The Walking Dead. You’ve all heard of it, be it the Comic Books, the TV show or, more importantly now, the game. Fresh off the back of their (well-deserved) Game of the Year award win at the VGA’s, Telltale Games are likely to be the big name on many gamer’s lips right now, yet I still have friends who claim to be true gamers that haven’t even started the game, let alone experienced it’s intricate, delicate plotting.
Because in all honesty, that’s exactly what The Walking Dead is, an experience. I’ve personally lost myself in many gaming worlds during 2012, most recently the beautiful, vicious Rook Islands in Far Cry 3, but although the narrative told of one man’s mission to rescue his friend’s from a brutal (yet oddly intriguing) madman, I didn’t care about any of them anywhere near as much as I cared about the fate of just a single character from The Walking Dead. Don’t get me wrong, Far Cry 3 was a fantastic game and a mind-blowing experience punctuated with great set pieces, but The Walking Dead didn’t need any of that. It didn’t need an open world to force the weight of your situation upon you, or a random Shark encounter to shock you out of your skin. It just needed the strongest narrative gaming has ever seen.
But before I get into that, let’s set the context for the entire franchise. The Walking Dead comics were successful, but not exactly mainstream until the release of it’s TV series pilot back on the 31st October 2010. The series was immediately successful and whilst some believed it to have strayed with the slow burning opening of the second season, it has always strung a believable and highly involving tale of survival in the wake of incredible pressure. The third series is currently on hiatus, half way through it’s 16 episode run, and has already broken many ratings records, with 10.87 million people watching its premiere.
This may seem irrelevant in relation to the game itself, we’ve been burned countless times before in terms of Videogame adaptations of beloved films and TV shows, not to mention the other way around, but that is exactly what makes The Walking Dead game so astounding. It is exactly what we have always wanted, a faithful, brilliant companion to a popular TV show. I must admit, I was sceptical when I first heard about the game. I’ve heard people claim that point and click adventures died alongside the Monkey Island and Broken Sword franchises and part of me was inclined to agree with them, but that was before I actually made the leap and downloaded the game, as soon as I had stepped into the shoes of Lee Everett I knew I was hooked.
In fairness, to call it a point and click adventure is dismissive of what it actually achieves. The narrative is structured in such a way that it’s almost impossible not to fret over each decision you are forced into making as the plot progresses, and it’s hardly a spoiler to say that you’ll occasionally have to make impossible choices between which group member you want to save at the expense of another’s life. You may say you’ve experienced this before, it wasn’t too long ago that Mass Effect had you choosing between the lives of two of your crew members, but this is different. I’ve never felt guilty at my choices outside of real life before, but each member of the group that perished had me questioning whether there was anything else I could have done to save them. The writers have done a superb job of fleshing out each character and their motivations and each and every voice actor has lent each character a distinct personality. If I’m completely honest, i’ve finished the game and seen each character’s fate, but I’m still broken up about a certain decision I made way back in chapter 3, even though in the long run I know it turned out okay. I defy anyone to find me a game that can conjure up these same feelings of guilt and love for each character, it’s near impossible.
Despite the stellar work of everyone involved, there is of course that one character that I’m sure by now everyone knows, whether they have played the games or not, the young girl you take under your wing early into the experience, Clementine. When you first meet Clementine it is impossible to understand just how important she will become, maybe even more so to you than she is to Lee. Now I’ve played Ico and I cared about Yorda, but if I had to save either her or Clementine from advancing Walkers (Zombies, for the uninitiated), that would be one choice I would not feel guilty making, for me, Clementine is the most important character of all time. As Lee’s paternal instincts grow, so will yours and it won’t be long before Clementine will invade your thoughts at all times of the day regardless of what you’re doing. I even recall sitting in the cinema in the middle of an enthralling movie, only for Clementine to suddenly pop into my head and lead me to immediately lose concentration for a good few minutes of the film.
That it even won the award for Game of the Year at the VGA’s is a sign that gaming is evolving and moving forward. This complex narrative driven game has beaten off opposition from identikit action shooters such as the Call of Duty series (Not much of a slight, I love the series and what it has achieved) and sprawling RPG experiences such as the likes of Skyrim to become the best game released this year. It is even more of an achievement when you consider that until the compiled retail version hits stores, this is a purely downloadable experience. In fact, the waiting time between the release of each chapter of the game, especially the final chapter, actually added to the experience somewhat. With the retail version you will be able to play each chapter back to back at your own will, but the waiting time between each chapter, leaving you to worry whether your favourite character would be okay or fret about who now hates you because of certain choices you have made, was a strong part of the experience for me.
This will undoubtedly lead to more games of this vein, games that truly care about creating an immersive, enriching experience that will even benefit the gamer in real life, I genuinely believe my relationships with others have improved to no end since finishing this series, to create a new dawn of gaming.
In short, The Walking Dead is more than just a game. It is the start of a gaming revolution and I, for one, cannot wait to see what’s on the other side.
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