Thursday, 13 September 2012

Now Playing: The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead is an episodic adventure game split into five parts, each a self-contained story but part of a larger, ongoing narrative. At the time of writing, only the first 3 episodes have been released. The actual interactive elements of The Walking Dead are extremely basic. It’s a combination of some very simple point and click puzzles and quick-time events (which sadly always uses the same pattern) but, uh, that’s about it.

Whether they’ll add a little more variety to the gameplay in the final two episodes remains to be seen, but currently, you’ll spend more time watching cut-scenes and listening to dialogue than you will ‘playing’. And because of this, The Walking Dead game just wouldn’t work if it didn’t have a compelling story, setting and characters. Fortunately, they pretty much nailed all these elements.

You play as Lee Everett, a man who finds himself plunged into the nightmare world of The Walking Dead. Joining a handful of fellow survivors, you guide Lee throughout the story, choosing how he’ll respond to certain situations and making hard choices. At the start of every episode you are reminded that the game is tailored according to how you play and the choices you make, and to a certain extent that is true.

Characters may live or die depending on your choices, and people will react differently to you according to how you dealt with them in the past. But, as you’d expect, there are limitations to this system, and some story points (including character deaths) are inevitable regardless of your actions, which does make your choices feel rather hollow at times.

I thought the first episode was okay, the second great, but the third was a little disappointing, not so much from a story perspective, but from the perspective of player choice. I played through each episode twice, making different choices, and the third plays out practically identically regardless. You get the feeling the developers wanted to tie together all the current major story variations and start fresh with the last two episodes.

But The Walking Dead has a great cast of characters with good VA and a compelling story that makes you want to play on to see what happens. You become attached to the characters to varying degrees and genuinely concerned about their fate.

Whatever happens by the end of The Walking Dead, I’m hopeful we might see a second game, perhaps with more variety and challenge to the puzzles and gameplay and with a deeper, more branching narrative that reflects multiple decisions in a more meaningful way.

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