What happens when you take some of the best storytellers in the world of video games and combine them with one of the most beloved survival dramas of modern time? Tears. Tears are what you get. Those of you who are already familiar with The Walking Dead franchise are probably already aware of stories and characters which involve a lot of difficult decisions and heart-wrenching moments. Season One of this Telltale adventure brings that thematic pacing and feeling into the adventure game genre in this original tale which serves as a prequel to the television series (in the sense of story placement, not character introduction).
Telltale’s distinctive formula is front and center in this game. The gameplay essentially revolves around having conversations, choosing dialogue options, doing some exploration, solving simple puzzles and reacting to button sequences involving tense action scenes. It’s more of a glorified interactive movie, which is how the genre normally operates. The most enticing thing is being able to choose options that determine how your journey plays out. The ending and beginning are pretty much set in stone and the main journey itself is set in stone, but you can make many choices that will determine how the details play out. This includes making decisions on which characters live or die, how your character builds relationships and even how certain plot points will play out.
Most of the time you’ll be controlling a cursor as well as the movement of Lee. You use the cursor to select objects or people for interaction. With the controls being so simple, you would think there would be nothing to complain about here, but there is. It may not seem like much, but the game does not give the option to invert the X or Y axis. It’s a very simple tool to include, and equally simple to patch in, but they never included the option. Normally this wouldn’t be an issue because the cursor you control acts like a mouse cursor. There are times when you are controlling a gun though, which has a variety of control styles for different types of people. These are usually timed sequences so getting to grips with a type of control scheme which your brain isn’t trained for usually ends in disaster for you. I’m an inverted Y-axis player so this was especially distressing to me during these sequences. Besides that, the game controls well and simply.
One of the most outstanding parts of this game is its audio. The sound effects can sometimes get repetitive, but the music is spot-on and the voice acting is mostly immaculate. The game doesn’t break any records in the graphics department, but the accentuated cel-shaded style helps to make everything look good without being extremely complex or intense.
These aesthetic points help to complement the most important and best part of the game: the story. As you play through the five chapters as Lee, forming bonds with various characters and doing your best to keep alive, there is one constant that brings the whole story together emotionally: Clementine. Clementine is a child you meet about halfway through the first chapter. She is the driving force behind how you decide to make most your decisions, since she quickly turns into your responsibility. Her development and what eventually happen in the story are the most heart-wrenching parts of the game. While you play the game as Lee, Clementine is the real star of the story. While each character in the game represents a relatively rigid archetype, the way they all interact and act is what makes the storytelling so grand. It helps to present how different people would live in a world that revolves around death and misery. You see points of horror, death and destruction. At the same time, you’ll see points of hope, love and compassion. It’s this intertwined web of thematic development that makes the scenarios in The Walking Dead so compelling, and ultimately far more interesting than the average zombie romp. Choosing to focus on character development and humanity rather than zombies and action is what makes this story stand out. You get a whole new perspective on the human psyche as you play. While the story isn’t entirely gut-wrenching in the way of other games, it has a certain grounded feeling that will keep you hooked all the way to the very sad end.
Each chapter also does a good job of feeling independent yet connected to the whole. They each tell their own entire story but help to continue the overarching story as well. It’s a wonderful approach that helps give a sense of unique variety to each story arc within the game. It’s a little disappointing that the bonus chapter 400 Days is so short. This bonus chapter tells the story in the same kind of way, but condenses it all into one chapter, so it all feels rushed and you’re not given enough time to emotionally invest in what’s happening. This is a minor gripe though, since it’s not exactly a part of the main story and serves more as a sort of transition into Season Two. That being said, once you play the game once, there is hardly any replayability, since the mystery and suspense are diminished. To top it off, the achievements are mostly acquired simply by playing the game, so there isn’t even incentive to replay the game for that reason.
This game won’t pull at your heart-strings in the same way that games such as Life Is Strange or Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons; or give you thoughtful puzzles in the same way as Myst; or offer a grand story in the same way as The Longest Journey. What it does do is offer a well-made human story that makes you evaluate life around you. If you’re aching for a low-skill but high reward game that provides a compelling and interesting story about relationships and survival, then you can’t get much better than The Walking Dead: The Complete First Season.
NOTE: This review was made for the Xbox One re-release. There were no additional details or improvements I noticed while playing through it. I also have played this on the PC and have played the first episode on the Xbox 360. All versions seemed identical to me, so choose your platform of choice and run with it.
- Teepu (Bowser05)