After eight months and five episodic installments the stunning finale to Telltale games has been unveiled and the first series of The Walking Dead is completed. It will go down in gaming memory as one of the greatest creations the point and click genre has to offer, but it is so much more than that. The Walking Dead, a game that is equal parts tragedy and heroism, is a paradigm of moral choice, moral uncertainty, and how to present, and relate to, characters in a game. The Walking Dead is the best entry into the zombie medium to date, and I include in that film, books and comics. It is undoubtedly one of the greatest games I have ever played.
If there was ever an essay written arguing that stories in games can be just as meaningful as in any other genre, you would find The Walking Dead right at the top of it’s bibliography. Telltale’s episodic adventure has you witnessing the outbreak of a zombie apocalypse, and then attempting to survive for five episodes; each of these weigh in at around three hours. In your struggle you’ll meet a variety of characters, each of them with a unique, fleshed out and, most importantly, convincing personality; you’ll also find yourself confronted with obstacles and dilemmas, both physical and moral, that must be overcome.
No other game handles these moral dilemma’s as well as The Walking Dead. When half the group wants to abandon a character who many have been bitten, and another half wants to protect them, that tough decision is up to you to resolve. There is often no clear right answer and, with a limited time in which to react, The Walking Dead truly tests your ability to remain calm and reasonable in a situation that is anything but.
Moral dillemas are a tricky mechanic to perfect; games that rely upon them run the risk of being very hit or miss. Fortunately the Walking Dead sidesteps these all-to-easy pitfalls impeccably You never feel railroaded down one path or decision, rather you are imbued with a sense of real significance in the game’s story. From episode one to the final installment, the decisions you make have a lasting effect on how characters react to you; a relationship that was strong at the beginning can be destroyed in a moment and, whilst the main details of the plot will remain the same with each play through, these relations add a subtle dynamic to your individual story.
No review of The Walking Dead could forget to mention Clementine, the young, eight year old girl you find, and subsequently endeavor to protect, at the beginning of the first episode. Many games saddle you with an NPC (non-playable character) to protect and navigate the game with, and they are often nothing more than, at best, an unwelcome burden or, at worst, a constant annoyance.
This is not true of Clementine. In fact, even using the term NPC in relation to her feels alien; Clementine is a complex character with whom you become inseparably emotionally attached. It’s this emotional attachment that gives the moral dilemmas of The Walking Dead an emotional depth that raises them above the level of clever philosophical ‘what ifs’. Her presence in the game raises it from ‘quite good’ to ‘pretty damn fantastic’.
Now that every episode has been released you might wonder, if you have yet to play any, what’s to stop you just blazing through every episode at once? Is there much point to playing the games episodically, as they were first intended? The Walking Dead is an intense, stressful experience that is as emotionally draining as it is fantastic. The episodic structure of Telltale Games masterpiece won’t force you to take jarring breaks between sections, but rather gives you a moment of calm, a breather that you will desperately need.
The Walking Dead is a game that you need to experience; it is my hope that you finish this review not thinking ‘will I play The Walking Dead?’, but rather ‘when will I play The Walking Dead?‘.