I’ve never played a TellTale Game outside of demos, so I can’t compare The Walking Dead to the likes of Back To The Future, Jurassic Park, or Sam & Max. What I can tell you is that this is not an action game. This is a zombie game where dialogue choices and rapid button pressing take precedence over shooting shotguns and wielding bladed weapons.
Those things do come into play, but not in the manner you might be accustomed to. That’s alright though. The Walking Dead forgoes more of the same for an experience steeped in atmosphere and populated with fleshed-out characters, most of which exhibit quality voice acting.
Some Pointing, Some Clicking
While it wouldn’t be entirely accurate to refer to The Walking Dead as a point-and-click adventure game, the genre is certainly present. You do use your mouse in the PC version to locate and click interactive elements around you, but you also use the keyboard to explore the environment.
You don’t click where you want to go, as is often the case in choose-your-own adventure games. When action goes down, you’ll be required to jam on certain keys or click certain areas; oftentimes a combination of both is required. You have to be quick too, or protagonist Lee will end up as zombie chow. Not that death carries a steep toll; you’ll just restart shortly before the moment you died. Still, a heavy toll isn’t required. The tension and immersion are more than enough to compel you to act. Like the very best games, The Walking Dead puts you in control of a likable character, one that you don’t want to see die a gruesome death. This is what keeps you alive.
Controlling the Story
While you can’t alter the story in major ways, I was pleasantly surprised to see that my actions had some pretty big consequences. Obviously, I’m not going to go into detail, but making different decisions the second time around resulted in meeting different characters and certain characters from the first playthrough dying. What’s even more exciting is that this is only the first episode of a five episode series and it looks like decisions made here will affect future episodes too.
TellTale obviously put a lot of love and care into the game’s narrative, making it not only the game’s strongest point but also a damn good story by general game standards.
Nitpicking the Braaaaains
The Walking Dead isn’t perfect, but it’s close enough that I feel comfortable referring to any criticisms as nitpicks. The game’s pacing can be uneven at times. This is a common and sometimes unavoidable problem when telling a narrative in a medium in which the pace is somewhat in the user’s hands. Still, some set pieces will fly by while others will take significantly longer to complete, and with such an excellent narrative, the hiccups in flow are really noticeable.
Another minor issue deals with hitbox detection. Sometimes you won’t be able to interact with something by clicking directly on it and you’ll have to click somewhere around it instead. This can be especially frustrating when you have to act quickly or you’re trying to locate something interactive and inadvertently glossing right over it. Luckily it doesn’t happen often enough to become a real problem.
The Walking Dead is an immersive, moody, and frightening thriller with effective sound design and a fantastic visual style that honors the franchise’s comic roots. I’m eager to go back and check out TellTale’s other offerings, but I suspect that I’ve started with their best effort.