Much like Spinks I am starting to feel some WoW burnout. In my case it’s less to do with kicking turtles and more with the overexposure to raid encounters due to LFR, my urge to min-max, and just generally having played WoW intensely enough to know I need to take a break. The last couple of days I have clocked very little WoW time, but have touched a number of games that have been waiting for me in my Steam library. Among them were The Longest Journey, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Knights of the Old Republic and The Walking Dead. It’s the latter I want to talk about, because…holy crap!
When I first heard about the game, people kept mentioning how good the story was and how tough the decisions were, which immediately piqued my interest. I usually love the story-heavy games the most when I play single player stuff. One thing that kept me away though was the theme. Based on the comic series, The Walking Dead is set in Georgia, during the Zombie Apocalypse. Not my favorite genre. I don’t watch horror movies ever, I don’t usually enjoy reading classical horror stuff, I don’t play horror games. But I love a good story. I let Steam sales pass me by, because I wasn’t fully convinced. Then the Humble Weekly Bundle came along and I couldn’t resist any longer. Super cheap games plus donation to charity? I am now the owner of almost all Telltale games in existence. Almost all of them are in the same episode format that The Walking Dead also has. I wasn’t convinced about the format either, but I can now say it is very fitting for such a story-focused game.
At the start of the game Lee Everett, the character you control, sits in the back of a police car, off to jail as a convicted murderer. Suddenly, the car hits someone, gets off the road and the world goes black. When Lee comes to again, the world has changed, because the zombies are coming. For everyone. As a sidenote, the TWD zombies seem less interested in brains but love a good munch on intestines. Quite gross.
Describing the gameplay is tough. There are a lot of conversations amongst the living Lee runs into. Some of them are just normal conversations, but some of them have a timer that puts a lot of pressure on you. What to say, what’s the right thing? If you don’t meet the timer, the characters around you will take note of it, usually not positively. TWD plays like a point-and-click adventure where you have to find certain hotspots to do things. There are no real puzzles, or rather, the ones that are in are very basic. That’s fine by me, as they’re just a vehicle to the story. I am currently also playing The Longest Journey, which also has a fantastic story and characters, but the puzzles are sometimes so ridiculous that I know I would be happier if I could just be along for the story. In that respect, Telltale seems to be making games for someone like me. TWD plays like an interactive TV show or comic book where you make the decisions. The visual style is very comic-arty as well.
One of the first decisions I had to make in episode 1 was to choose if I wanted to save a kid or a young adult from the zombies climbing over a fence. I seriously was so petrified by the decision making progress that I didn’t save either. Let me tell you, the dad of the kid, he will remember and hound you about it throughout the rest of the game. Choices you made in one episode carry over into the following ones. Sometimes big decisions, but even small stuff carries over. In episode 1, Lee and Clementine, the 8-year old Lee picks up along the way, sleep in a barn. She asks him what the barn smells like and instead of saying manure I went with shit, which made her go all big-eyed at the swearing. In Episode 2 you make it to a dairy farm, and inside the barn, Clementine tells everyone it’s smelling like shit, which makes all the adults stare at Lee. Oh boy, I had bad parent syndrome all over, whoops!
It’s the characters that make TWD so amazing. Lee meets other survivors, and you start caring about them or hating them as the game goes. You often have to pick sides, and staying neutral is very difficult. However, don’t get too attached to characters, because the Zombie Apocalypse is a harsh world, and between George R.R. Martin and this game, you might start to think that no character you love might ever survive. As example, I played episode 3 Saturday night, and one event literally had me so upset that I was unable to sleep for hours, mulling over the emotional impact. There are many scenes like that.TWD is not just all story, light puzzles and difficult decisions, it also has action elements where Lee has to fend off zombies eager to kill him. Some of the events are fine, but it’s usually the ones where you have a limited amount of time to target a certain hotspot that I find aggravating (and which usually mean I have to sit through one of those intestine snack scenes). Still, they’re all manageable, and make the palms sweat a bit.
TWD is a gruesome game, and I think I screamed in a certain meatlocker scene in episode 2. Because sheeeeeesh! If you are the least bit squeamish about gore, zombies being hacked to bits with axes, or maybe chopping off someone’s leg. Especially episode 2 out of the 3 I have played so far had my skin crawl the whole time I was playing it. More than the other episodes so far, it shows you the dark side of humanity and the things people do to survive. The episode format works for me because after finishing an episode, I actually need time to digest it.
To sum it up: if you enjoy a great story and can deal with the gore, then The Walking Dead is worth every cent, especially now that you can buy it as Humble Bundle game. I haven’t completed it yet, but I can’t wait to do it. I care about these characters, and that’s more than I can say about most games. The last time I cared as much was Mass Effect 3 and Dragon Age 2. Telltale Games deserve all the accolades they have received for this game, and I am excited about future plans of theirs after reading an interview at Rock Paper Shotgun. Best game I have played this year.
P.S.: the title of the blog post is based on Plants vs. Zombies, and I have to say, for a Facebook game that is a weird mix of easy PvZ levels and Farmville elements, Plants vs Zombies Adventure is not bad at all.