You can’t go on the internet without seeing one of two things: pornography or The Walking Dead. I personally don’t watch a huge amount of television, nor am I an avid comic collector, so my introduction to The Walking Dead was because of my so-called friends. Like most people who have the misfortune to meet me, my friends were tired of me needlessly writing off the series with a swift flick of my wrist. This is why they grouped together and decided to show me Telltale’s latest point and click adventure series - The Walking Dead: The Game. I found it to contain dull dialogue and poor animations, but it did have quite a griping story. I liked how – because of its point and click nature – the entirety of the game wasn’t spent blasting off zombie heads like coconuts. Instead, the Walking Dead series forcuses on group dynamics and the attempt to survive (rather than fight) the zombie apocalypse. Despite not being sold on the ending of the first game, I do have to admit that the survival horror genre may not be completely dead.
The Walking Dead: The Game: Episode 1 is one of the first games this year which I found enjoyable. Starting – ironically – at the end of the world, Lee Everett is on his way to jail when the outbreak kicks off. Lee is paired with a young kid called Clementine – because her parents hate her – and you spend your time talking to people and, now and again, smashing a walker’s face in. The Walking Dead is based on the comics rather than the television show; the graphics reflect that. Nevertheless, I found the visuals strange to observe. Even though the adventure genre's use of facial animation has gotten better, because of the cartoon art style the characters move their mouths in an almost stricken way.
However, I truly believe this is the first game I've played that really executes the choice system well; it doesn't leave a binary choice dangling at the end like an old piece of meat as countless games before it have. And the horror doesn’t only come from the undead, it comes too from your attempts to survive on relatively nothing. Zombies do, of course, play a role, but not as much as you might think if you're new to the franchise. Episode 1 focuses, instead, on your attempts to build a group of people you can trust and survive with, which makes for a very interesting take on the survival horror franchise.
After somewhat enjoying the first Walking Dead - like I’d enjoy a rather bland sandwich - I thought, as the story was fresh in my mind, that I would have a crack at Episode 2. Three months have passed since the first Episode and Lee Everett (plus those you decided to save in Episode 1), are still living in the Motel stronghold. Luckily, new characters are introduced, which promptly moves the setting to St. John Dairy Farm. This – I think – is the first of only two positive steps Telltale made in Episode 2. Changing the environment was a ballsy move to make us feel unfamiliar with our surroundings. The other positive step was keeping the plot so central, but somehow it doesn’t have the same sensation of panic that Episode 1 had.
Walkers get even less screen time (I do like the fact that it’s not a mindless action game, but I would like there to be some sort of genuine struggle with the undead, because at times it starts to feel like a daytime soap opera). The Walkers barely make an appearance and you’ll find your skirmishes will be with your human counterparts rather than the zombies. I switched between liking and loathing this. Yes, it's a new and inventive idea to have - in this post-apocalyptic world - people who are just in it for themselves, but when you see a shadowy dribbling figure behind a tree it’s quite disappointing to have nothing happen for another 20 minutes.
You move Lee with the left stick and interact with the right, which is easy enough to learn if a bit odd to begin with. But – if I’m honest – I can’t think of a better way to make a point and click game engaging to those who are inexperienced with the concept. The inclusion of quick-time events is another matter altogether, however. Quick-time events – in my eyes – really don’t add anything to the experience bar maybe frustration. They do work in some of the scenes in Episode 1 - for example when you’re smashing a zombie head in, or cutting the leg off of some plonker - but for the most part continually tapping X feels like a cheap way to add panic.
However, something Episode 2 does far better than Episode 1 are the choices that change the outcome of the game. I always felt in Episode 1 that choices were about as subtle as a frog in your soup, but now – even if some are relatively frog-like – you can’t really tell when you’re making an important decision because all of them seem as important as the last. One in particular is absolutely brilliant (or if you’re a normal human being, absolutely nauseating). I was knocking about the woods when a scream reached me. I dashed over to find someone caught in a bear trap. After some horrible dialogue, where everyone swears like an angry teenage boy, the undead pop out of the trees and start to slowly but surely make their way towards us. From there, you can opt for a number of different options on how to get him out, one being to cut off his leg. Without hesitation, I went to cut that leg like a knife through butter. Unfortunately, what resulted was far from what I wanted to achieve. It took four unbearable hacks to get the damn thing cut. It was bloody and brutal, and almost made me feel ill, which I guess was exactly the feeling Telltale wanted to provoke.
With Episode 2 I didn’t have the same sense of accomplishment I had with the first Episode, and for everything l liked – like keeping the campaign short and making the story tight – there were a lot glitches and poor dialogue. Whether this decline in quality will be a trend throughout the series I don’t know, but I hope the plot will remain as sharp as it has been so far when Episode 3 is released.
The Walking Dead Episode 3: Long Road Ahead will be available in mid-August.