Walking Dead, the Game

Posted by SOTTO Tuesday, September 4, 2012

I played Episode 1 of Telltale Games' WALKING DEAD on our Xbox. (It's also available on PC/Mac/PS3 and iPad.)

It's a point-and-click adventure: a "choose your own adventure" book brought to life on the small screen. Mostly you are making choices of which thing to say and whom to side with, and the other characters react differently depending on what you do. There's also the occasional button-mashing combat with a zombie.

Philosophically, I don't like point and click adventure games. They're much more about branching narrative, and much less about gameplay.

The difficulty in branching narrative is that, to tell a truly powerful story, it has to be of a piece. The ending has its seeds in the beginning. The characters are the right ones for the plot. But if you're going to let the player choose his ending, then how do you make sure the character is the right one for that ending? How do you foreshadow an ending, how do you commit to a theme, when you don't know what the player is going to do? The more outcomes, the vaguer the characters have to be, don't they? So how sharp can the storytelling be if one beginning has to serve sixteen endings?

I guess one answer is to make the player character mysterious, and reveal more of him as the player chooses his actions. It would be interesting to try revealing different backstory depending on the player's actions, but I don't have the impression that the game is doing that. We know he's a professor who was convicted of murder; he's pretty up front that he was righteously convicted.

But I gotta say, I never found the game boring. I played the two or three hours of Episode One. I definitely got my $5 worth. (Actually, Hunter's $5 worth.) The game does convincingly put you in situations where you have to choose who to save, and you feel bad about the ones you have to leave behind. Because the characters are rotoscoped, rather than CGI animated, the acting is pretty good. So I really did care about the 8 year old girl I'm trying to save.

Will I play Episodes 2 and 3? Jury's still out on that. This game might be more convincing on iPad, where it would be a really big game for the platform, rather than on Xbox, where I can't help comparing it with AAA games. And I could play it on the train to TIFF.


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