The Walking Dead

Game: The Walking Dead
Telltale Games
Telltale Games

Reviewed: April 2014
Game Type:

Walking Dead Zombies
Blackpool Town Centre, last night.

Zombies. They’re boring aren’t they? I’m not sure they’ve ever been an interesting enemy. Monotonous shambling corpses were pretty dull the first time I saw them, but after having been forced into almost every game ever (and most other forms of media) it’s enough to make you want to mark something down instantly just for including them. The Walking Dead, as you would expect from the title, features them rather heavily. I really, really hate zombies. All of which is leading up to me saying: this is one of the best story driven games I’ve played in the last few years. I loved it and would recommend it to anyone interested in experiencing a good story, regardless of whether reanimated corpses appeal to you in any way.

With The Walking Dead, Telltale carry on what they started with Jurassic Park, making more of an interactive movie focusing on story rather than trying to provide challenging gameplay. This time though, they’ve done it properly, fixing much of what was wrong with the previous disappointing experiment. Action is controlled through quick time events again, but this time it’s been kept to an absolute minimum, and there’s no hand acrobatics where it asks you to press sequences of keys. Instead, QTEs appear in quick bursts, usually involving hitting a key repeatedly to fight off a zombie or when doing difficult tasks, but without requiring you to go so fast that you smash your keyboard to pieces. They’re more there to provide more interaction and make you feel involved in the scenes rather than to provide any major challenge. More often, you’ll be clicking with the mouse, sometimes having to react quite quickly to what is happening, and this works better than the traditional style of button pressing.

Walking Dead Yank Him Off
Now, is that really appropriate at a time like this?

Aside from the action scenes you’ll generally have full control of your character as you explore the environments and talk to the various other survivors, which is a key part of the game. Traditional adventure game style puzzles are kept to an absolute minimum and are pretty obvious immediately anyway, but this is a game about choices, not challenge. It’s a story that you help to create, as the things you choose can have a major effect on the plot, affecting how other characters feel about you, who you can trust and even who lives and dies. This is the vital component that makes a game like this work. Where the Jurassic Park game felt like a movie that required you to press a button to continue every so often, The Walking Dead thoroughly immerses you in its world, and it’s a world of moral ambiguity. In a time where everyone is just trying to survive, it’s hard to find any characters that are easily likable all the time.

This is what makes the game work, despite being about zombies. Where most games are content to shove in a load of zombies to shoot in the misguided belief that they’re somehow cool and everyone loves them, The Walking Dead uses the unexplained revival of dead bodies as a background to tell stories about people. The zombies are an ever-present threat throughout every moment of the game, but the game wisely limits close encounters with them to short periods so that they don’t become too repetitive or dull. You rarely know just when they’re going to come so you never feel truly safe anywhere. And even without direct control of action events, the game immerses the player extremely well. The first encounter with a zombie at the start of the game is as panicked and tense as anything an action game could achieve, possibly more so.

Walking Dead Head Smashed
I've got a bit of a headache.

The game puts you in control of Lee, handcuffed in the back of a police car after being arrested for murder. Shortly after freeing himself after the car hits a “walker” (the game rarely uses the term zombie, presumably in the modern trend that thinks not calling them zombies makes them become less clichéd) he comes across a small girl called Clementine hiding out in a treehouse and she ends up going with him. Along the way they encounter various other people and the five episodes follow their attempts to survive among the dead. The characters all develop as the game goes along and while each episode charts a specific event, the season itself follows a story arc for the characters of Clementine and especially Lee. It’s wonderfully written and unpredictable, often not going in the direction you might expect.

Some will, and have, criticised this as not being a game, which takes a very narrow view of things that would keep gaming bogged down in tradition and prevent new forms of entertaining from being made. This isn’t a game in the traditional sense of presenting a challenge, but it’s a wonderful form of interactive entertainment that put you into the story in a way that a film never could. The Walking Dead comes highly recommended for everyone interested in storytelling in games, and is a welcome return to form for the excellent Telltale Games.

Walking Dead Notice Board
The stories in 400 Days are selected from a missing persons board and can be played in any order.

The 400 Days DLC tells five separate (very) short stories involving five different characters set at various points after the start of the zombie uprising. These vignettes don’t feel like they really lead to anything, most focusing on one or two major decisions within a 10-15 minute timeframe. There’s then an epilogue where they’ve all met up and have one final decision to make, and who makes what choice will be based on the decisions in the game. It’s good to be able to explore stories of differing lengths in gaming without having to worry about making everything an epic, but none of these are really complete stories, mostly just introducing you to a character. It really feels like they’re just setting up for people I assume are going to appear in Season 2. It does manage to make each of the five stories feel distinctively different, in style and decision to be made, which makes this well worth playing for anyone who liked The Walking Dead, but only if you intend to play the sequel. It’s not bad, but not of much value on its own.

Arbitrary Final Scores:
The Walking Dead: 4.5 stars
400 Days: 3 stars

If you like this, you might also like: The Last of Us

Does The Walking Dead give new life to the tired genre, or is it still a dead man walking? Tell us what you think in the forum!