The Walking Dead Season 1 PlayStation 3, PC Review
The Walking Dead started out as a zombie apocalypse comic book, and was then turned into a very popular TV show that airs on AMC. Now this game developed by Telltale serves as something of a prequel side story to the events in the comic. Telltale is known for making comedic point and click adventure games like Sam and Max series, Strong Bad's cool game for attractive people, and the recent Back to the Future game. You might be wondering how exactly you translate a zombie game to the point and click format. The answer is that most of the action happens in cut scenes or with the help of quick time event button prompts. The Walking Dead Game is difficult to review since it's basically all about the story, which I don't want to spoil, but is really all I can talk about or critique. Yes you can move Lee freely along a narrow path occasionally, sometimes there'll be a QTE or a simple item collecting puzzle, but all there is really is the story. If you don't like the story then you won't enjoy the game at all, but if you do you'll think it's amazing. This sort of makes it a love it or hate kind of game. Since Telltale is the developer like all their games they are releasing it in a episodic format. Currently only the first two episodes of the five total have been released, which makes it even harder to judge the game as a whole. I will say though that if you're a fan of either the Walking Dead TV show or comic and don't mind sitting through very long cut scenes, since that's pretty much all there is to this game, then you should at least consider checking it out.
Now I'll attempt to summarize the events of the game and review the story while hopefully not spoiling anything, which should prove to be pretty difficult. So if your paranoid or especially sensitive about spoilers I recommend skipping as part of the review. In the game you play as Lee Everett a former college professor who was convicted of killing a man having an affair with his wife. At the start of the zombie outbreak, Lee escapes custody and stumbles away from an advancing horde of zombies and into a small suburban town in rural Georgia. Lee explores what he thinks is a abandoned house and meets Clementine a eight year old girl who is somehow surviving on our own. Lee convinces her that it's not safe to stay in the town by herself, and she agrees to travel with him as they look for help. A while later they meet Kenny a Floridian fisherman, his wife Katjia [Mail order bride?] and his excitable son Duck. Kenny agrees to give a ride to Lee and Clementine to Macon. After arriving they enter the town's pharmacy where they meet another group of survivors led by Lilly and her hot tempered grumpy father Larry. There's also lovable nerd Doug and gun toting radio reporter Carley.
Throughout the game characters will ask Lee questions or want him to make decisions where the player will decide what course of action to take. Besides not saying anything, there are usually three different responses, one that sides with the first character, one that sides of another character, and a neutral response that pretty much just hedge your bets so no one gets angry at you. Siding with a particular character often will make them generally friendlier to you, and more likely to help you or give you things later on in the story.
Basically there are three main people that your relationship with effects the story; Lilly, Kenny and Clementine. Most decisions in the game will have the option of siding with either Lilly or Kenny and sometimes Clementine will disapprove of both of their opinions and use her doe eyes to guilt you into agreeing with her, which usually means not taking any action. When comparing the two Kenny is friendlier and has more to offer in both supplies and help, but Lilly demands far less of you, despite being rude and often being hard to get along with. Siding with Lilly is usually pretty easy, all you have to do is agree with her and back up what she says. With Kenny on the other hand, you'll frequently have to do his dirty work, back him up in fights or put yourself in danger more often than not. Clementine loves to repeat what you say to her, and will very often second guess whatever decision you make. She also needs a lot of constant reassuring that that things will be ok, what you're doing is right, and that clearly dead characters are still alive and made it out ok.
Occasionally in the game you'll come across very important two option decisions that sometimes affect the course of the story. Examples include whether or not to travel to a different location or which one of two people to save who are both being attacked by zombies at the same time. Most of these important choices seem pretty cool and give you an incentive to replay the game. However some of them are actually are actually just Hobson's choice, since regardless of what option you pick the same result will eventually happen. Unfortunately it seems like for every one actual decision you can make, there are two fake ones that only exist to make you feel like you're in charge and what you decide to do actually matters. For example many of these decisions involve saving a character's life, but when you replay the area and try the other option, you'll realize that there's actually no way to save the character. These characters are just doomed and there's nothing you can do to stop it, which is frustrating and goes against the entire premise of the game where supposedly every decision you make is important and changes the story. Another example is that often characters will say that they plan to leave and travel to a far off area, such as another state, or simply break off from the main group. Realistically you should be able to convince them to stay, encourage them to leave or even tag along with them. However the decision is made meaningless since the character will take the same action regardless of what you said to them. I guess this was done since it would mean developing radically different versions of the following episodes depending on if decide you to travel with them or not, but it's still very disappointing. Basically most decisions are just short meanders from the main body of the story, and regardless of what you say or do it all leads back to the same river and outcome.
One pet peeve I have with the decision process is that occasionally will choose the response that you think is positive, but then Lee will say it sarcastically and you'll have unwittingly offended the character you're trying to get in good with. Another problem is that usually there'll be a short time limit to make a decision and you won't have enough time to read each one and decide which response you like best. Lastly every time you make a important decision it will say in the top left corner of the screen that a character will now remember what you just said or did. For example "Gary picked up on that" or "Gary knows you're from Macon" So you'd think that if you lie to Gary and told him that you're a used car salesman, that you would have to stick to that story every time you're in the same room with Gary for the rest of the game. However not five minutes later, Gary is brutally eaten by zombies, and you'll realize that it didn't matter if you told him the truth or lied at all, which is just stupid and aggravating.
Periodically throughout the game you'll have to fend off zombies or tussle with other survivors, and a QTE will ensue where the X button on the PlayStation 3 or the Q key on the PC must be rapidly pressed to repel the attack. The scenes helps break up the otherwise slow pace of the game, but could be a bit jarring to inexperienced players who may have otherwise had a false sense of security while playing the game. Sometimes after completing the QTE you will also have to press another button, such as the triangle button on the PS3 or the E key on the PC. One definite advantage that the PC version has over the PlayStation, is that it's certainly easier to aim the mouse at a zombie's head with your right hand while mashing a button on the keyboard with your left hand, than it is to aim with the right stick and mash X at the same time, since it requires moving your left hand far too close to your right to mash buttons effectively. So you might die more on the PlayStation 3 version due to the increased coordination required, but the game will reload and resume only a few seconds before you died anyway so it's not much of a problem.
Point and click adventure game fans might be disappointed to learn that there aren't that many puzzles in the game and most are pretty easy. Usually if you just move your cursor around everywhere, and pick up everything, you'll easily solve every puzzle. Puzzles aren't too complicated either, since usually the item you need to solve it is in the same room as the puzzle itself. The most complicated puzzles involve examining an object, turning it around and finally using another object to fix it. I did get stuck for about ten minutes in both of the first two episodes however, because I forgot to talk to one isolated character that advances the plot or I missed the icon to interact with an object. Still I think that the game is easy enough that you probably won't need a guide and could beat most episodes in one sitting.
The game is rather short, but it is pretty cheap so I guess that's excusable. The first episode only takes between about two to three hours to beat, and the second episode takes three. The replay value of the game could be pretty high if you wanted to replay the game at least once making the exact opposite decisions you made the first time to see what kind of difference it makes, but given how little of an impact your choices make, it can be somewhat discouraging to playthrough the entire game again. Luckily there is a chapter select feature called Rewind if you just want to see how one particular scene plays out differently. Unfortunately unlike Heavy Rain another story based QTE game, which had a similar feature, there's no way to replay a section without overriding your main save data. You could get around the limitation though by copying your main save data to a different slot and then experiment to your heart's content, without the fear of accidently getting one of your favorite characters killed off.
In this next section I'll give purposely vague summaries of each episode so to avoid spoilers The point of this is to help people thinking of buying episodes individually, who want to skip ones that don't interest them, or aren't as good. If you bought a season pass, or buy the entire game on a disc, then clearly there's no good reason to skip a episode since you've already paid for all five, and the whole point of the game is that the story carries over throughout each one.
In episode one Lee meets Clementine at her house in the suburbs. They then travel to Herschel's farm which serves as sort of a tutorial for the game. At the farm they also meet and join up with Kenny and his family. After word they all travel to the town of Macon and barricade themselves in the small pharmacy where they meet Lilly, Larry, Doug, Carley, and Glen. The pharmacy is where the majority of the puzzles in the episode take place. Puzzles include collecting batteries for radio, and sneaking past a group of zombies to get to a survivor. This is the best episode so far, 7/10.
Episode two takes place three months after the first, the survivors are still living at the hotel, it's colder so everyone changed their clothes and somehow Clementine lost her baseball cap. The group apparently is running low on food, and took in newcomer Mark in order to strengthen their supplies, but now even those are running low. This makes tensions run high and much bickering ensues. Then when brothers Andy and Danny show up at the hotel and invite the group to move in to their nearby dairy farm, it seems like their luck is turning around. Mark and Lee are sent to investigate the farm to make sure it's on the up and up ahead of the rest the group. Mark thinks the place is great, but Lee is much more skeptical. The dairy farm is where most of the episode takes place. Puzzles include escaping a locked room, and distracting someone so that you can investigate their belongings. I was disappointed that there weren't actually that many zombies in the episode. 6/10
Graphics in the games aren't super impressive, but they certainly aren't ugly. It does a great job of perfectly matching the comic's art style, especially in the character models. Texture work is pretty notable with a lot of the clothing looking like it drawn with water colors. I have to say that I was impressed by how good the foliage on the trees looked in episode two. I also really like how expressive characters faces are in the game, and most of the animations are pretty impressive. Of course the PC version runs at a higher resolution, but the PlayStation 3 version looks about the same. The only problems I noticed is that occasionally the PS3 versions frame rate will dip down a bit too much here and there during cut scenes. As you might expect the PC version runs a lot better with a higher frame rate and has better sharper quality textures. The load times are also dramatically shorter. Animations also stutter far less often on the PC, but it seems to be a glitch to all versions when loading.
Voice acting in the game is really spectacular. No one sounds fake or unenthusiastic like they are reading it. I also didn't hear any fumbled or goofed lines which happens in almost every game. Clearly a lot of special attention was given to the voice direction, and it paid off with all the quality performances in the game. Music in the game is also top-notch, and sets the mood very nicely for both intense action sequences and slow character development. I do kind of wish however that they had access to the main theme from the TV show, since it seems like there's a lot of great setups to use it.
Controls the game are pretty good, they're responsive and get the job done. I do think that Lee moves a little too slowly, but there isn't much walking in the game in the first place, so it's not too much of a problem. On the PlayStation 3 the left analog stick as well as the directional pad move your character. The right analog stick moves the cursor that you use to select items, talk to people, or to aim at a zombie and attack them. The square button is usually used for talking to other characters. The X button is used to pick up or interact with objects, and must be rapidly pressed to complete QTE segments where you fight zombies. The triangle button is used to make Lee observe or comment on the selected object or his surroundings. Any of the four face buttons; X, triangle, Square, or circle can be used to select a dialogue option, or possibly during the end of a QTE sequence.
On the PC the controls are a little worse. The left mouse button is confirm and the right mouse button is back. You use the W,A,S,D or arrow keys to move around. Annoyingly during QTEs you must mash the Q button to fight back or escape, then sometimes press E as well. Which is difficult if you were using to arrow keys to move around. It' a lot easier to look around the environment with the mouse. You can select pick what conversation option to say with the mouse wheel, arrow keys, W,S and then confirm with Enter or left clicking.
I'm a bit conflicted reviewing this game. On one hand The Walking Dead Game has a great story that genuinely entertaining. On the other hand it has almost no gameplay to speak of, and what little gameplay there is in the game is incredibly easy. The game feels far too linear, like it's on autopilot, and most of the time were really just watching a movie and not playing a game. Still it's a very good movie, just not very fun game. If you're a really big Walking Dead fan or just like zombies in general then you'll probably really like the game and appreciate it for what it is. However you're the kind of person that skips most cut scenes in games and just wants to get straight to shooting things, then you'll probably hate the game. This is why recommend trying the demo out first, and then if you like it, try to can get a deal on buying the whole season for $20 or less. Eventually when the game's old enough and you can get all five episodes for say $10 then I'd recommend buying the game even if you only have a passing interest in The Walking Dead, but at $5 a episode it's a little harder sell, especially since I didn't like episode two nearly as much an episode one. I'll update this review once the other episodes have been released and I've played them. As it stands now I'll give the Walking Dead Game Season 1 as a whole a 7/10, but it's a refined taste and certainly not for everyone.