The Walking Dead is an adventure game which tells the story of Lee Everett, a recently convicted killer, and a disparate group of other survivors of a zombie outbreak. It is presented in 5 linked episodes much like the TV series or the comic book on which it is based, but it is a computer game and this means that it differs from those in many important ways. The very fact that it is a game imposes certain restrictions and requirements upon it, and sometimes these can make it appear a little awkward, but it also allows it to soar far above other media in many really, really important aspects.
So, firstly let's talk about the stuff which is less than stellar. The Walking Dead is an adventure and, as such, it contains plenty of puzzles. It uses puzzle solving to move you through the (excellent) story and it signposts how to do this in extremely clear ways. You will often be placed in a situation where you need to, for example, fix a piece of machinery or reach a certain place. Your movement will be limited to a small area and objects of interest will be clearly marked on the screen (although this can be turned off), just waiting for your click to select them. Puzzles are solved by inspecting every item, talking to every character and working out the correct sequence of actions. Sometimes the game will impose a time limit in order to hurry you up a bit, but more often that not you can run about to your heart's content trying out different combinations and chatting to the other people present. These puzzles are sometimes quite varied, and the solutions can be tricky to find, but it is usually just a case of searching the environment until you discover the correct item to use. Once you've done this then they aren't difficult but it can be frustrating until you do, and sometimes the puzzles can appear to be there just to break things up a bit.
And combat is another area which is often the central focus of a game, but which appears a little out of place here. This usually takes the form of a quick time event (e.g. press the button that appears at the bottom of the screen repeatedly), or it uses the mouse to aim a weapon, or a kick or whatever at the attacking zombie. This is pretty basic stuff (although there are a couple of well done set pieces) and it can get frustrating when you die because you're not ready, but I'm not sure how else it could have been handled. In much the same way as the puzzles, it appears to be there in order to provide a change of pace and, in the case of the combat, to give the player an adrenaline rush in between all the talking and problem solving. It does its job I suppose, but I wouldn't play this game if you're expecting some kind of CoD clone, or a high-octane arcade experience.
|Quick! Click on that circle! Quick!|
|I would die for these people. Genuinely.|
In fact it is one of the game's greatest achievements that it takes the player with it as it makes its descent into chaos and destruction. It can be a shocking and horrific experience (and it can also throw up moments of real beauty and emotion), precisely because the player is a direct participant in the action. You're not watching somebody on screen do something awful, YOU are doing it. You're pulling the trigger, you're leaving somebody to die in order to save yourself, you've become a part of this awful, desperate existence - and that can take some getting used to. No other medium is able to do that and it's why games can be so effective and affecting. It's completely different to being a passive observer of something, you are much more emotionally involved than you would be if it was a TV show, and that only happens because this is a game and you are allowed (and expected) to influence its events. The triumph of The Walking Dead is that it grabs this chance with both hands and exploits it fully. It's probably the most emotionally engaging game I have ever played. When it finished I wanted it to carry on so that I could find out what happened to all its characters in the future and there were times when I didn't want to believe what it was showing me. I made connections within it that lasted well after the game ended and it made me spend time in a dark room coming to terms with the choices I had made.
The Walking Dead is not a perfect thing, by any means, but it is something quite unique. It uses the attributes of its medium to conjure up emotions in the player like nothing else I have ever played and if you are interested in something different, something genuine and something quite, quite brilliant then I would urge you to give it a go.
The Walking Dead is available on PC, Xbox 360, PS3 and Apple products. Consult your relevant marketplace.