Totally posting this here because there isn't a collective profile for the game.
Despite all the praise - which was nothing compared to the numerous Game of the Year Awards it now boasts - I was in no rush to play The Walking Dead. Already a fan of Telltale Games, I knew the developer’s style: humourous, witty, traditional. Their games are fun offerings to pass the time, but nothing on any grand scale of achievement. That was my assumption of The Walking Dead, and I would scoop it up in a Steam sale one day, arrogant and smug, and tell everyone I enjoyed it, which I certainly would. But one day it was my Twitter feed that finally made me click; my usual regulars were buried beneath a sea of “#ForClementine” hashtags, retweets from Telltale. Nothing out of the usual for Twitter-savvy developers, but it was the content preceding these messages: tears, heart-break, desperation. People were crushed, but would do anything #ForClementine, and I needed to find out why.
Enter Episode 1. Immediately endearing, but the pace starts slow. I’m a prisoner in the back of a police car, on the way to jail for a crime I’m not even sure I did, and neither is the officer taking me. I’m caught off my feet; casually used to picking discussion at my own will, I’ve suddenly got a very prompt timer and only one chance to pick. I panic, pick the wrong answer and even Lee, the protagonist, seems nervous in his reply. I even miss replying all together. You can tell Telltale’s strength in character design already, with the officer pouncing on my weary tone, and I know looking forward, there are consequences to what I say, with no rewind. I forget how long the car journey is even taking, captivated in the free conversation, when my response is halted by a sudden realisation: there’s a wanderer in the road right in front of us, in the middle of the motorway. My fingers slam option 1, or 2, or anything to warn the driver, and I scream obscenities (in real life) as my car crashes straight through him and off the road in terror. My heart is beating. This is no usual Telltale game, and they’ve got complete control of my emotions within two minutes of the game starting.
Season One of the Walking Dead is as much the story of protagonist Lee as it is of his young companion Clementine. Accidentally stumbling into her home, the rest of the game follows his commitment to keep her safe and free her from danger. Desperate to find out if her parents are okay, Lee, Clementine and the rest of the companions found along the way head to Savannah with the main group motive of getting a boat out of town, with several hiccups holding them back.
You meet a lot of different characters en-route, some easy to hate with more completely lovable. Every character is entirely unique and who you like will be entirely preference. What you’re never prepared for is how harsh this game really is though. No one is safe, everyone expendable dependant on your decisions. There is death in this game, and it is heart-wrenching. No matter what the circumstance, Clementine comes first, and you keep going.
The game’s pace is dictated by two major styles of gameplay, which are to be expected from a traditional-styled adventure game. The game slows to a halt when given an opportunity to investigate, you’re given the freedom to talk to who you wish as much as they’ve got dialogue for, to wander the area looking for clues and items and otherwise do some puzzle solving. Don’t be mistaken: you will need to look for batteries to fix a radio, you do need to work out how to distract the zombies outside with the tools you have inside. Those elements are still crucial to progress, but are never dull; the script is written so tightly, where each character so individual you’re purposely opening all avenues of discussion. For those less interested in the lore or hidden bits of information, a segment that takes me twenty minutes can quite easily take faster players five.
In contrast, the timed sections are the real gut-punches. Admittedly a few may seem like inconsequential conversations, but will usually have direct effects on later events. Beside those are the action-based timed segments, where you’re forced to make life and death decisions in the heat of the moment, zombies pouring out of the streets at you - do you save a child or your closest friend? Do you leave someone injured or take them knowing they’re dead weight? While the game is littered with subtle implications of your actions that ripple throughout, more urgent are these decisions, shaping the story entirely to who you are as a person, or at least how you choose to play. With such urgency and pressure mounting on you it’s so easy to make a decision you at once regret, but it’s what you made at the time, and the characters of the story will often reflect some of the feelings you’re personally mounting. You’re going to piss a lot of people off no matter how much good you do. That’s not to say it’s all decision based - there is a lot of zombie gouging and shoot outs, too.
Fans of the show might be understandably wary. The game sports a comic aesthetic more in line with the books, entirely cel-shaded. The visuals are sometimes a little bit clunky, with models occasionally not resembling actual human bodies and with some layers seeming to glitch or ghost around a character. It’s not perfect, but it certainly has its own charm which makes it easy to forgive. It doesn’t hinder the terror and the game balances with a fair amount of humour and optimism that are conveyed well.
This strength is further embodied in the fantastic voice acting, especially for certain characters. Hand in hand with the writing, the fear in Clementine’s voice is enough to bring you to tears, and even hearts of steel will be challenged not to tear up by the end of the game. Lee’s VA does an equally terrific job with one of the most compelling protagonists in games there is. For the most part, everyone is portrayed wonderfully, with a strong range: Kenny’s turn from optimistic joker to scarred and sorrowful is gradual and convincing, as is everyone else. The score does similarly well in tormenting emotions, and is done justice loud through a good set.
The game does have its flaws though. Poor menu design led to my final episode save being deleted and having to back-track through a part of Episode 4 to maintain my developed history. It’s also frustrating when a selection of choices doesn’t necessarily have what you’d actually say. Some of the episodes are questionable in nature; it can range from an hour and a half of loose ties to a four hour frenzy of excitement. It also meanders slightly at points, as much fun as Episode 2 is, it deviates from the over-arcing story quite substantially. Despite that, its pacing remains strong and you get out of each episode what you need from it.
One of the strongest factors of the game is its replayability. Even now, writing this, fresh off of completing it the day before, I am desperate to play it again. To make different decisions. To side with different people. To experience a completely different journey, even if some of the emotional potency is diluted the second time round. (I’m sure I’ll cry again anyway.)
The Walking Dead is a game that steals your heart and runs with it; it features such an enthralling cast it’s hard to say goodbye to some of them, but the star of the show is ultimately Clementine. Where other games would find this style of narrative a burden, in this case she’s the reason you do anything, and the reason you become so emotionally involved. Self-survival becomes irrelevant and you really would do anything #ForClementine.