Before I begin what may end up being a controversial review for many people, let be first say that what you’re about to read is based off of preference. The following review and score is determined only by how I felt after playing the game for a few hours. If you disapprove that is your prerogative, and I’d love to hear why in the comments. But you have to understand that a preference isn’t a fact, it’s an opinion, and therefore mine, just like yours, isn’t wrong. Moving on.
The Walking Dead isn’t a game.
Yes, you heard me right. The Walking Dead isn’t a video game in the same sense that the work of David Lynch aren’t movies. Once you depart from the norm, once you leave what is considered to be the expected basis for a game, then you find yourself in a position of having to be redefined as something else.
But what is The Walking Dead?
The Walking Dead is a series of episodic stories told in the form of interactive media. In the series you play as Lee, a prisoner of unknown origin. As you are being transported to prison the zombie apocalypse ensues, and what-do-ya-know, your character escapes from imprisonment and sets out to survive in a rough, violent world.
The game has no “gameplay” as it were, there are small sections where you control the character, but these are barely more than slow treks from one predesignated corner of a linear map to another. You don’t have the freedom of movement you’d expect from any conventional game, and the camera can get very clunky in this perspective, sometimes outright bad.
Most of the game takes the form of dialogue, and this thankfully is well handled. This is a combination of regular questions and answers passed between you and the many characters you come across, and timed events and answers, all of which have a profound impact on the story. Most of the time this impact is on the way characters interact with you, and it’s this impact that redeems The Walking Dead’s lack of “gameness”.
There are a few moments where the game pits you in high stakes QuickTime events. One of these takes place in a convenience store, wherein a zombie grabs a child. If you react quickly enough (Mashing the SPACE key) you kill the zombie and the child respects you more afterward, however, if you don’t, another character will kill the zombie and the child won’t trust you. Later on these events become even more significant to the plot, many determine whether characters live or die. I have a few problems with this; mainly I’m annoyed by the arbitrary nature of quick time events. Unlike in a game, where your skill determines your success, in The Walking Dead your success is determined solely by button mashing, one of the most frustratingly stupid inventions in games ever.
I don’t outright hate The Walking Dead. I enjoyed the first two episodes I played, and might go back to finish the rest of the five part series. There’s plenty to enjoy in this sort of interactive experience, but, as I’ve said, The Walking Dead isn’t a video game, and the fact that it isn’t a game is a big problem the quality of the experience given.
A video game is a virtual experience that presents you with three things: An environment, a set of limitations and mechanics, and an objective. The Walking Dead has many elements of the first some of the second. Even in the confines of the interactive story you have mechanics to deal with, such as facing timed answers to questions, and there’s obviously an environment, even if it is barely more than a backdrop to the story, but objectives? Not so much.
In Skyrim your objective is to progress your character and discover the world. In Mass Effect your objective is to destroy The Reapers, progress your character, or fly your big shiny ship around the galaxy. The Walking Dead doesn’t give you any real objectives, at least no more than a movie or TV show will. The walking dead tells a story, and a pretty decent one at that. But it’s not a game, if you were to call The Walking Dead a game then you’d have to call its TV show iteration a game too, because in truth it does the same thing. It gives you a linear story, one in which actions take place, but all in the confines of the “plot progression.” In other words The Walking dead rolls you forward on a treadmill, rather than let you run at your own pace.
This style of storytelling has many setbacks associated with it. First and foremost there’s a problem with freedom. The Walking Dead prides itself on the wide range of dialogue options and story paths available, but in honesty the whole illusion is broken by the fact that the game is always in complete control. Unlike other games, where you can leave a main mission area and go back; you will never be able to go to a location that isn’t exactly where you’re supposed to be, for instance. It goes a long way to making the player feel like they aren’t playing at all.
A couple of other things should be addressed. The first is the game has a very creative art style. It has this semi-shaded look that reminds me of a comic book and has enough interesting locations to almost make the lack of freedom within those locations negligible. Sound quality is run of the mill, the voice acting is decent enough, but I feel like the story would’ve benefited from a little more work put into VA talent. Every now and then dialogue begins to sound bland, even monotonous at times. Replayability is obviously very high, given the numerous different story branches available.
The only important consideration any consumer should make with this title is this: Are you going to be satisfied with what the game is, and will you enjoy the experience? Many people will, they’ll find the story engrossing enough to forgive the lack of gameplay, and many won’t, they’ll hate playing this game solely because the experience isn’t a free one, the mountains in the distance can’t be climbed, previous locations can’t be returned to, and enemies can’t be shot outside of quick time events. Some, like me, will say “meh,” and still find the experience to be enjoyable, if not a little forgettable too.