576 DECISIONS LATER
Telltale Games’ inaugural season of The Walking Dead will go down as one of my most meaningful, suspenseful, thought-provoking times in gaming.
The Walking Dead is one of the first highly successful episodic gaming franchises and has undoubtedly inspired a new kind of gaming. In coming to the Xbox One and PS4, Telltale Games has found systems strong enough to run its sub-par game engine and run it well.Season 1 is compromised of 5 episodes plus one episode of bonus content entitled “400 Days.” You take on the role of Lee Everett, a convicted criminal in a world that has gone to hell. Full of zombie-like creatures called “Walkers,” society has crumbled and it’s every man for himself. Lee’s background isn’t crystal clear right from the get-go, but being in the back of police car is never a good sign. At any given time, you hang with a group of survivors that ranges from 3 – 8 characters.
The gameplay is based heavily on decisions presented to you. Some are based simply on what you would like to say to a given character, some are vital decisions that influence the game’s next turn at the fork in the road, and some are action decisions (ie, whether to shoot a Walker or slice him). Quantic Dream’s 2010 hit Heavy Rain is a major inspiration for the game, which I dub the “Telltale Formula.” The Telltale Formula is episodic gaming with a heavy influence on decisions over action. The Wolf Among Us, Tales From The Borderlands, Game of Thrones, and now D4 and Resident Evil Revelations 2 appear to have undergone similar treatments. The visuals are cell-shaded, another trait of the formula. This particular version of The Walking Dead is based on the comics, not the AMC TV Series.
The game engine is sluggish on the PS3/Xbox 360/iOS/Vita devices, but the new-gen systems seem to handle it much better (though it could use some work). Regardless, the game’s intensity made my heart beat at every corner. TWD Season 1 is good for many, many scares. Countless times, Walkers genuinely surprised me from around the corner. Because of this, my engagement was high.
For every scare the Undead gave me, the living characters gave me thought provoking issues to contemplate. Two characters are caught in predicaments and you cannot save both. Do I save the young boy, who will likely not contribute to the group’s well-being, yet is only eight? Do I save the 20-something guy who is more capable of helping himself and the group? The moral issues faced in the game are loaded in Episode 1. I found as I moved to Episode 2, to 3, to 4 and so on, that morals began to go out the window. It felt like a true end-of-the-world.
As Lee, you meet young Clementine, an 8 year old girl who has been separated from her parents due to the outbreak. She becomes your responsibility. Clementine is adorable and seemingly helpless, but not all that meets the eye. The true appeal of TWD is your relationship with Clem. I would argue that the two become more like best friends, rather than father and daughter. I decided from the get-go that she would be my central basis for making decisions. Anytime I was faced with a situation, I asked “how will it help Clem to survive and possibly lead a normal life one day?” Certain characters will remember things that you say or actions that choose to perform or not perform. Do you want to be loyal to Kenny? Or do you want to keep your romantic interest alive? Which path do you want to take – the best interests of the group or the member of the group that you are partial to?
There are many, many endings and branching paths. Between two play-throughs, it is entirely possible that Player A would have never seen an entire section of the game that Player B saw. Each episode keeps track of your stats and which choices you made. I can’t wait to compare with my fellow writers. After completing Episodes 1-5 and playing midway through 400 Days, I had made 576 choices in 14 hours. Be sure to play each successive episode on the same system, because your saved game will continue on if you do. It REALLY matters.
I couldn’t wait to get to each new episode. This is a really good binge game if you are looking for a fun marathon session. Time flew by for me. It was so addictive that my wife wouldn’t let me play without her.
Ultimately, the entropy and intensity that takes place throughout the first few episodes gears you up for an ending that you can foresee at the end of Episode 4. Episode 5 was like watching Star Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith; you knew the final outcome, but you didn’t know completely why or how it got there. Despite bracing myself, I was genuinely teary-eyed at the outcome. During the final 5 – 10 minutes, I was on edge, yet at peace. I was scared, tired, decisive, drained, and simply put, emotional.
While I liked the ending to Episode 5, I felt it could have been executed better. The end of Episode 4 provides heavy foreshadowing, if not outright giving away what is to come. The ending was also somewhat anti-climatic. As gamers and critics, I feel we are often too critical of game endings. But at the end of the day, it’s our opinions that spur great conversation. This is not Mass Effect 3, nor is it close. I just felt that it could have been more epic, more heroic.
Aside from Episodes 1-5, 400 Days features 5 characters all but unconnected to the narrative of the rest of the season. You play the role of 5 different characters for a few short scenes. While I liked the change of pace, I felt disconnected from the characters and the multiple storylines. How this will effect Season 2 remains to be seen.
The Walking Dead: Season 1 is a masterpiece, a shining example of why games truly should be considered art. The burden of your quickly-timed decisions matter more than most other games out there, allowing you to build your own story, to take the colored pencil of your choice and to shade the page anyway you see fit.
+ Unparalleled story telling and decision making
+ Episodic presentation a perfect fit for The Walking Dead
+ Large connection to Lee & Clementine
+ Quality & quantity of decisions make for lots of moral weight
– Though the ending was satisfying, it was not all it could be
– Clem’s voice acting in first half of the season
The Walking Dead: Season 1 & 400 Days were reviewed on the Xbox One, They are also available for Playstation 4, Playstation 3, Xbox 360, PC, Vita, and iOS.
Josiah LeRoy is Geekiverse’s Senior Editor. You can compare your Achievements and Trophies by following him on Xbox Live & Playstation Network via JosiahIsLegend.
Check out our reviews on other Telltale Games: