FEAR THE LIVING: THE WALKING DEAD (PS3) REVIEW
Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead is a brilliantly conceived and executed story of decisions, consequences and guts. Over the 5 episode series we see the entrails of many characters ripped out and gnawed on by the titular biters, but by the finale, the engaging story, exceptional voice acting and fantastically developed characters will have the player’s beating heart securely in the game’s hands. The Walking Dead follows well-intentioned everyman Lee and a precocious and innocent 8 year old named Clementine. Certainly one of the game’s many strengths is the relatability and depth of its characters, and the humor, camaraderie and resourcefulness seen in both Lee and young Clementine evolve the typical child’s role in games as escort mission fodder into a true partnership. But, don’t get too attached. Telltale maintains a sense of panicked doom as Lee and his dwindling number of companions hack out some sense of morality in post-apocalyptic Georgia.
The game is separated into 5 well-paced episodes, each running roughly 2-3 hours. Gameplay revolves mostly around point-and-click style interaction, timed dialogue trees, quick time events and simple puzzle solving – think Heavy Rain in a Left 4 Dead setting. The well written and consistently well voiced dialogue make the large cast compelling as Lee forms alliances and maintains friendships with the other survivors. Forming relationships with the other characters drives the storylines as Lee is forced to make difficult decisions that will affect how the other survivors perceive him and whether they’ll choose to help him as the game progresses. Consider having 5 food rations for a party of 10, for example.
Trigger-happy players may find the game dragging at certain points, however. The story halts intermittently as Lee is routinely tasked with gathering items needed to progress while the rest of the cast passively offers tips through dialogue. These sequences fall flat because they lack any tension. The game breaks from its ‘nowhere-is-safe atmosphere’ while Lee explores the background for whichever assortment of times is needed to open a door, start a car, etc. Unlike the conversations, there’s never a time limit and these “puzzles” routinely come down to repeatedly scanning areas for, sometimes obscured, items. This slightly mars an otherwise exceptional play experience as it becomes obvious that the developers struggled to find balance between the intense action sequences and its fetch-quest puzzles. Clearly, Telltale attempted to separate The Walking Dead from your typical zombie boomstick festival by allowing for these quiet moments. Subversive, maybe, but also dull, repetitive and the tension-free safety of these sequences detracts from the dread that makes the action sequences excel.
But what elevates this game to Game of the Year status is that as Lee hacks his way through the dead and his companions dwindle, the story backgrounds the zombies and places the complexities of trust, conflict, innocence and morality – the “guts” of humanity – at the forefront. The greatest evil is not the toothless, shambling corpses, but the truth. The horrible truth that no matter what, your everyman can’t save everyone. Lee’s best efforts heartbreakingly fall short as he loses his companions to mistrust, circumstance and the dead. The tedious item hunts are minor quibbles in comparison to the prolonged character development and masterfully crafted emotional connectivity between the players the characters. The Walking Dead does more than tug on your heartstrings – it rips out your heart .