There's no denying the utility of knowing how to survive in a zombie apocalypse. The easiest way to learn about zombie apocalypses short of actually being in one is of course playing an interactive story game, especially when that game is based on the works of Robert Kirkman, the current super star in the land of the living dead (yes, that was indeed a Romero pun) and author of the comics the AMC series are based on (that's right, another unoriginal show on AMC!).
Is the game any fun though? I bought a seasonal pass to be able to play through all five episodes of season one and, granted that I actually manage to survive as the protagonist Lee, will tell the tale of it.
- Developer: Telltale Games
- Publisher: Telltale Games
- Important people: Jake Rodkin, Sean Vanaman, Jared Emerson-Johnson and Robert Kirkman
- Platforms: PS3, xBox, OSX, Windows, iOS
- Genre: Adventure/Action
- Supports: Single Player
- Trophy Support: Yes
- Playstation Store Price: Approximately 24$ (for a seasonal pass)
- Release date: 25th April 2012
Judging A Book By Its Cover
The first thing that hits you, whether you play the free trial or the full game, is that this is most certainly a game made with Robert Kirkman's blessing. The interesting, if somewhat odd, mix of 3D motion and environment coupled with the 2D character design works very well to support a projection of Charlie Adlard's famous artwork onto the screen of the home cinema. I actually recognized Glenn - the somewhat naive and very asian pizza delivery guy who also appears in both the comics and the series - immediately coming upon him, this in a situation that had been scripted in a manner that had a feeling more akin to the series than the comics.
In regards to gameplay, the game actually manages to come off as rather intuitive on the SixAxis controller, more so than I imagine it would be with mouse and keyboard. In a deadly pinch with a walker, it adds to the stress and ambience that you have to maneuver with set sensitivity and sticks. The controls are very simple to understand and get into as well and the game basically plays as one long cutscene with you interacting with the world and deciding the pace, mostly deciding it at least - but more about that later.
If you know the motto of AMC, the network airing The Walking Dead series, you will find that Telltale Games basically mirrors that approach. The game is, after all, just as much an animated series as it is a video game. This is of course a 'homage' to Hard Rain, but as any avid gamer older than 20 would know - the original adventure/roleplaying games of the late 80's and early 90's all basically played the same. Of course, back then you entered text explaining your actions - resulting in a trial and error structure of you trying to figure out exactly how the developers had worded the action you had already figured out was the right one. Before Hard Rain, the Final Fantasy series had already achieved their biggest sale success so far with Final Fantasy X - a game you could argue that you were watching rather than playing. But, enough reminiscing.
The plot is pretty simple really - and since it is the primary strength of the game I won't spoil any more than necessary. You're placed in 3rd person control of Lee Everett, an african-american professor convicted of a murder he may or may not have committed. You pick up clues as to Lee's past in the possible answers you can give to people along the way. The pivotal point of the story is not so much that, however, but rather Clementine - an 8-year old girl - and Lee's role as a caretaker of this orphaned girl. With the infamous stupidity all children in the AMC series seem to be stricken with, I'm very happy to tell you that Clementine is not the least bit annoying.
The first episode will last you about three hours of gameplay and, in terms of story, covers what would probably equal 3-4 episodes of an AMC TV series. Meaning that once all five episodes of season one have been released, you'll have around 15 hours of gameplay. Compared to other games, this is perhaps the primary weakness of this type of game - but if you choose to rather view it as an interactive zombie survival experience, the price actually comes off as pretty cheap compared to buying a season of The Walking Dead on DVD, it will also last you about as long as the entire TV series' first two seasons. Add to that the fact that Telltale Games are likely to run at least a couple of seasons, especially with the critical acclaim of the game and the hype regarding this particular franchise.
Bear in mind, however, that all five episodes probably won't be out before somewhere in the fall. Rumour is that TG will be releasing an episode a month (April, May, June, July, August) - but experienced customers have already theorized that months may be skipped every now and then. I was hooked after the trial (which lasts, like, 20 minutes or so) and went right out and bought the whole season. The other option is only buying one episode, but you will get a considerable discount simply buying the full season.
... But so does actually playing the game!
Playing the game is basically as simple as steering Lee with the left stick and looking around with the right. Objects of interest will either flash up on the screen (on 'Normal') or appear with the relevant selectable options once hovered over (on 'Minimal'). There is no HUD apart from relevant inventory items that will appear with minimalistic icons in the left side of the screen, this aids the ambience and doesn't really appear problematic. It goes a long way to reiterate that this is first and foremost something you want to watch, though, I personally could have changed some of that in for an inventory system that made collecting items more of a thing. All in all, though, I'm happy with not having to scan every screen for items for minutes and neither end up a farmer of arbitrary items as I did in Dead Island.
You don't come across anything selectable in the game that doesn't have a part in the big causality theorem of the game. This breaks the 4th wall just a tad sometimes, because it reminds you that this is just a game when you're all sucked into the zombie apocalypse - this in fact very similar to the ever hated event triggering of the Call of Duty franchise (something I was bothered by very much less in MW3 than in the other games in the series, was it just me? It seemed pretty fluid most of the time). It does also give more meaning to your choices, however, and if you aren't paranoid about all your choices halfway into the game, then you're not very reflective. I was cursing myself for my choices more than once. This is caused by the choice system, about 90% of the time - whenever you have to reply, react or ac - there's a timer. This works really well in the action scenes and I think it might actually be the artificial sweetener making the gameplay appear real. As mentioned earlier, the pace of the game is sometimes forced upon you (luckily you can always pause it with the 'Start'-button) - and believe it or not, but with only a few seconds to make the choice, you might even realize a few moments after that you made the wrong choice... forcing realistic human error on your gameplay. It is clever, if you let yourself be played.
And that brings again to something I've hinted on quite a few times already, if you don't allow yourself to be played - i.e. 'believe' in the story and the game - you probably won't enjoy this game. If you're looking for epic gameplay, the simple button sequences and the puzzles that neither challenge your ingenuity or intelligence will sorely disappoint you. The point of the game play is to draw you into the story, make you feel like you're responsible for what happens to Lee, Clementine and the others - and sometimes even stress you out when a walker is trying to order up some Lee Steak.
A game so heavily dependent on ambience is of course also very dependent on the visual and auditive elements. I did not remain a skeptic of the peculiar 3D/2D-mix for long, it is - hands down - the best rendering of this type I have ever seen. The motion animation comes off as slightly amateurish a few times where characters are interacting with items in the environment and the walkers are actually not very well rendered facially for some odd reason - but that is all I have to say in the negative on the graphics. I think the facial work of the live characters is actually better done than high budget 3D as far as conveying emotions go.
The voice acting is simply fantastic, especially the work done for Clementine. The music and general ambience is rather mediocre, though. I mean, it doesn't hurt the game but it isn't something to write home about either. Luckily, with the focus on character interaction - the voice acting is more important and TG seems to have prioritized their resources there.
The tie ins with the comics and the series are rather enjoyable, giving you the feeling of being able to interact almost directly with Rick. I should warn everyone that Hershel Greene is very much the Hershel from the comics, anyone who (like me) watched the series first is going to be pretty confused interacting with him since he looks and feels completely different from the Hershel on AMC.
One of the big plusses of this game is how it follows Robert Kirkman's vision of characters being killed off when it suits the story, expect not being able to save everyone and people dying if you make mistakes. Expect making mistakes, really. Luckily, if you die - you can reload the action and get right back into it. Expect not being offered all that huge challenges, though, apart from choosing itself - killing off zombies won't demand much more than directing the cursor to the zombies head and pushing x a couple of times. You won't be faced with Metal Gear Solid-esque button sequence difficulty. Whether this is good or bad is really up to you, I'm undecided.
(This is on a basic 10 scale. The basic 10 scale of course being the scale on which you judge women, meaning that 6 equals playable, 1s and 10s barely exist out there. 2 and 3 is reserved for the worst cripples there are, 9 is for the absolute best out there and most fall within the range of 5-7).
Since this is my first review, I'll be offering some examples of 1s, 5s, 6s, 7s and 10s on each scale.
(1: Tetris. 5: Command & Conquer series / 6: Red Dead Redemption / 7: Red Alert series / 10: Metal Gear Solid series)
(1: Any dating sim / 5: Blazing Angels 2 - Secret Weapons Over Normandy / 6: Ground Control II / 7: Medal of Honor (2010 version) / 10: Metal Gear Solid 4)
Sound: 9 (Voice acting), 7 (Otherwise)
(1: Tetris / 5: Army of Two / 6: Crash Bandicot - Team Racing / 7: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 / 10: Metal Gear Solid 3)
(1: Pac Man. 5: Battlefield 3 (sorry guys) / 6: Neverwinter Nights / 7: Final Fantasy VIII / 10: Farcry 1)
Replay Value: 5
(1: World of Warcraft (if you're sane) / 5: Mass Effect 2 / 6: Star Wars: The Force Unleashed / 7: StarCraft / 10: Baldur's Gate 2: Shadows of Amn)
(1: Guitar Hero 3 / 5: Red Dead Redemption / 6: Metal Gear Solid 4 / 7: Diablo 2 / 10: World of Warcraft)
+ If you're a Walking Dead/Zombie fan
+ You're going to love Lee and Clementine
- Only three hours of game play
- Not as many big game changing choice as you might've expected
-/+ Depending on your point of view, killing zombies isn't all that hard when you're offered the chance. The game isn't much about killing walkers, though, and I only had to reload twice during the entire play through of episode one
(1: Final Fantasy X-2 / 5: Call of Duty: World at War / 6: Red Dead Redemption / 7: Star Wars: Rebel Squadron / 10: Probably no game without being disputed. I'd put Metal Gear Solid 4 or Baldur's Gate 2: Shadows of Amn here though)
Enjoyable, worthwhile and definitely something I'd recommend - but unless you're a hardcore story fan like me you probably won't want to play it. If you're someone like me who plays most game for the story alone and who, with few exceptions like MW3 or StarCraft, mostly play Single Player AND if you're a big The Walking Dead fan, this is easily a 9 though.
If you haven't already played Hard Rain, are a huge TWD fan or have enjoyed games such as Final Fantasy and what not before - I would really recommend that you first try out this very similar, but simplified and graphically not very impressive, game off of AMC's website: TWD - Dead Reckoning.
Secondly, there's the trial/demo available on the playstation store. Try it out, it gives a good feel of the game. I was a tad annoyed at having to play through that part of the game again once I had bought the full game and played through the prologue though.
Actual gameplay trailer not included as to not spoil anything!