You’ll never walk alone

TWD-game-cover

Picked up “The Walking Dead: The Game” from Telltale Games. I’ve been following the gripping, gritty series on TV and wanted to know if the PC game version really deserved the Spike VGA Game of the Year 2012 accolade.

TWD:TG is an episodic point-and-click survival-horror-adventure game. Using the mouse, you trawl the screen looking for clickable ‘hotspots’ that provide information; dialogue; the occasional side snide comment or an interactive element. There are five episodes so far and all are currently available for download as a package.

This story is set just before the lead character, Sheriff Rick Grimes, awakens from his coma at the beginning of the TV series. In the game, you play Lee Everett, an African-American ex-college professor with a history he regrets. The emotional hook comes in the form of Clementine, a little girl, presumably orphaned during the chaos, whom Everett meets and decides to care for.

Apart from the forced choice of adopting Clementine, the game leaves lots of room for the player to make other choices which stick, changing the outcome of the game. Non-player characters (NPCs) remember their dialogues with you and they note your decisions, which determine how they will respond to you in future interactions. Many of these choices are hard: whom do you side in the frequent arguments that flare up due to the stress and pressure — and self-preservation responses — that the other characters experience? How do you negotiate with strangers who hold as much menace as promise? Be pragmatic or compassionate? How will your choices affect your relationship with Clementine and the others in your group?

If you’ve been watching the TV series, you can feel the pain the characters are going through, living day to day as they do. But in the game, it’s not so easy when you have to make those decisions in first person and have to live with what you’ve done because once your choice is made, it’s irrevocable. These choices are not what you can ponder long over as there is a timer that will make a choice for you if you don’t decide quickly enough, and that sticks too. Some of your choices hold people’s lives in the balance and if they die they stay dead… unless they reanimate and try to chew your face off.

Telltale has innovated quite intelligently with the point-and-click adventure genre. Whether it’s finding a target area to hit (especially difficult if you don’t set your mouse sensitivity properly) or making a split second decision because there’s no time to think, yet balancing that with maintaining a consistent character and a healthy relationship with Clementine and the group, you really feel the tension of the situation. And knowing that the story compels you to complete a series of mundane tasks that will trigger some horrific occurrence as your payoff, well, there’s good pacing for you.

Glad the game has eschewed photorealism in favour of animating the comic book version of the story. In a way, it’s going back to its roots. The voice acting sounds true to character so despite the cartoony graphics, you still feel like you’re interacting with real people. And when you lose people for one reason or another, sometimes you do miss the voice you can no longer hear.

Game of the year? Considering that the production values and gameplay mechanics are not as polished as the big-budget offerings, VGA has taken a stand to honour the indie publisher for strength and depth of immersion in an intense story experience over games that involve long-term grinding. These days, I prefer short, satisfying games over games that play out over hours seemingly without end (like the previous game of the year, “Skyrim” which I never completed — may not even be half-way through!). So, yeah, odd, brave choice, but one that I can support.

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