By Telltale Games
Episodes 1-4 Available Now
Adapting any given medium to a video game is tricky. Generally speaking, movie tie-in games are garbage. Comic-based video games are hit-or-miss. They’re not all Arkham City. For as strange as it is to think that you can mess up a game where Spider-Man beats up a bunch of bad guys with his cool spider powers, it’s almost unthinkable that source material like The Walking Dead can make a very compelling video game. The team at Telltale pulled it off in a big way.
Set in the world of the comics (not the TV show, surprisingly enough), the game follows Lee Everett. We meet Lee in the back of a squad car on his way to prison for murder. The car is run off the road, he escapes with his life, but the officer driving isn’t so lucky. Lee’s not a bad guy, though. His was a crime of passion. He’s a good man at his core, and it’s obvious from the start when he meets a young girl hiding in her tree house and takes her with him to keep her safe. Characters come and go, but Lee and Clementine are the heart of the story.
There are some less than stellar voice performances, but the characters are all well-written. Just like in the comics, the story is main draw over the zombie action. This isn’t Resident Evil. You’re going to get to fight some zombies, but it’s the palpable tension through the game that makes it interesting. It is genuinely dreadful. Whether it’s Lee investigating a seemingly abandoned train station or a tense conversation with concerned family man Kenny, the game is a pulse-pounder. Conversation is important. The game is presented in a point-and-click style of sorts and the conversations branch out in different ways depending on what you say and who you talk to. Certain key decisions factor into the story, so there’s some replay value, but from what I understand, the main story beats happen regardless of your decisions. Regardless, it’s still cool to go back and see what you can change. The devil is in the details.
The story is great and fits the tone of the comics really well. For the sake of spoilers, I’ll not get into specifics. Each “episode” takes 2-3 hours to beat, so it’s definitely a worthwhile investment for five dollars on PSN or whatever that translates to in Microsoft points (or you can get the 5-episode season pass for a discount of $20). It’s getting a disc-based release once it wraps, too, if you don’t mind waiting.
It might be worth the wait, too, in some ways. Of the three episodes I’ve personally played through all the way, I ran into game-stopping glitches in two of them. After playing through episode 2 in one sitting, I’d reached the climax of the story. Lee has to save one of friends who’s being held hostage. He enters the room, and is shot instantly. Game over, or as the game puts it “YOU ARE DEAD.” So I restarted the checkpoint, entered the house and walked a bit slower. Bang. “YOU ARE DEAD.” I entered the room and walk one step at a time, moving the targeting reticule across everything in the room to try to trigger an event to get me further into the room. After three steps, bang. “YOU ARE DEAD.” There was a conversation event that simply did not happen. Lee is supposed to enter the room, take a few steps and have an exchange with the villain. Instead, the game skipped ahead to the wrong conversation choice and killed me… Over… and over…
In episode 3, after well over two hours of solid play time, Lee exited the engine room of a train, and the camera fell through the ground and I was left staring at the trees moving by the tracks. I moved the stick and Lee goes back into the train cab. Walk out and there goes the camera again, spilling down and ruining the game. The next dialog event didn’t start. The only thing I could do is go back inside the cab and walk out to see the trees from the ground up. Imagine my disappointment after the YOU ARE DEAD festival two months earlier.
I played it on PS3 , but I’ve read message boards describing these glitches on every platform. In order to get past them, I had to delete the game and go through the entire download and installation process both times. That did the trick, but it completely ruined the momentum of the game… Twice. Obviously, this has left me pretty leery of episode 4. I’m invested in the characters and I want to see what happens to them, but I also don’t have any guarantee that I’ll make it through without an issue the first time. There are a few other weird glitches that don’t ruin the game, but they’re there. It’s surreal watching Lee talk to a floating guitar planted in a man’s crotch, for example. And there’s nothing quite as creepy in a horror game than a sick kid who randomly disappears from his mother’s arms during a conversation, leaving her cuddling an invisible boy. Perhaps those problems will be fixed on the disc-based version.
I really like The Walking Dead. It’s the kind of game I used to play on my PC when I was a kid. It reminds me of the Gabriel Knight series in all the right ways. The characters seem real. The pacing is good (they leave Herschel’s farm pretty quick, thankfully). The graphics look like Charlie Adlard’s art come to life. It’s as good a game as I’ll ever expect to get based on the Walking Dead from a narrative and style standpoint. The only problem is that it’s buggy. Were those bugs not so utterly crippling, even that wouldn’t be too bad. You may experience no bugs at all, but don’t be surprised if you do. I certainly won’t be shocked if I have to do another install before the end of episode 4 (released just last week).
On its own merit, Telltale’s The Walking Dead gets 4.5 out of 5 dangling tanker trucks. It’s scary, tense and engaging. It’s a genuinely good horror game. Considering the glitches you may or may not encounter, The Walking Dead gets 2 out of 5 pain-in-the-ass reinstalls, because that’s how many times I had to reinstall the game, and it was a pain in the ass.