Best of 2012: The Walking Dead

This week I’ll be counting down the top three games of 2012, leading up to choice for the best game released this year. Please keep in mind that I can’t talk about a game unless I’ve played it so if your favorite game is left out, then most likely I didn’t play it.

Based on the comic book series of the same name (which also inspired a TV show), Telltale Game’s The Walking Dead is one of the best written games of this year.  Released online in five episodes over a few months and now out on disc, the first “season” is a dark, thought-provoking drama. It’s a point and click adventure game. After this game, the genre might just be rising out of the grave (get it?).

The aesthetics evoke the comic book that the story is based on. It also stands out from the bigger Triple-A titles.

The prominently features story decisions and frequent dialogue choices but outside of these things, the gameplay in the Walking Dead consists mostly of minor puzzles to space out the actions scenes. The action scenes are essentially a railroaded series of quick-time events. (Click here, press this button rapidly). There are a few occasions where Lee is given a gun and enters a first person-type perspective, but these moments don’t exactly enhance the experience. What makes the action work is that it’s very well paced. The Walking Dead is the antithesis of games like Battlefield and Call of Duty. Every action set-piece is followed by a calmer section that lets the player explore, or talk to the characters about what has transpired. The action is sweeter because it always intense and usually occurs at the worst possible moment for these characters. That being said, the gameplay in the Walking Dead doesn’t have much to offer, but this is appropriate to the story that this game tells. It’s not a game about killing zombies, it’s a game about people surviving.

The game opens with Lee Everett in the back of a police car driving away from Atlanta. It quickly crashes and Lee wakes up in a zombie apocalypse. Lee stumbles across an eight-year-old girl named Clementine whose parents have not come home. Lee and Clementine leave town in search of her parents. The narrative sets up Clementine as a walking escort mission. Before you groan at those words let it be known that I’ve never felt so protective of a character in a video game than I am of Clementine. She is an emotional anchor; her charm and innocence will quickly win you over. Clementine’s safety is ultimately Lee’s objective, the main purpose of the game is to ensure that she survives. Her life is just as important as Lee’s (many of the possible game-overs come from failing to save her).

The bond between Lee and Clementine is one of the best developed relationships in video game history.

It’s ironic that the world of the Walking Dead is filled with shuffling corpses, because the characters are more alive than in any other game released this year. Lee’s decisions and dialogue choices affect how each character feels about Lee. There is no good and evil meter to rationalize your actions. The characters are very well-rounded, diverse and all have an opinion about Lee, though some of the minor characters are a bit clichéd (it wouldn’t be an apocalypse without psychopaths). The writing shines, specifically in Lee’s interactions with Clementine. The game presents Lee with several choices that alter how the narrative plays out. At least once per episode someone’s life will be in Lee’s hands, though ultimately Episode 5 will always end with the same group of survivors. This may sound discouraging to some players, but a video game does not need multiple endings or diverse story paths to be compelling.

The Walking Dead forces every person who plays it to the answer the question “Who is Lee Everett?” Everyone will answer slightly differently, and the Walking Dead tells a story based on how the player sees the main character. The second episode in particular is a highlight. It  features one of the more difficult decisions I’ve had to make in a video game. Early in the episode, Lee is made responsible for feeding ten hungry people with only four items of food. Who you give food doesn’t have any significant long-term ramifications, it’s one of the more powerful moments in the season not because it branches off into multiple scenarios but because it demonstrates what kind of person both Lee and the player is. That is far more deep and meaningful than getting Ending A or Ending B. The Walking Dead is a dark story, and that often requires the player to feel helpless. The helplessness of living in a zombie apocalypse is reinforced in every moment in the Walking Dead, all the way up to the conclusion. I won’t spoil the ending; it didn’t make me cry but it left me shaking.

You owe it to yourself to play the Walking Dead. It is a wonderfully written game and well worth the money. The Walking Dead is currently available for the PC, Ps3 and Xbox 360 (for the latter, the first episode is free). I highly recommend that you play this game. For many of you, it was the best game you played this year, for me it is the runner-up for the best game that I played in 2012.

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About Sam Hale

Autistic, young adult and lots on my mind.

Posted on December 27, 2012, in 2012, Best of and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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