AMC’s adaptation of The Walking Dead is a hard sell because it turned the genre of zombie films over on its head. In the same way that the concept of a human drama back-lit by the zombie apocalypse might confuse/bore people jumping into a series (who were likely expecting more action/slaughter) it’s hard to describe what exactly makes Telltale’s video game adaptation magical to nerds like myself who get off on player interaction and debate.
+The twist Telltale put on the zombie survival game genre is nothing short of magic.
+The world is filled with characters who truly come alive through your interaction with them (minus the zombies of course).
+Telltale has provided a companion piece to a TV series that, for once, manages to capture the tone and concept of the original source material.
-Chapter 1 is far, far too short for my liking. It can be wrapped inside of two hours.
I think that we can all agree that zombies, as a whole, have kind of reached their critical mass in terms of being ‘a thing.’ They’ve always been around, but in the last couple of years their popularity has surged to a point where a game without zombies in it seems almost as obscene as a game without multiplayer. It’s a fiercely competitive genre right now, with no shortage of options for how it can be represented… and honestly, I thought we’d seen it all, but Telltale’s take, based on the world of the Walking Dead, has brought something entirely new to the table: the human angle.
When Telltale originally announced they were going to be the ones taking the helm for the Walking Dead tie-in game, my initial thought on the matter was ‘that makes sense’. Fans of the show, and I mean fans, people that enjoy the show, understand that it is a series about the human element. At its core it is a drama about people thrust into an unimaginably survival situation and how different people cope with that. The humans, rather than the zombies, outbreak, and global destruction, are the focal point, and that tends to throw people. That’s why, if anyone was going to make a companion piece to the TV series, it made all worlds of sense that it be Telltale, makes of fine adventure games that focus around character interaction rather than combat.
The only real complaint that I’ve had so far about the games that Telltale has queued up, is in the extremely short chapters for the episodic content. Having something that you can clear inside of about 2 hours of gameplay, feels a little weak (though, you can always go back through again and try additional dialog options). Though, Telltale was kind enough to acknowledge that by providing the first chapter for the relatively low cost (400msp or $5).
Honestly speaking, I’m probably one of those people that were at the front-line of the “no more zombie games” rally. I hate that the marketplace has been so completely oversaturated with the concept, I hate that every game has them, or at the very least references them in some way. But just like The Walking Dead brought me back around to enjoy zombies in film again, the game brings a new spin on the world that makes it feel all shiny and new. There’s something so completely elegant about the fact that you’re working your way through this scene, that we’ve seen about a thousand other times (the zombie apocalypse) and you’re not getting to be that John-Rambo-bad-ass that you normally play. Instead of picking up the shotgun of unending ammo and taking to the streets for a wave of carnage only rivaled by 90s action films, you’re spending your time sneaking around fields, back alleys, collecting supplies and negotiating with other survivors to keep your character alive for one more day.
Friends of mine will, probably, tell you that I’m a not only a fan of debate but of player-interaction in board games. Telltale has brought that passion into a single-player environment in an interesting way that helped me to prove (to myself and others) that I’d be able to survive any apocalyptic scenario that doomsday wants to throw our way. Your character has to navigate the impending obliteration of the human race by building relationships, utilizing quick thinking in clutch moments of gameplay, and keeping people on his side. Its strategy, but not in the way that we’d generally define in console/computer gaming. There’s no tanks crossing boarders or alien fleets to command, it’s all about you interacting intelligently with some pretty intelligent AI representing the human condition that will get you to the ‘victory screen’ at the end.
The concept is a bold new one, and it’s something I would love to see pushed further as the series progresses. Some of my favourite moments in traditional RPGs, like Skyrim, Fallout, and Mass Effect, has been in the way that you interact with the world… but their consequences were never this vital. You could be an ass as much as you liked, and it would just mean potentially having less friends when diving into a fray, or a nicer apartment to drop your gear off in. In Telltale’s Walking Dead, it’s literally the only way to survive.
The first chapter may be short, but it’s also sweet, if I can get away with using a bit of a cliché, and it left me for a desire for the additional chapters as they release. If you’re a fan of the unique flavor that The Walking Dead brought to TV, then you’re absolutely going to love what Telltale does for a video-game adaptation of the universe on console and PC.
A review copy of this game was provided by the publisher.