So, thanks to some Spoiler Warning and a need to take a Skyrim break, I picked up The Walking Dead a few days ago. Finished it a couple days ago, and I’ve been putting off trying to review it because I’m not really sure what I want to say about it. I don’t mean that in a “man, what do I say about this shit” way, I mean that in a “wow, that was epic way, but regardless this is probably going to get a little disjointed after the jump, so just accept this to start things off:
TL;DR: 9.5/10 aliens, one of the most powerful stories I’ve ever seen in a video game and maybe one of the most powerful I’ve ever experienced in anything, and if the $25 price tag for a 12 hour game puts you off, for the love of Christ wait for the next Steam sale.
With that said, let me make a valiant attempt to be coherent about the details, such as I can.
So, I’ve never been a parent, and while I kind of intellectually get the trials and travails of being one, I’ve never quite picked up on the emotions of being one. I think maybe I get it now, in some small way. I don’t want to get too into the story, but pretty much the zombie apocalypse happens and you team up with some survivors, the very first of whom is an 8 year old girl.
Lest you be troubled by any or all of that statement, let me note a couple things:
- I’m not a horror game fan, I’m not a zombie fan even a little bit, though apocalypse stories as a genre do entertain me. It’s really the “survival” and “people” parts of this game that are important over the “zombies” parts, and if you’ve ever wondered what the mental and emotional toll of living through the apocalypse might look like, this is probably your game. Even if none of these things are your thing at all, I’m pretty sure you’ll like the game anyway.
- Yeah, I’m aware that basically every kid in video games sucks, and kids in pretty much every format but literature suck too. Fortunately for you, player, Clementine is maybe one of the best NPCs in a game I can think of, and she’s joined by a fairly strong cast of them. It’s going to be ok.
To say anything else would be spoiling it. Suffice it to say that I was almost completely satisfied by the plot, the characters, and everything that happened. I wish some things would have happened differently, but that’s in a “that’s good storytelling!” way rather than a “what dumbass wrote this crap?” way.
Really, this story was worth it in every way.
One of these days, when they get around to writing case studies on how to fully bend everything in your game to the will of the story as opposed to tacking some Flash menus on and calling it good, this is probably going to be the poster child for it.
To dispense with the audio, it’s basically fine. The soundtrack is really nice, I very much enjoy the themes it used, it is never poorly used, and it never overstays its welcome. The voice acting is almost completely perfect, and I only caught the flaws when rewatching the game. It just works, and that’s the best praise I can give any audio in a game.
As to the graphics, the designers chose to break out of the usual semi-realistic graphics of most modern games to go with a sort of comic book style. A well animated, very well executed style, mind you, but comic nonetheless. There’s probably a debate to be had about the relative merits of this vs. a realistic style generally, and Minecraft hipsters why don’t you just fuck off now to get a sense of where I come from on the topic, but I will say that the comic style the designers chose for the game works almost all of the time. They knew what they were going for, and they pulled it off. Can’t ask for more than that.
Also the cinematography has to be seen to be believed. I’ve seen movies that weren’t shot as well as this dynamic video game. The static camera angles can be wonky sometimes, but every time you DO anything it looks great.
As far as the gameplay, you remember how adventure games used to be? The ones where you walked around rooms and clicked on stuff to see what it did and solved puzzles? Add in a hell of a lot of dialogue, a few quicktime events, a couple minor shooter sections, and you’ve basically got The Walking Dead.
And here’s the thing. Adventure game mechanics back in the day were rank bullshit of the worst sort, where you had to find the tea cozy to coax the platypus into the bus to drive off the raccoon to what the hell are we even doing this for. And quicktime events in most games can get pretty annoying. And how cool can a game that’s mostly dialogue be, anyway? And who wants shitty shooter mechanics?
And The Walking Dead takes all of these mechanics and makes them very much greater than the sum of all of their parts. With a couple of fairly minor exceptions (pillows don’t work like that) the adventure game stuff all makes complete sense and absolutely serves to drive the story forward while creating visceral and emotional player interactivity with what’s happening. The quicktime events all use the same mechanic, it’s obvious and simple as hell, and every time it shows up it absolutely makes sense and you have to try pretty hard to fail, but it absolutely causes tension and does exactly what quicktime events were always supposed to do. Same with the shooting bits. And the dialogue all feels like real dialogue, conversations are treated like real conversations (and you can even choose to say nothing), and these conversations are completely seamless with the action.
I really don’t know quite how to describe this coherently, but to put it shortly, the gameplay and the story in this game tie together to form a cohesive whole in The Walking Dead in a way not quite like any other game I’ve played.
A game which is truly more than the sum of its parts, a game which somehow summons forth deep emotion at every turn with utterly powerful writing culminating in the most powerful ending I can think of offhand, and seriously I’m just fucking gushing at this point go play the damn game already.
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