The Walking Dead: GOTY Edition / 30th of October 2014
Licenced videogames are always a cause for raised eyebrows, they always have been, and they’ll continue to be for the foreseeable future. Even as far back as 1982, when Atari released - then literally buried - E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, videogames have generally struggled to adapt material from other mediums. So in 2012, when Telltale Games released The Walking Dead: Episode 1, an episodic, ‘point and click’ style, adventure game, I was more than a little sceptical. The franchise had already been converted into a popular TV show, and the chances of a second successful transition were slim, or so I thought. In fact I was so sure I never actually played the series when it first appeared. The episodic format didn’t appeal and I figured were to play it at some point, I’d rather wait until I had access to every episode. This decision meant I was ideally placed to finally play and review The Walking Dead: Game of the Year Edition in time for its arrival on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 this October.
Too often when licenced games are given the green light they attempt to adhere to the same narrative as the source material, ending up constrained by the canon they’ve attached themselves to. Thankfully Telltale’s offering is bold enough to create its own original storyline, and although set in the same period as the original comic series, it doesn’t allow itself to be weighed down by the source material. Yes you’ll kill zombies and come to blows with bands of survivors in post-apocalyptic America, but that’s simply window dressing for the new story Telltale wants us to experience. The real meat of the game comes from the choices you’re forced to make. Siding with one person or another in heated arguments, frantically choosing whom merits saving and making those cold, cold decisions in order to survive is what the game’s all about.
Players assume the role of Lee, a convicted murderer, en route to prison when the emergence of the undead puts his sentencing on hold. Injured and forced to flee the scene of a crash, Lee stumbles across Clementine, who despite being only eight years old and completely alone, helps to save Lee’s life. From there the two agree to take care of one another and their relationship becomes the central story for the first season. Lee, using his strength and judgement to help keep Clementine safe, while Clementine’s very presence gives Lee a reason to carry on as the word they know disappears around them. Admittedly it’s a premise not too dissimilar from the source material. Adults having to protect children, and the children in turn giving the adult’s life meaning, but if you can look past that, then the intricacies of this particular relationship can easily keep you playing.
However it’s the decisions you’ll be faced with that really give the game its edge. With Lee’s chequered past you’ll be required to weigh up the dangers of keeping secrets against the risk of them being exposed at a later date. It’s these sort of moments where videogames - the interactive medium - stand out. Unlike TV you’re not forced to sit and watch as someone makes an obviously foolish choice, instead as master of your own destiny you can make the call yourself. And should you happen to make the wrong one, and your actions lead to damning consequences down the line, then it’s all the more impactful. Unfortunately when it comes to replaying the same choices at a later date, or discussing the game with friends you’ll find the branching narrative you imagined doesn’t exist. It’s an illusion of choice, one done very well, but when it vanishes it can leave you feeling cheated and frustrated. Ultimately it comes down to personal preference, is the act of making the decision important, or is it the outcome of said decision?
Some of these decisions play out as dialogue, giving you different buttons to hit for each available option. However the game is a ‘point and click’ adventure, and you’ll often be tasked with exploring small areas and solving puzzles in order to progress the narrative. Occasionally they’ll feel quite rewarding but the feeling is far too seldom. Instead most of them end up being exercises in frustration, where you’ll often be forced to slowly wander back and forth investigating every item you see, chatting to everyone in sight and going through every piece of dialogue. Until eventually with no more to explore, you’ll return to the thing you first attempted and discover you were right all along, but that you hadn’t done it in the exact order the game wanted you to.
Being the Game of the Year Edition, the developers could have also taken the opportunity to tweak this particular version a bit further and implement a few new features. Something such as the ability to skip intros and outros would have been greatly appreciated. Instead being forced to sit through the recaps, teasers and closing credits of every episode becomes incredibly frustrating, especially when playing chapters back to back.
The end result of all this is a game which can at times completely capture your attention and make you eager to press on as quickly as possible, but then stops you in your tracks with some convoluted puzzle or dull interlude, forcing you to re-tread events still fresh in your mind. It’s just shy of being a very enjoyable experience when taken as a whole, but then again maybe the inclusion of the 400 Days special episode and a few box-set like extras make up for these shortcomings. Although being re-released as a Game of the Year Edition, The Walking Dead is still a game best played in small chunks, and if you are able to adhere to that, then the benefit of getting so much content in one swoop can’t be faulted.