The Walking Dead Game Revisited


I'm sacrificing some NaNoWriMo time because this just absolutely must be written about. Back when I started playing The Walking Dead Game from Telltale Games, I was pretty impressed. It was only episode one back then, of a planned five episodes. Since then, the remaining four episodes have come out.

The first time I played the game, I played it on the PC. It was a pretty good experience, as I detailed in my previous writeup. I held off on the subsequent episodes though, so that I could go through the whole thing.

At some point between then and now, I got it for the iPad. I've thought for a while that these games were ideally suited for the touch interface, and boy was I proven right. The iPad controls are far easier than the PC, and the game is a joy to play that way.

But really what has to be said is that The Walking Dead Game is a true mastercraft of writing.

The guys at Telltale are absolute geniuses at pacing, at character development, at making you care about Lee, the protagonist of the story, and Clementine, the little girl you've charged yourself with looking after. At different points through all five episodes, I found myself shocked, awed, scared, devastated, angry--and at the end of the game, when all was said and done, they wrapped it up with such perfection that I really, seriously lost it. It was devastating, utterly shattering in how heartbreaking it was. And then they still weren't done with you. After all, there is The Walking Dead Game Season 2 coming up.

Well played, Telltale Games, and Gary Whitta in particular. The Walking Dead Game is the only choice for Game of the Year 2012 in my book.

Changing the Story - Interactive Narrative

Shortly after I posted my GeekBeat.TV review of The Walking Dead Game I got a number of comments to the effect that people were disappointed by how little the story changed over the course of playing the game. I was pretty dumbfounded by this, as the degree of change was one of the things that impressed me the most; so much so that I wrote about it here, too.

After having given it a few weeks of consideration, I’ve come to believe people have the wrong idea about interactive storytelling, or at least that they have unrealistic expectations. There’s this sense that “the story completely changes when you select different options!” means really radical changes, like in one branch you abandon Atlanta and go off to a totally different city with different characters, while another branch has you stay in the area.

That kind of branching story can be done, but not in a game like The Walking Dead Game. That’s more the kind of difference you’d see in a massively multiplayer online game like World of Warcraft or Star Wars: The Old Republic, where the games were designed with massive budgets and enough staff to be able to cope with wildly diverging paths of that nature.

The Walking Dead is a much more tightly focused game, and it works within some limitations. You’re always going to start the game in that police car, and you’re always going to end episode 1 in [SPOILER REDACTED]. Nothing you do during the game can change that, except die, and I’d assume you’d try again if that happened.

Instead what changes is Lee’s relationships with the other survivors, and even who the group of survivors is composed of. Did so-and-so live or die? Did you stick up for the one family during the confrontation in the pharmacy so that he has your back later on? Did you call someone a nasty name, earning a black mark in her book that she’ll remember later? Did you lie to Clementine or tell her the brutal truth early on? All of these things are noted and remembered by the game, and really change how people interact with Lee as you play him through events.

THAT is how interactive narrative changes, even when settings don’t. Now, where’s episode 2?

The Walking Dead Game Creeps Up On You

It’s no secret that I love zombies. One look at my story The Fast and the Dead is enough to convince anyone of that. It should come as no surprise then that I love The Walking Dead in every form it’s available in; as a comic/graphic novel, as a TV series, and now as an adventure game from Telltale Games.

I’ll have a full review of The Walking Dead Game up on GeekBeat.TV soon, but I wanted to go into how episode 1 handles the storytelling, as that’s really the part of the game that impressed me the most.

It’s common these days to call any good, impressive game ‘epic,’ but The Walking Dead Game Episode 1 - A New Day is the opposite of epic. It’s small, it’s personal, it’s isolating, stressful, fearful and very satisfying.

The game puts huge emphasis on the importance of the choices you, playing as Lee Everett, make throughout the story. Conversation and investigation make up the bulk of the game play; make no mistake, while this is a zombie game, it is NOT a shooter, nor is it a survival horror game. It is pure adventure.

Lee EverettAt key points throughout the game, you’ll say things in conversations, and you’ll be given a brief flash of information about the impact that your choice had on things. If you stick up for a friend in an argument, they’ll remember it. If you mouth off and call someone a nasty name, they’ll remember that too. In a twist that’s very Bioware in nature, these decisions can have consequences far beyond episode 1, impacting your journey into the next four episodes as well.

The examples I gave above were relatively trivial (at least they seem that way at first glance.) But there are much weightier choices to be made as well; there are a number of points at which you’ll literally be choosing who lives and who dies, and make no mistake, people WILL die.

The story’s far from over; we’ve been given a single episode of 8 chapters, with four more episodes to come. I’m really looking forward to seeing how deep the connections run between episodes. I’m loving Telltale’s Back to the Future series, but haven’t finished yet in part because each episode is so very self-contained; there’s not as much driving me to finish all five quickly. If The Walking Dead Game lives up to the early promise it shows, I won’t have that problem with it.