First Impressions: The Walking Dead

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I started watching The Walking Dead some time back and caught up to Season 3 as it finished up, riding through the intense drama, getting emotional over the death of major characters and watching the final moments in utter anticipation for Season 4. I had heard many things about Telltale’s game, all of them good, and I knew I had to check it out, if nothing else because I was a fan of Telltale ever since I played Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People. So, after finally purchasing it during last month’s Steam Summer Sale, I bunkered down late last night, turned out the lights, and settled in to breathe a fresh breath of storytelling air. I was not disappointed.

The game plays similar to most Telltale titles: You walk around small areas, moving the cursor across the screen to click on hotspots. It reminds me of Dreamfall a little bit, in that respect. While some might get immediately turned off by this type of gameplay, you quickly discover that it works perfect for a game that needs to minimize interaction. If a game can tell a great story, it doesn’t need to be heavily interactive. And even that statement is misleading, as The Walking Dead is actually very interactive. When not in “detective mode”, the game is based mostly around QTEs, but QTEs of the non-annoying variety. Timed dialogue choices force you to make a difficult decision quickly, and mashing the A button to kick a zombie in the face is made slightly harder when you actually have to be aiming at the face, and you have about 2 seconds to react. These would all still be very dry gameplay elements strung together without a cohesive, eloquent story to back them up. And yeah, TWD has that, too.

Within 15 minutes of play, I was so engrossed in the characters and story that I powered through the game for 4 hours straight, completing the first two episodes in one sitting. It’s the first game I’ve played since Knights of the Old Republic (which I played 10 years ago) that actually made me start thinking about my dialogue choices in real life, and how they affect the people around me. The writing and dialogue system work together incredibly well in TWD to create a player experience in which you feel your choices. TRULY. Matter. I don’t feel like a passive “Player One” in TWD that watches other characters take center stage while I occasionally get to side with someone on a trivial issue. I am Lee Everett, I am a part of this group, and what I say makes a difference. My opinions matter, and they are heard. People notice every little thing I say and do and form an opinion of me. I’ve never felt so… watched in a game, like everyone is observing and evaluating me as a group member and as a human being. Not even as Shepard in Mass Effect did I feel like I was making this much of an impact on a video game world. ME pales in comparison to the kinds of choices the player is faced with, and the intensity of situations in TWD. There are more gray areas in this game than on a pair of old socks, and often the choices you make are not decided by one being more “right” than the other, just which is less wrong. You don’t pick “paragon” or “renegade” here. You pick “fucked up” or “fucked up in a different way”. I’ve faced many difficult decisions in games before, but none have made me feel as satisfied, or guilty, or relieved, or depressed, or as emotional as in TWD. Did I mention I’ve only been playing for 4 hours?

Now for the big downside to this brilliant game. The only thing about TWD that really bugs me – ironically – is the bugs. There are so many bugs for a game otherwise so polished. The game runs at 60 fps, but there are occasional spots of slowdown and literal FREEZES for several seconds, especially during cutscenes. I feel like the game engine is constantly on the verge of breaking down as it shutters and stalls during jerky animation sequences. Someone fires a gun, or a car drives down a road, or a scene changes to one that has several animated characters moving at the same time, and the game jerks and stutters like it’s struggling to render just a few models with low-res textures. It’s slightly immersion-breaking, especially when the game just dead stops during a tense moment, but I can overlook the flaws when the writing is this good. It’s one of those games that you just don’t want to put down.

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~ by The Retro Gamer on August 9, 2013.

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