Back when Heavy Rain came out I dared to dream that maybe someone would pick up the banner and deliver more experiences like it – mature, character based, leaving room for reflection and feelings. Drama, in other words. Turns out someone at Telltale was paying attention. The Walking Dead game takes a lot of cues from Heavy Rain.
It’s a noteworthy game for a lot of things. Two episodes in, and we already have more character development and drama than a couple of years of videogames combined.
They are not pulling any punches. You have to deal with very difficult situations, often with very little time to make up your mind. As with Heavy Rain, you will find yourself doing things you didn’t mean to – upon reflection. You might get angry and do something that wasn’t such a great idea, after all, and have to explain yourself to the other characters, and feel bad about it. That a videogame is capable of making you feel like this is no small achievement.
There’s the master class writing, keeping you guessing about everyone’s backgrounds and motivations, including yourself. The dialogue is exemplary, never making the characters anything other than believable. I haven’t been this tense with a game since forever. It’s hard to tell how much of the time you’re just watching a cutscene and how much you’re directing things yourself, but with this game I don’t care. Generally watching cutscenes is asking a lot from me, but that’s only because they tend to suck. These don’t – I’m completely immersed and acting out the character of Lee, not waiting to get to press some buttons.
Although it’s very easy to move me, few games manage that. As a comparison, it only takes a reasonably well done TV advertisement to move me. Games generally just are not up to that level and that’s because they don’t even try. It’s like games are afraid to try and reach you as a person, and that leaves them feeling unsatisfying on an emotional level. As you might guess, that’s not the case with the Walking Dead. I care about all the characters in it, and any tricks it’s doing to make me give a shit I’m eating up without even realizing it.
What keeps the very simple gameplay interesting, as with Heavy Rain, but even more so here with the emphasis on character relationships, is the amount of player choice and the effect it has on the game. You are faced not only with choices (none of them of the ridiculous light/dark side kind), but very promptly with consequences, too. In no other game does a character’s slight frown at something I say actually make me feel bad.
As a licensed title the Walking Dead is exemplary. By spinning it’s own tale very much like the one depicted in the comic books and the TV show, but separate, it gets the creative and emotional freedom it needs, while leveraging the strengths of the source material. I very much hope this is something we’d see more of in licensed games.
My only misgiving is that with its very graphic, gruesome violence, it’s not something I can readily recommend anyone to try out, as much as I’d like to, because it’s doing such wonderful things with the artform. But if you’re already a zombie fan, don’t miss this.