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The Walking Dead: A Telltale Games Series (PC) artwork

The Walking Dead: A Telltale Games Series (PC) review

"Finally, a frightening graphic adventure full of stuff and things."

The Walking Dead: A Telltale Games Series (PC) image

I will admit: I am very picky when it comes to interactive movies and graphic adventures. Too often I run afoul of a poorly written story riddled with holes and exhausted plot devices or a schlock-fest without the benefit of campy humor. Initially, I thought that The Walking Dead would be no different. I even readied my shoulders for the inevitable shrug that I would execute as the first episode concluded. However, an event occurred which still keeps me up at night. I felt this thudding sound in my chest, like there was a regularly ice cold organ around my thoracic cavity that began to function. And for some odd reason, my mind remained focused on beginning the next episode so I could stop worrying about the game's cast of characters. Additionally, I felt compelled to submit myself to the emotional torture of knowing that not all of members of the game's wonderful ensemble were going to survive. I call this peculiar occurrence "giving a crap," something that seldom happens to me when experiencing modern interactive fiction.

It's hard not to care when you think about the game as a whole, rather than analyzing its individual pieces. For instance, if I told you that the protagonist Lee was a convicted murderer, you might find it difficult to empathize with him. However, through his interactions with another major character, a young girl named Clementine, we discover the humanity in Lee: he's headstrong, confident, determined, but far from perfect. Nothing he does satisfies everyone in his entourage, but he has the brass to actually make a decision while the others squabble. Clementine is usually there to indicate if Lee ultimately made the right decision by whimpering when he falters or grinning when he succeeds.

Lee also becomes Clementine's inspiration. Whenever her childhood innocence puts her at a disadvantage, Lee is there to use his knowledge of grim reality to instruct her on how to survive and be savvy. In a way the two are like yin and yang, and it's interesting to see how they develop based on how they interact with one another.

Of course, Lee and Clem are not the only intriguing characters on display in The Walking Dead, all of whom are there to tug on your heartstrings. For instance, episode one leaves you in a predicament in which you must save one character, but leave another to be munched by the undead. Picking a winner would've been a simple task, except that the game gives you the opportunity to chat with either party member and become more acquainted with them. Although you get to experience the relief of saving one of them, you also have to live through the sorrow of listening to the other's pained screams as the undead tear him or her to shreds. You might ponder on the backstory one of them fed you prior to his/her demise and question your decision. I know I did, even as the game drew to a close.

The Walking Dead: A Telltale Games Series (PC) image

As you advance, you form bonds with your cohorts, even the ones you don't particularly like. I recall disliking Lilly because we got off on the wrong foot, but feeling horrible when I had to deal with an awful situation regarding her father, Larry. Although I didn't like her before, it stung knowing that I earned her spite for engaging in something that seemed necessary at the time.

The Walking Dead's mechanics are minimalistic, but that's to be expected. They're not, however, completely nonexistent. For starters, there are a several scenes in which you're expected to give a verbal response to the conversation at hand, with a time limit presented below your choices. Needless to say the game doesn't give you the time to carefully ponder on the words you choose (unless you exit to the menu screen, cheater), so you have to react quickly and hope you mumble a line that reflects the version of Lee you wish to build. This adds depth to the narrative by reinforcing the notion that Lee is not necessarily an altruistic person. Based on your choices, he will either appear to be an alright guy or a complete prick. He could form alliances with various characters during heated arguments, or keep his mouth shut and remain impartial. In other circumstances, your decision impacts whether or not someone survives, and that's when the aforementioned time limit can really get to you. There's one moment, for example, in which you have the choice to save a certain bothersome character who is about to fall to his death. You can either pull him up and have him rejoin your group, or let him plummet and feed the walkers who are currently on your tail.

QTEs predictably make an appearance as well, adding a tad more to the game's interactiveness. True, gunning down ghouls via quick-time shooting isn't as satisfying as it is in an action title, but the tension is more palpable in The Walking Dead. There's a bit of realism to the gunplay here that you don't typically experience in more action-based titles. That, in turn, can make even a small pack of walkers feel like a true threat, especially if one manages to drag Lee to the ground, bite down on his soft neck-flesh, and tear out his carotid. So, if you don't want to witness a fate that will make you want to take a wire brush to your brain, your aim better spot-frickin'-on.

The Walking Dead: A Telltale Games Series (PC) image

Yes, The Walking Dead is a graphic experience, highlighted by gushy headshots, broken bones, impalement, and even a scene involving a cinder block turning a man's head into taco meat. Part of what softens the blow, though, is the game's comic book-style visuals, similar to the brand's graphic novel roots. Each screenshot could very well be a panel out of the comic, rendered with a vibrant paint-like color palette and pencil-like outlines. Such a concept--the utilization of lively, comic-like colors--might sound like it would demean the game's horror elements. In truth, they merely soften the blow that comes with watching a likeable human being get chomped to death. In a way, it's a throwback George A. Romero's "Dawn of the Dead," in which he and makeup artist Tom Savini depicted the zombies as bright bluish, almost-cartoony ghouls, which added to the film's entertainment value by demeaning scenes that would have been taken as outright sadism. Of course, Romero's grim humor, which you see occasionally in The Walking Dead, helped as well.

One minuscule complaint that I have regarding The Walking Dead is that it's not entirely scary. Part of that could be due to the overcrowding of the zombie-apocalypse-drama genre, what with filmmakers wanting to make their own "Dawn of the Dead," thereby resulting in desensitization on my part. Honestly, I've gotten to the point that when a new zombie apocalypse movie sprouts up on Netflix or appears on my Facebook feed via Dread Central or Bloody Disgusting, I pretty much roll my eyes. The Walking Dead doesn't offer much in the way of new scares or horrifying concepts, but it does properly utilize the familiar. Any horror story worth its salt usually sticks you with likeable characters, then places then in frantic situations. This occurs often enough in The Walking Dead to keep the game pretty tense, as walkers break through barriers, "herds" approach at awful times, and members of your crew turn up with fresh bites. Anyone who's watched a zombie movie knows what that settles on, but with such an enjoyable cast you might be reluctant to put your friend down.


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (October 31, 2014)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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