Friday, January 25, 2013

The Walking Dead (Xbox 360) Review

I haven't touched a proper point-and-click adventure in many, many years and in truth, they were never my preferred genre of game.  I am a huge fan of The Walking Dead, however, and when I heard Telltale Games was making an episodic adventure based on the comics, my interest was piqued.

Personally, I wasn't sure what to expect as I don't have any personal experience with Telltale Games' products, however when the first Episode launched last year everyone was raving about it, and every Episode released thereafter.

Using my mystical powers of deduction, I figured the series would go on sale during Holiday 2012 courtesy of the Xbox LIVE Marketplace, and I was not disappointed as the first episode was offered for free and Episodes 2 to 5 were available for a grand total of 800 Microsoft Points.

Thus I sat down and began my adventure through the apocalypse.

In The Walking Dead, players assume the role of Lee Everett, a man convicted of murder and being transported to West Central Prison outside of Atlanta at the beginning of the zombie outbreak.  The police car Lee is in hits a Walker and crashes off the road, allowing Lee to escape and ultimately face the horror the world has become.

As Lee flees pursuing Walkers, he stumbles into a suburban backyard and encounters Clementine, an 8 year old girl hiding from the living dead.  Lee then takes Clementine into his care as they attempt to escape and try to survive.

While it might sound odd at first that a convicted murderer is looking after a lost little girl, the narrative for The Walking Dead is its strongest point and wonderfully complex.  Players get to decide how their Lee will be and to shape him and his relations with Clementine and the other survivors he meets.  As NPC's interact with Lee, conversation options become available, but unlike such great action RPG's like Mass Effect, the time you have to select your choices is literally limited.  In calm situations you can have a long while to give an answer, but in the heat of the moment, you may literally only have a second or two to make a choice, and those choices can save someone's life.  Or not.

And survival is at the top of everyone's list.  Throughout all five Episodes of The Walking Dead, you'll come across and ally with, or fight against, some interesting characters.  These conflicts can range from simple conversations, to limited hack-and-slash sequences, limited shooting sequences, to light puzzle solving.  The cast of characters you meet is very consistent throughout, allowing you to get attached to them, save for one character who was oddly introduced at the beginning of Episode 2 (he's just there).

The general conversation process I described above, and during them the moral choices you need to make are often quite ambiguous, and doing what you think is the right (or wrong) thing may not actually be.  Throughout my play experience there's people I tried to help and horribly failed, making things worse, much to my surprise.  It is crucial to talk to people, however, as conversations are the major narrative points that move the gameplay forward, and often times you're required to speak to everyone to advance.

This isn't an action game or an RPG, so you don't have a real inventory, and often the limited combat sequences are very basic, having you click to swing a weapon killing various Walkers or aiming and shooting to kill other enemies.  The melee sequences worked well and were pretty intuitive, the shooter sequences were generally horrible with crazy poor control.  On a PC with a mouse, I suspect there'd be far less of an issue, but using the Right Stick to track and aim with the Xbox 360 controller in this game was really bad, often leading to my (or others) deaths forcing me to start from the last Checkpoint.  Thankfully the shooter sequences are rare, but they do occur.

Like any good adventure game I've ever seen, The Walking Dead features fun puzzles to solve.  The puzzles in the game aren't too challenging, and often require you to walk around an area looking at various objects to see if you can interact with them.  You can turn off indicators in Options if you'd like, making solutions harder to find, but really the puzzles aren't too mind-straining and work well with the game's environments.

The game's graphics are cell shaded and very much resemble a motion comic, fitting right in with the theme and style of the franchise.  The characters are all nicely detailed as are the backgrounds, and while it's nothing we haven't seen before it works very well.

The game's audio is simply superb.  From the sound effects, to the emotional musical score, and the exceptional voice acting.  Seriously, the voice cast did a phenomenal job of portraying their characters, and they really sold the delivery of the beautifully written and emotional script.

There are several moments in the story where I was actually angry over the events that occured, not because they were done poorly but because they were so shocking.  And also, there were several moments where I really had to struggle holding back some tears.  It's true, and I'm man enough to admit that the characters were so well written and I got so attached to them that certain scenes were extremely moving.  There were a few points in Episode 5 where I found my suspension of disbelief truly pushed to the limits, but the overall narrative's presentation is very realistic for the game's theme, and so I found that easy to forgive.

And that is what makes The Walking Dead such a powerful, engaging, and enjoyable experience.  The personality, the character, and the struggle to survive.  The relationship that forms between Lee and Clementine is wonderful, and as the game progressed I truly did just want to protect her, to look out for her, and to help give her a future in a world where one generally no longer exists.  I'd love to say more, I really would, but that would get far too challenging without revealing any major spoilers, and this is a game that you absolutely need to experience spoiler free.

At the end of each Episode, stats are given pulled straight from the Telltale Game servers to show where you stacked up against other players in the Episode's key decisions.  It's great to see how you compare to others when faced with very difficult situations, and also adds to the replay value to try and do things differently.

The Walking Dead is a very simply designed game that's beautifully executed; there's no other way to put it.  You will get emotionally invested in it as you play, and that attachment will only help your experience and give the decisions you make that much more impact.  If you haven't tried out The Walking Dead yet, I urge you to do so, as you're truly missing out.  Here's hoping we won't be kept waiting too long for a second installment.

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