The Walking Dead
Zombies are very good narrative shorthand for an enemy you can kill without remorse in a video game, but it’s safe to say that undead fatigue has begun to set in. See also nazis and random ‘terrorists’ from ‘Whereverstan’ in the CoD and Battlefield-type games. It’s difficult having an “easy” enemy when making films or video games, and it’s why The Hunt for Red October remake had to be edited to have Korea instead of China attacking the United States, and then got thrown in a drawer anyway.
In this age of a million zombie games, comics, films and every damn thing else, you learn to get picky, and the one thing which has been fantastic in any medium is Robert Kirkman’s “The Walking Dead”. Zombie stories get it right when they’re about the people, and the zombies are more like a force of nature. They encourage character drama and keep the tension high. Look at the Zack Snyder remake of Dawn of the Dead, as schlocky and gory as it was, the best moments were when the people were in the mall and we got to see how they reacted to each other and the situation around them.
As much as Left4Dead was a brilliant co-op ‘gun down the fast running zombie’ type of game and Resident Evil was a good classical zombie horror, The Walking Dead is the first game which is truly about the people and the personal conflicts. A giveaway that this isn’t a standard zombie game is that it was made by Telltale Games, known for recent Sam & Max and Monkey Island exploits. You play Lee, a man on his way to prison, chatting with the policeman in the front of the car. It’s slow paced, but it begins as other police cars, ambulances and helicopters start whizzing past in the other direction. This slow start has the de-compressed pacing of the comic and allows you to get used to the odd controls. The right stick controls a cursor which then highlights face buttons you can push.
Things fall apart, as they always do, and when you find a firearm it hardly marks the transformation into a gun-toting hero that zombie games would normally give. You’re wounded, you’re evidently useless with a weapon, and facing off against one zombie is a challenge. The system is a little slow and sluggish like the eponymous Walking Dead, and takes some getting used to. The good news is that it’s not about that. It’s about the characters and your interaction with them. Early on, you meet a little girl called Clementine and become her carer. She’s like a less annoying Yorda, actually able to handle herself (up to a point), with her own attitudes and opinions about things, but still a child and dependent on you despite her attempts at being tough.
When you interact with people, you’re given options of how to respond and the game likes to remind you that not responding is a response in itself. You can be chatty and friendly, surly, silent, hostile, whatever. The thing is, when you say something to a person, there’s a bang and a line across the top which says, “Shawn thinks you are the babysitter” or “Charlie Will Remember That You Didn’t Flush”. It’s a great way of reminding you of the permanence of your decisions when interacting with characters. They might get ripped apart in the next scene for all you know, but no matter how big or small, you see that your interactions have repercussions. You might realise that you shouldn’t have lied to Herschel and end up chasing your tail to defend that lie.
The tone of the game is spot-on for The Walking Dead, but this gives a physical link to the continuity, too. It also forces more investment. If you’ve read 15 printed and at least two upcoming volumes of the graphic novel and/or seen the two seasons of the television show, then you know who the likes of Glenn and Herschel are and care for their survival. Well, maybe not Herschel, but the game gives a nice insight into his mindset anyway, making him seem more human.
The graphics of The Walking Dead are interesting yet weird. It’s like someone’s brought art reminiscent of Charlie Adlard into three dimensions, with all the benefits and drawbacks it brings. It isn’t bad, but like the control system, it’s different and takes getting used to. By the time you’re done with the first encounter, you’re in the moment and ready to get invested in the characters, but it is jarring. One of the best things about the art style is that it’s expressive; the focus, again, is the people, and they all look different to each other. You can see when someone’s suspecting your lies, or when your character gets a tantalising hint at the crime they’ve committed.
The Walking Dead episode one is a quick game, over in a few hours unless you chicken out part way through for a few days. There are times when you absolutely NEED to go out and into the zombie-infested areas, but don’t want to as people will almost certainly die. It’s stressful, but in a good way. People depend on you and you have to cowboy up, take down any zombies you can and make sure that your allies can live to see another day – to try and make sure that you and any other survivors see the next day and reclaim some semblance of their humanity.
Like Dead Rising 2: Case Zero, this is short, and is going for 400 points, which is barely anything. It’s not so long that you get bored, and it’s not so short that you feel robbed with the cost, unlike a full retail game which can outstay its welcome. The Walking Dead Episode One is a great experience which makes an overused genre interesting once more and tells a nice tale along the way. Hopefully the next episodes can keep the momentum going.
This review is based on an Xbox 360 copy purchased by D+PAD.
Have you downloaded the latest issue from GamerZines yet? Check it out here!