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The hardest thing when adapting a story from another medium into a video game is to ensure that the very essence of that the gameplay perfectly syncs up with the story the developers are trying to tell. With The Walking Dead, the plot is heavy on character development, so the run-and-gun excitement of Left 4 Dead, or the comical fun of Dead Rising, would work against the somber atmosphere of the game’s world. Fortune takes pity on the game world again by having the developers of The Walking Dead video be none other than Telltale, one of the few last bastions of point-and-click adventure games. Focusing on a deep conversation system with surprising moments of action, Telltale crafts this game, a first entry in their five-part series, worthy of your attention, even if you’re tired of the zombie genre, like I am.
Throwing the audience in media res, the story begins with Lee Everet, a man with a mysterious past, confined to the backseat of a police car. As Lee’s conversing with the cop in the driver’s seat, the player is quickly introduced to the mechanics of the game, as you’ll have a number of dialog options, each affecting the flow of the conversation. After learning a bit of Lee’s past, the cop crashes into a zombie, forcing the car off the road. It’s here you’re introduced to the more action oriented sections of the game like hunting for objects and reacting quickly to action sequences. What makes the story so engrossing are the characters as all of them (save for one crotchety old man you face in a pharmacy) feel like genuine human beings who are just trying to survive - and when some characters die, you'll feel a pang of sorrow.
How you control Lee has a vast, lasting effect. Be a dick to certain members of the group, and they’ll remember it, sometimes making your next objective harder; separating itself from the “black and white” morality issues where you’re either Gandhi or Hitler, Lee, under your control, could be the most neutral, friendly person he can be, which may earn him the wrath of members who want him to be more aggressive when it comes to his input. Even your best intentions may come off as arrogant to some people. The cel-shaded presentation gives the game a stylized look evoking the comic book series. The look is used to great effect by allowing characters to express themselves better than a realistic style would allow, and that's important in a game all about humanity.
There are moments of action where you’ll interact with quick-time events. While QTEs are usually poorly handled, the game strikes the perfect balance between giving you enough time to transition into the events, like fighting off a zombie or reloading a gun, yet give the player the sense of immediate danger. It should also mentioned that you can die from making poor mistakes or not reacting quick enough in your decision making or QTEs. Occasionally, even your dialog options will be time-restricted, meaning that you'll have to react to conversations in almost real-time, making the conversations feel more realistic, though there are moments where it just feels unfair how short of a time you get to react.
Just like the best Zombie stories, the narrative is at its best when it's not about fighting zombies. The story is gripping by placing you within difficult moral decisions. It’s not the “good guys vs. bad guys” morality that many developers use; instead, you’re given difficult decisions where there may not be any positive outcome. In some cases, choices will have vastly different effects than what you intended. Even as the game draws to a close and teases the next installment, you’ll wonder to yourself if your group is better or worse off for the decisions you made. In some cases, you'll choose who gets to live or die, and those choices will definitely nag at the back of your head while deciding every option. The player is also given the choice of replaying different chapters, or the entire game, allowing one to see how every different option affects the story.
Haunting, beautiful, intimate, and terrifying, you would be hard pressed to find a quality downloadable game for such a low price.