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Friday, April 27, 2012

5 Reasons 'The Walking Dead' Video Game Works

I recently posted my review on The Walking Dead for the Playstation 3, but after playing through it several more times since then, I strongly believe a follow-up article is in need. Being that The Walking Dead is a comic series, a hit (?) television show, and now a video game, there's clearly something in the formula that works.

I'm not going to lie by saying that I like The Walking Dead as a television drama. I find it incredibly boring for lack of a better word. I'm not entirely sure if it's the shallow characters, lack of both emotion and action, or the simple fact that there seems to be no point.

Despite my opinion of the television show, the comic book series has always been a favorite of mine. That is of course until the first episode of The Walking Dead video game. It's far and above the quality that I ever expected, and has now become my favorite avenue for The Walking Dead.

Reason #1 - The Characters

There isn't a character presented in the first episode that doesn't flood you with personality. Especially Clementine, the little girl you find at the beginning of the game. Rather than go with the typical "I'm a pain in the ass, watch me screw things up" route we see far too often (such as Heavy Rain and The Walking Dead tv series), Clementine is a smart, brave, naive child. She understands the situation as best a child her age could, and the writing surrounding her character is flawless. I even found myself answering her questions about her parents with vague, fluffed responses - much like anyone would do with a real kid.

It doesn't just stop with her either. The main Character, Lee, is a mysterious, somehow likeable character despite that fact that you meet him in the back of a cop car. When presented with questions about his past, I would dodge them, changing the topic or completely lying. For some odd reason I wanted people to like him, despite knowing only one thing about him: he was a convicted felon.

Then there's the rest of the cast. Characters like Duck, Doug, Hershel, Shawn, Kenny, Glenn, and even Larry (to name a few). While they certainly aren't the main characters, they all play a pivotal role not only in the progression of the story, but in conveying the emotion of trying to survive a zombie apocalypse.

Even Chet is a rememberable character, and all he did was introduce himself for three seconds to Lee and Clementine at the beginning of the game.

Reason #2 - The Setting

Far too often while watching/playing any media of the zombie genre, the setting is only there as a landscape to kill on. In The Walking Dead video game, it's much more than that. It's Lee Everett's home. It's a place where the cast grew up. A town where the infected aren't just strange faces but the family and friends of the group you are now with.

Rather than place you in the middle of some random city, surrounded by tourists that you don't know (take Dead Island for example), you are stuck with a constant reminder that this plague is infecting your loved ones. I won't give anything away here, but the Pharmacy you hide out in is much more than your no-name Drug Store.

I feel like I'm part of this town now. Every corner is painted with past memories, and future loss. There seems to be no hope as your family and friends are now part of the infection. What used to be your home is no longer, and it's up to you to decide what to do next.

Reason #3 - The Focus

This is probably the biggest difference between The Walking Dead the video game and the rest of the series' emulations. The focus here is almost entirely on the characters, their emotions, and an overall feeling of the unknown. There is no real plan. There are no guaranteed places to hide. The character you just fell in love with is now getting their face ripped off by a blood-thirsty zombie.

There's little to no action in the 2-3 hours of gameplay. Even when there is, it's a simple point-and-click, much like we saw in Heavy Rain. The focus is so heavily placed on the characters and their relationship with one another, that literally every dialogue option you choose will change the opinion of the individual you are talking to. There are even instances where taking sides with one character will influence your relationship with an entirely different individual.

Less focus on action, more focus on the characters. Perfect.

Reason #4 - The Theme

The Walking Dead video game isn't your typical zombie theme. It's also not completely scattered, open to interpretation, or not there at all.

It's simple: choice. From the opening moments of the game you are presented with far too many choices, all of them requiring a decision in little to no time. This sets the tone for the game and lets you know that this whole zombie survival thing isn't going to be easy.

It's like Lee Everett says, "Sometimes we don't make choices; we just do what we do"

In The Walking Dead tv series, I'm still not sure what the theme is, and I've seen every episode (unwillingly). At one point it seemed like it was to make camp. Then it was move to the farm. Suddenly Dumbass Laurie - that's her real name - is pregnant and her already stupid son is throwing rocks at a zombie in the river.

Bang, another group member is dead, Glenn is banging the farmer's daughter, there's a bunch of zombies in the barn, and Shane wants to kill everyone but only because he wants to protect them.


Reason #5 - Consequence

Every single decision you make during The Walking Dead video game has a consequence.

Every. Single. One.

Choose to save the boy? Great - now the handyman is dead and that farm you wanted is no longer available. Reset, start again, and choose the adult? Perfect - now your ride to town is gone. Think you can beat the odds and save both of them? Absolutely not.

This ain't Candyland.

It's not only in the difficult situations where your choices matter either. Even the smallest of conversations will trigger reactions from those around you. Telltale Games makes every decision even more stressful by prompting the reaction at the top of the screen immediately after it's chosen. For example, if you choose to lie to Hershel, a line of text reads across the screen letting you know that he won't soon forget that.

Sure enough, just when you had forgotten about that small-talk conversation you had, Hershel is in your face about lying to him. Asking you what you're actually doing on his farm and who Clementine truly belongs to.

There are dozens, maybe even hundreds of games out there that boast about having decisions that will change the game. None of them can even touch what Telltale Games has done with The Walking Dead.

Have you played it yet? If so, what are your thoughts?
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