize what the game designer expected you to do next, so you can either walk in circles or look up a walk-through. Rule of thumb is to talk to everyone and if nothing happens, pick up everything you see and talk to them again. This was mainly a problem in the first two episodes and has all but disappeared as a problem now.