What started as a comic book, and more recently a show, has been adapted to the media of video games. The Walking Dead is an action adventure game by the developer Telltale Games. What they have created is, in my opinion, one of the best adventure games you’ll ever play with a story that will keep you entertained from start to finish.
In The Walking Dead you play as Lee Everett, a man convicted of killing his wife. The story starts in a police car as a chatty officer drives Lee to jail. The game quickly acclimatizes the player to the game’s controls and reveals a few details about the protagonist before the car crashes and Lee is thrown into the dangerous world of a zombie apocalypse. After awaking from the crash, and surviving his first few zombies, he meets Clementine, a young girl who lost her parents. Everett takes her in and, together, the story continues on.
For an adventure game, the pacing is quick and dirty. The feel you get as you’re playing is that of split second decisions and sometime even panic. Almost every choice is timed, from conversations, to panicked zombie encounters. It’s all structured to keep you on your feet and force you to make snap decisions. Decisions which matter.
That’s where this game shines, the decisions. While each decision may not affect the story in massive plot determining ways, they do follow you throughout your journey. And most of these decisions aren’t black and white. Instead, they are morally gray, and while you can stay morally clean for awhile, at some point you will need to get your hands dirty. This is where Clementine comes in. She helps serve as a moral compass, a harsh world seen through the naive eyes of a child, and sometimes it can be hard to explain to her why you needed to do what you did. In videogames, when a character is put into your charge, it’s rare that they become anything more than an annoyance. You will care about Clementine, I know it didn’t take long for me to grow to like her.
While many decisions are moral, some are just error prone. Near the end of episode 2 I failed a decision that had nothing to do with morality and every to do with just failing what I was trying to accomplish. And when I failed, the game didn’t show me a game over screen, it just moved on, leaving me to deal with the consequences down the road.
These consequences come from of each of your decisions, customizing your story in very personal ways. Characters will remember if you saved them at an earlier point, or if you let their family members get eaten. They remember if you badmouthed them, or if you supported a decision they make. Even things said in benign conversations can crop up later on. In my play through I had a grumpy old man attempt to leave me for dead because I’d argued with him earlier, only to be saved moments later by a guy who’s son I’d saved. It’s these moments that, though they might not alter the big picture, make the story feel very personal to you.
In the end, with The Walking Dead, Telltale Games has created a game where everyone will know the same plot points, but everyone will also experience a completely different story.