There have been no shortage of zombie games in the past couple of years. Whether poppin’ heads in House Of The Dead: Overkill or chainsaw-slashing the undead in Left For Dead 2, the premise is much the same: slash, hack, shoot, kill, repeat.
So for The Walking Dead: The Game to take on a point-and-click-inspired, dialogue-laden, story-led approach to the zombie genre is, if nothing else, refreshing. To others it’ll be the idea of a "stop reading and switch off" boreathon.
A brief history
From Robert Kirkman’s eerie comics to the popular TV show devised by Frank Darabont, The Walking Dead has become quite the potent franchise; it’s spawned outside of its original story and character remit to appeal to a mass audience. And it’s worked with gusto.
While Telltale Games’s approach has stuck more closely to The Walking Dead’s original comic book storyline - and indeed story really is the key to this game - we suspect the TV series’ impact will have many brand new fans sniffing around this game as a result. And hey, what’s the harm in that?
At the core of The Walking Dead: The Game are its characters. You play Lee Everett, an “is he, isn’t he?” killer, caught up in the middle of an inexplicable zombie apocalypse. He doesn’t know what’s going on; but then nobody does.
The opening several minutes of the game are spent in the back of a cop car. The dialogue is convincing – bar for the odd bit of shoehorned-in profanity - and the straightforward gameplay is based on two main principles: selecting responses to questions and the odd bit of looking around.
It may not sound like oodles of fun, or at least yet, but there’s a reason to consider those responses – other characters will judge your demeanour, remember what you say, decide whether they believe you and, therefore, shape the ongoing character interactions and story. This makes it feel, at least a bit, like crafting out your own path through the story.
But there are some characters where it doesn’t matter what’s said: let’s face it, the cop driving the car never stood a chance, did he? One big car crash later and it’s not long before the tale takes a turn towards the darker side. Shotgun at the ready…
Without giving away the full story, the gameplay continues in the same vein, albeit with the added focus of walking around given scenes. There are other sections that require rapid button-bashing to avoid getting chowed down by your zombie foe, while other parts flip into a first-person point of view which changes up the dynamic of the game. Otherwise camera angles are fixed in a Resident Evil style arrangement.
It’s difficult to describe The Walking Dead: The Game as either a puzzle or platform game, as it’s not either. It feels a lot like Heavy Rain (minus the occassionally cheesy acting) meets the undead.
Which, essentially, is a glorified point-and-click adventure. Something that’s having a resurgence of late. Tim Shafer’s Kickstarter-funded Double Fine Adventure project acquired more than $3.3 million dollars inside a month – and that was before anyone, including the makers, had a clue what the game would be.
Telltale Games’s own titles, including Back To The Future and Jurassic Park, have also seen a success. The style of these previous titles sets the precedent for The Walking Dead: The Game. So if either of those impressed, then Telltale’s latest five-chapter story should whet your appetite
Blood ‘n’ guts
But it’s not all fluffy chit chat - there’s plenty of gore too. Telltale hasn’t shied away from the realities of any given zombie-led game, film or comic worth your time: smatterings of the red stuff and more than a handful of head-related injuries.
Whether it’s slipping over in a crimson puddle, kicking an angry zombie in the face, or de-braining one of the unfortunate undead with a claw hammer. Add to that about as much profanity as an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm – just without the, y’know, comedy element – and this isn’t one for the kids. There’s none of the charm of Monkey Island to be found here.
However the gore doesn’t feel without warrant. It’s all part of driving the story forward rather than a Mortal Kombat style “finish him” just for the fun of it.
The voice acting is also pretty spot on; as good as it gets in any game. The face animation isn’t lip-synched, but the generally convincing dialogue sets the tone. That’s important - without it this game would have been a flop. Instead it builds the tension and draws you further in.
The only problem is, drawn in as you may or may not be, the first chapter’s just too easy. It’s not nearly challenging enough. We can only hope that the forthcoming parts two through to five will up the ante. Available on multiple platforms - PC, Mac, PS3 store, Xbox 360 online - it’s easy to get hold of the game. Prices vary depending on platform, early promotional deals and which country you live in. Roughly speaking £15.99 for the full season pass works out as about the same as a pint of beer for each episode. So it’s good value. But it needs to be, as there’s no longevity here.
Fans of the original comic and recent TV show are prime candidates for this game. But hardened gamers will want to proceed with caution: it’s not going to be for everyone. If Heavy Rain on the PS3 sounds like your idea of fun, then The Walking Dead: The Game should be right up your street. It’s got great voice acting, doesn’t shy away from the gore and is an entertaining ride. But if you’re more the button-bashing, first person-shooter type then, in all likelihood, you’ll loathe this game’s dialogue-laden, slow pace.
This first episode of five – the others are released monthly from May onwards – lacks a true challenge, but we’re putting trust in Telltale Games that the difficulty level will continue to rise and that the plot will further deepen. And that’s what this game is really about: the story.