It could have been so easy. I mean, a graphic novel about a zombie apocalypse? If any other studio had scored the rights to this adaptation, we’d have got a generic zombie shooter for sure. I expected a zombie shooter to come of the franchise. But, of all developers, Telltale Games was the one to take this project onboard – for the less learned of my readers, Telltale are the kings of the modern point and click adventure game. So, when I first heard that it was Telltale who’d be adapting The Walking Dead, I was both thoroughly bemused and thoroughly excited. A zombie point-and-click? Original, to say the least.
You are Lee Everett, a phenomenally clumsy history-lecturer-cum-convicted-murderer. The game opens as you are in the back seat of a police car, conversing with a talkative cop who is driving you to the prison. For a couple of minutes, you chew the fat and look out the rear window, seeing the shit slowly hit the fan (good mental image, amirite?) as helicopters and police teams zoom back towards the city. All of a sudden, your car crashes directly into a person standing on the road, and you’re trapped in the woods in the crashed car. Things happen (no spoils) and you end up skipping down the road with Clementine, a young, innocent, parent-less (you assume) girl who you take to like a daughter, bashing zombie skulls in to keep her out of harm’s way.
At its heart, this is a point-and-click adventure. Quantic Dream-interactive drama style. With zombies. But for those of who who’ve spent quite a bit of time with the classics of the genre, I’m sure you’d agree with me when I say that they’re cripplingly difficult games, especially due to the puzzles which require a huge amount of lateral thinking. In The Walking Dead, however, the most difficult puzzle you’ll come across is a woman who needs help getting her radio to work. You guessed it – there’s no batteries in there. After fetching her some batteries, you’ll be summoned to help her again. Guess what she’s done this time? The batteries are in backwards. Maybe this was supposed to be a bit of comic relief, but all it succeeded in doing was making me grimace and decide that this girl was not someone I’d want in my group of survivors.
That’s really the extent of the puzzles. It’s enough to really go against your view of point-and-clicks as a whole – for years, I’ve associated the entire genre with a skewed sense of humour and clever puzzles, and now I’m helping someone put the batteries in the back of their radio. It seems, however, that Telltale have chosen to take all the unused dough from the puzzle department, and spend it on the choice department. This was the focussing of the marketing before release – you have plenty of choices to make in a very small amount of time. That right there is the strength of the entire episode, and I’m going to go ahead and assume that it’s going to be the core concept throughout the entire series. Not half an hour after pressing start, you’re confronted with the horrible choice of saving one of two sons from an oncoming zombie horde. While this precariously-crafted scene could seem a little bit shoehorned in at first, the fact that your decision is to be made after meeting and conversing with both sons and their respective fathers helps you develop a strange emotional connection with them.
Further adding to the brilliance of this choice mechanism is the timer. Every time you are expected to give a reply to something, no matter how significant or seemingly petty, a timer slowly worms its way down to zero, at which point a default action is taken. This makes every fight, every choice and every conversation feel so much more real and tense – after all, if I tried to hang around for fifteen minutes before responding to a query, people would walk away. Zombies wait for no man. The Walking Dead seemed to suffer from framerate issues, though. At least on my machine. I would be right in the middle of a visceral, gory fight, and all of a sudden, the visuals would start to stutter and the framerate would drop to below 10 fps. Not good.
Speaking of the visuals (smooth segue right there), The Walking Dead has drawn its inspiration directly and completely from the graphic novel. The hand drawn, Borderlands-esque graphic style makes sure that you know that you’re playing an adaptation of a successful graphic novel, not a generic zombie game. Audio is good, particularly the voice acting (except for Clementine’s actress, she sounds… weird, at first), but positioning is horrible for those of you with more than two audio channels. The interface is fairly rubbish – look at this fantastic keyboard layout screen (below), with no rebindable keys, obviously. The only way you’re going to work out what button does what is after you start the game, when everything is explained to you. I can’t even see why someone would want to use a gamepad rather than mouse and keyboard here though; I guess it’s third-person, but there’s a lot of cursor-pointing, which I can’t imagine being anything but horrible on a gamepad. Mouse control is also sloppy – maybe it’s due to the fact that the screen doesn’t stay centred on the cursor, which is a little bit disorientating. You get used to it, but I can’t help but wonder if there wasn’t a better way to control the cursor.
The UI doesn’t do itself any favours either. You have two options – normal and minimal. In normal, you are shown all the orbs that represent interactive objects, but have your hand held by information as to what a character will think about remarks you make. Minimal view removes the hints, but also removes the orbs, making it near impossible to find interactive objects. An in-between setting would have been much appreciated – turn the orbs on, turn the hints off. I’d like to work out what someone’s reaction is by myself, but after fifteen minutes of playing with a minimal UI, I’d had enough of searching the screen for the white orbs which are only visible when your mouse is directly above them.
The Walking Dead is a fantastic, vicious, gory adaptation of the beloved graphic novel series that stays true to the name without straying into generic territory for even a second. The time-dependent choice mechanism, touted as the game’s selling point right from the very beginning, totally stands up to expectations, resulting in some truly visceral fight scenes and gut wrenching choices. In The Walking Dead, Telltale’s pedigree in the point-and-click genre shines through, with some excellent characters, dialogue, and interaction. It’s as though interactive drama, point-and-click adventure and third-person shooter had a strange, fast-paced love child. With zombies.
Man, I can’t wait for Episode 2.
Select Start Media was provided with a review copy of The Walking Dead: The Complete Season by Telltale Games.
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