by: Alec Shay
The Walking Dead is a game about the events following a zombie apocalypse in the United States. It is produced by Telltale Games and available for Apple systems, PC, PS3, and XBox 360.
The Walking Dead takes place in the state of Georgia, just at the very onset of the outbreak of a zombie apocalypse. The player takes control of Lee, a convict who is being driven to prison when a car crash with a "walker" results in giving Lee an unexpected way out. Lee escapes to a house where he finds a lonely child, Clementine, and for the rest of the game takes care of her until they can find her (possibly dead) parents. Although The Walking Dead is a game about zombies and what happens in the ensuing chaos, this game plays quite differently from most other "zombie games"; rather than a shooter or strategy game, The Walking Dead is more of a "point-and-click" adventure game, emphasizing quick thinking in a pinch or crucial decision-making rather than skill (almost all actions in the game are executed by looking at the right place and simply pressing the button that pops up).
The Walking Dead not only plays differently than most other zombie-related games, but has much less emphasis on horror than most zombie games as well; The Walking Dead rather does its best to interest you in the story surrounding the characters. The game ends up feeling a lot less like a horror game and a lot more like a drama experience (similar to the TV show of the same name, although the game is intended to be considered as its own separate story that just happens to have some overlapping characters). Although some early parts of the game may feel a bit slow-moving, the story quickly becomes very compelling and emotional at each subsequent chapter, keeping players interested even without much action (the fact that a surprising number of the problems faced in the game are not directly related to zombies is also worth noting).
One problem with the experience of The Walking Dead – at least in versions played from a disc – is an aggravating amount of stuttering in many scenes of the game. While the audio plays normally, the video might freeze for a moment, and then continue, while the dialogue awkwardly waits for the scene to catch up to it. Although most parts of the game where the player must interact fortunately do not suffer from this lag (and quite seldom overall in the first one or two chapters), in the last few it happens so frequently that it can become a real nuisance. Of course, this lag will not "break" the game in any way, and a patient player can bear with it and still feel just as involved with the story,
it still makes the game feel like much less of an ideal experience.
The critical, quick decision-making that The Walking Dead forces on the player has an impact on what happens as the game progresses. The game advertises this feature – influencing later events with your decisions earlier on – but the actual difference that the decisions end up making is a little underwhelming. Although the choices you make seem as important as life or death (although which one is the good choice is rarely clear), in order to keep the plot from diverging too dramatically, it tends to minimize the actual effect that the player's decisions make. Your choices are more likely to change "how" someone dies rather than "if" that someone dies, and probably the most long-lasting impact any single decision can have on what happens in the game is just how much someone likes you at a given point in time. Although it makes sense to keep the story progression still relatively linear, it ends up a disappointment to find out how little the decisions actually matter when the game leads you to believe they matter a whole lot.
Despite any shortcomings in the game itself, however, the story more than makes up for them. A player can sympathize with and like nearly any of the main group of characters, but the way the game forces the player to choose between who to defend (whether from zombies or in a heated argument) at someone else's expense makes the plot both more intense and sickening at each turn of events. Toward the end of the game, the fact that the actual walking dead would make up only a percentage of the real danger in a zombie apocalypse is made painfully clear, and the plot itself is emotionally gripping. The game is relentless with dramatic sequences – tragic, shocking, or otherwise – and it adds up only to compile the emotional investment the player inevitably puts into the characters and story in The Walking Dead.
The Walking Dead, while still a "zombie game," is much less about horror than it is about a good story, about a man trying to redeem himself and just keep everyone going in a more realistic version of a zombie apocalypse-stricken world. Players who can enjoy a game just as much (or more so) for the story as for the gameplay would be well-suited to this experience.