Post Mortem: The Walking Dead

Post Mortem is a series of posts about games that I have finished recently. It’s both a review and a chance to share my experience in game, both good and bad. May contain spoilers!

The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead game is the latest series to be release based on Robert Kirkman’s graphic novels of the same name. This time, Telltale Games has given us an adventure horror game based in the universe of the Walking Dead. Telltale Games has a good deal of experience with adventure games, in a hit and miss fashion. They brought us the newest Tales of Monkey Island adventures, and the Back to the Future game. They also brought us Jurassic Park to, er, not so critical acclaim, to put it mildly. So how does this latest outing fare for the developers?

The Walking Dead isn’t your typical run of the mill zombie game. If you like Left 4 Dead, this will take some adjusting. It is an adventure game of the truest sort. It’s structured in an episodic way; there are 5 episodes in total, and you can buy a season pass to get access to all the episodes as they are released, which is expected to be monthly. The game itself is rendered in cell-shader style, in homage to the original graphic novels. This, I like! Personally, I haven’t played many good cell-shader games. My favourite probably has to be XIII, which is from a while ago now. Visually, the game is quite good. It’s no Crysis, but it still looks great while keeping to the graphic novel’s character. The good news is that it isn’t overly graphically intense – it ran very well on my 4-year old rig with an 8800GTX in it, with details turned up to high on a 1080P screen.

The game starts with you playing the character Lee, who is being transported out of Atlanta by a police car to a jail facility. The car ride features small talk with the officer who is driving, and gets you used to the control, action and talking systems. The suspense builds as you see SWAT units, police cars and helicopters head back towards the city. The officer driving turns to talk to you a final time, you hit a walker, and you are catapulted headlong into the game. Soon, you meet a little girl and save her from attack. It’s up to you to protect her and fight your way out of this mess.

The control system is designed for consoles. In fact, when you open up the control screen in the PC version, it just gives you an XBOX controller. thankfully, its easy enough to play with a keyboard and mouse, with the finer controls explained to you as you go. You will definitely need a scroll wheel on your mouse though (as if you don’t have one already!), as that is a key part of the controls. The rest is your typical WASD and mouse controls, which most gamers are used to. There are also two styles of play: easy, where items of interest and control are highlighted and hinted at, and hard where nothing is highlighted. I’m no adventure gamer, so at times I struggled with even hints. For those used to using their head quickly you might fare better and turn hints off, but there are a few places where hints certainly came in handy.

The camera used when moving varies depending on where you are. It switches between 3rd person, far and a hover-style camera. This can be quite disorienting, and make control of Lee at times a bit hard, but does the job well enough when you need it to. It’s not often you get control of Lee though; the game is very linear and the times you control Lee are only to get to another place to advance the story. It’s hard to sandbox a game based on the Walking Dead, but you certainly give up a lot of control to tell the story. The place where you get most control is the dialogue.

There dialogue in the game is often controlled by yourself, the player. Something you need to get used to early in the game is that you can often select responses to questions that are asked of you. Later, the answers to your questions, and your actions that result, are remembered by the characters in a game. Save a character, they remember. Align with someone, they remember and become favourable towards you. Lie, and the character will pick up on it and may hold it against you. This is what gives this game depth – it would be easy to tell a story and give the player little involvement, but to have your actions and words remembered by players and affect what happens later in the game is something we don’t see enough of these days. This persistence should last across all the episodes which is an exciting prospect.

The Walking Dead won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s not your typical zombie horror game. It’s very linear, but with plenty of problem solving activities and an interaction system that can make or break partnerships in the game. Telltale Games is using an episodic model for this game, with 5 episodes in total. There’s about 2-3 hours worth of content in this episode, depending on how good or bad you are at adventure games in general. At $24.99USD for a season pass, this is pretty good value. I did feel this episode to be a little light on content and ended abruptly – here’s hoping as the action in the series heats up, that feeling will go away. There is a lot to like about this series so far, and I hope that Telltale Games build on this momentum and delivers a series every bit as good as the graphic novel and TV series.

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