When I watched my first episode of AMC’s The Walking Dead, I was surprised how story driven a show based around a zombie apocalypse could be. Then, I read my first issue of the comic series to feel the same way. A fan of Telltale Games, thanks especially to their well-adapted Back to the Future game series, I immediately grew with excitement when I found out they were developing an episodic adventure game based on the series. However, I did not expect to love the game as much as I did…prepare for spoilers.
The Walking Dead game has been much more than a game for me. While the same can be said for titles like Uncharted and Mass Effect, The Walking Dead has proven to be an overall experience. Games like Mass Effect, Heavy Rain, and the such allow for player choice, but none has provided me with such a feeling of distress and worry as The Walking Dead.
Likely due to the episodic format, each episode I found myself growing more and more attached to these beloved characters, especially that of Clementine. For the entirety of the game’s first season, I felt as though I “was” Lee Everett. Lee wasn’t taking care of Clementine, I was. Every moment and every choice made in the game wasn’t done to build a particular character. I wasn’t making choices to be a nice person, nor was I trying to develop an evil character. Instead I was trying to develop myself in this particular situation. I made choices based on what I wanted to be. This can be done with other choice making games, but the fact that it can easily become one-sided with those titles makes it a lot less of an experience when compared to The Walking Dead.
The Walking Dead did something to me not most games this generation did. I found myself emotionally gripped to the controller, worried about what situation might occur next. The game felt like a TV series, in which I eagerly awaited the next episode’s release and even now with the game’s second season. The timer on the choice making system only makes situations seem more dire. With some of the choices that will need to be made, being limited to the time you have left me staring deep into the screen, honestly unsure of what it is I should do. Certain moments I even found myself slowly pressing a face button to make a choice, imagining myself regretting it in the future.
Character interactions didn’t help the cause. I simply can’t say no to Clementine’s sad, tear-filled face as she asked me to help. For the first time in any video game I have played, I felt that these characters were something more – an actual part of my life. When Kenny continued to express a hidden hatred towards me, I felt genuinely down about it. I liked Kenny as both a character and a friend, so making choices that went against him for the better of the others were both easy and difficult. Easy because it was something that needed to be done, difficult because I knew it was affect the relationship between Kenny and I. Kenny felt like my best friend, and seeing that friendship deteriorate over time truly was heartbreaking. The same can be said for Clementine, except in a more positive light. As time progressed, Clementine grew from this stranded girl I found to a daughter I imagine myself having in the (very) distant future. All of the choices and decisions I made were for her very best intention. I felt as though chopping through a massive horde of zombies was something I most certainly would do for poor Clem. The second I found out she was kidnapped, I was fueled with genuine anger. Even Ben, the character hated by many, I found myself refusing to let go. Despite his many countless mistakes that saw me wanting him dead, I held him with the group. I knew there was more to him, and I was always willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. The last of the memorable character interactions had to be with the infamous Lily. After she made the choice to kill a key member – Carley – I was infuriated. When given the choice to bring her along or leave her stranded, I didn’t second guess at all – she was staying behind. Telltale did a superb job with delivering some of the best character interactions seen to date, backed up by stellar voice acting and writing.
The episodic approach only helped to build the situation more. It felt more like a TV series than a game, which works for it and against it. After each cliffhanger at the end of each episode, I felt myself tense and eager to play out what happens next. In games like Back to the Future and Jurassic Park (both developed by Telltale as well), I just wanted to play the next episode for the sake of continuing the adventure. With The Walking Dead, I wanted to not only continue the adventure, but ensure the worst was not to occur. With that, imagine my response after the emotional ending. I will be the first to admit openly that I shed out a ton of tears as I had to inform Clementine of what was ready to occur. Seeing her say her final goodbyes, backed up by the incredibly sadness performed in a stellar manner by her voice actress had me holding my head in tears. I cannot think of a game that had me so emotionally drawn that I literally wound up in tears. There were some that came close, but none that reached that mark. No game in recent times has had me so drawn into this immersive world. No game before The Walking Dead kept me on my toes, emotionally drawn and tear-filled.
Telltale’s The Walking Dead goes beyond “a game.” In many ways, The Walking Dead even goes beyond an experience. The Walking Dead is something unseen in this generation of gaming, and must be played by any true gamer. A story so deep and so emotional is sure to draw anyone in. The Walking Dead is something rare in today’s standards – this game is truly a masterpiece. This game had me questioning my humanity, putting me in grief-filled situations composed of high, emotionally-driven, depressing situations that has not been seeing in any game this year or even this generation. The Walking Dead takes its crown among one of the best games I have ever played, and is – without a damn doubt in my mind – my personal Game of the Year.