The Walking Dead, one of my favourite HBO TV series released an interactive survival horror video game developed and published by Telltale Games in 2012. This game is based on the original graphic novels by Robert Kirkman and it hints to the TV Series main storyline. The game is played in five episodes and is the story of Lee Everett, a criminal who was on his way to jail as the outbreak hit.
The game has a strong narrative, which you follow playing as Lee as he interacts which other survivors; families, orphans and lone wolves. The Walking Dead hits the player hard where one would not expect unless you had read the comics or watched the series – it confronts with moral and ethical decisions that are made in a split second and then makes the player responsible for those decisions. If you are playing for gore and blood, then look elsewhere. Sure, it has its moments of horror because that is the genre, but that is not the focus of the game nor is it the highlight.
The protagonist Lee, is (was) a university teacher and now convicted criminal on his way to serve time for murder. A series of gruesome events involving a car accident and multiple, freshly turned walkers eventually lead him to finding Clementine. Clementine is a young girl, whom Lee takes responsibility for as she is alone and wants to find her parents. This starts off the game in which these two work with a group of survivors to stay alive in the midst of the apocalypse.
The Walking Dead has some setbacks and they are mostly technicalities. As you get further into the game, the more problems there are, such as freezing or losing save data. So I had to redo 1 or 2 scenes. Sometimes the cut scenes to move along the story didn’t appear which resulted in me restarting the chapter. It doesn’t take too long to do, but its a compelling and intense storyline and remaking some of the choices reminds you that it is a game. Another weakness is that the game is short and only has one storyline. This can feel restrictive to the player used to more choice, but in retrospect, there was good reason behind this.
The most important part of The Walking Dead, in my own opinion, was the characters. They are all flawed: it bites them back later in the game (literally). The irrationality and fear of the people you meet, is perhaps irritating to the player (we are the safe ones) but as you get drawn into the story it becomes the humanizing point of their characters. They are all scared, for the lives of their loved ones, of the very real possibility of a horrible death.
Most characters, the player can truly empathize with. There is no truly good and no truly bad characters and it resonates with how we view people in real life.
The dialog reinforces this idea. There are no truly good or bad decisions, but whatever you choose will have an effect on your group or the people involved. The dynamic of the group can change drastically depending on what you say. There are also timed results, which could result in choosing who to save and who to fend for themselves. These timed results, are tracked by Telltale and at the end of the chapter you can see how many players chose what. In a culture where we idolize heroes and making a morally right decision (mostly in game and film) it’s really interesting to see these results. If players are as invested in the story as I was, then their split second decisions really reflect themselves. And they are really hard decisions!
Another point I would like to point out is the importance of Clementine! She is the moral compass for Lee. She would have been really hard to design; firstly because she is a child. How would you make a player want to be responsible for a child in the midst of a zombie apocalypse?
Firstly, she is not a trope. She is obviously smart, communicating over a Walkie Talkie to decide if Lee is a good person, not showing her location until asking him a few questions. She is also brave, coming to Lee’s rescue as he fights off her dead babysitter. But most importantly she is still a child. She relies on Lee for reassurance and praise. She asks earnest questions to Lee and looks for ways to earn his acceptance as a capable member of the group. As the player, I started not only to make decisions for the group but also for Clementine. The relationship between Lee and Clementine is respectful and distanced, but as the game progresses Lee takes on the role of her father figure. And it does not feel forced upon him.
Clementine is not afraid of pointing out when she doesn’t agree with you and it matters when she doesn’t. It changes her disposition towards Lee and it is sad to see them drift apart, even if you can make it up to her.
But this is the beauty of The Walking Dead: The complete First Season. It has a narrative that draws the player in quickly and become emotionally invested in the safety of the characters. Even if they are annoying, or weak, or scared. It’s so worth playing to see the subtle differences that your choices make, even if the overall story line will not change. Everyone will experience the game differently depending on their own choices and in the end it won’t be death that confronts you, it will be whether or not you made the conscious decision to protect those who trusted you, who depended on you and if you did the best you could.
Wholesome Rating: 8/10
You walk outside, you risk your life. You take a drink of water, you risk your life. Nowadays you breath and you risk your life. You don’t have a choice. The only thing you can choose is what you’re risking it for.