Are point-and-click adventure games making a comeback? Perhaps it isn’t a genre that has risen from the 1990s ashes like some sort of pixelated phoenix, but something which has recently endured a slow and steady return. Telltale Games are certainly one of the companies leading this enduring charge with its take on Monkey Island, Sam & Max, and most recently, The Walking Dead. This downloadable darling has been topping best-of lists across the internet and even won Spike’s Best Downloadable Game and Game of the Year Awards. So, is this game all just skin and bones, or does this series offer a little more to chew on?
The story (without spoiling anything) centers around Lee Everett, who begins the game in the back of a cop car being taken to Atlanta for a crime he has committed. The car hits a zombie walking in the middle of the road (hitch-hiking zombies?) and Lee must quickly find a safe place. His search leads him to Clementine, a young girl whose parents were on a Vacation in Savannah when the outbreak occurred. Lee promises to look after Clementine and go to Savannah to find her parents. The show runs in canon with the comic series, and you will frequently find yourself face to face with such familiar settings such as Hershel’s farm and having many interactions with series favourite Glen. Without giving any plot points away, the story takes players to an abandoned motel, Zombie-infested sewers, and a convenience store under siege.
Similar to other Telltale offerings, The Walking Dead is offered as a 5-episode season, with each episode taking around 2 hours to play through. While I find this system more of a hindrance in some of their other IPs, it works incredibly well here. Much like an issue of the Image comic series or an episode of the AMC show, each episode seems to end at just the right moment with the appropriate cliffhanger. Each episode feels to be the perfect length, offering just enough time to explore the environments, the characters, and make some hard choices that will ripple out into future games. The action is perfectly paced and aside from one notable exception, the puzzles are all well-placed.
What really stands out though, and I believe earns the game its much deserved praise, is the dialogue. Rather than the standard question and answer format of many Lucasarts games, each conversation is given a timer. Options are given to you on-screen as well as a bar that starts to dwindle. While this isn’t always a needed mechanic during the quiet or inter-personal moments of the game, when the action gets going or tough choices need to be made fast, this timer really makes your blood pump. And again, these choices aren’t just contained in each episode, but a quick choice of what to do or say in one episode will frequently come up again in another.
The voice actors and presentation are some of the best found in games today. There are characters whom I had previously thought were completely hopeless or overly aggressive and the game would frequently put me in positions where I could either leave them on their own or take someone out, but I wouldn’t. The writers of the game don’t just write their characters as binary, but take their time to really develop each character’s motivations and goals. If anything, the strongest moments are the time the game spends building the relationship between Lee and Clementine. This time pays off in dividends by the game’s finale, and any gamer who says they weren’t moved by the final credits is a cold, dead, robot on the inside.
I honestly don’t remember the last time a game made me feel as much as The Walking Dead: Season One. Sure, there are more than enough action games that make you feel like a badass, but this is different. The Walking Dead has plenty of badass moments for sure, especially one rampage during the final episode, but there is so much more than that. There were characters who didn’t trust me even when I was completely honest with them, and rather than thinking as a ‘gamer’ about the situation and how to best deal with it, I actually began to hate him back. Characters that had my back from the start earned my loyalty, again, not because I was thinking strategically, but because I felt a bond with them. And the finale, whoa, that ending. Get the tissues ready, because it will pull all kinds of emotions out of you..
I completely agree with the praise this game has been given. It stops you from thinking of it just as a ‘game’, but more as an experience. You can honestly lose yourself in the characters and their world. The technical hiccups found here and there can be easily excused and never really took me out of the experience. The Walking Dead: Season One easily earns 5 out of 5 stars and at a $20 price point (on PSN, it’s $25 on Steam, and $30 for the recently released physical copies), it should not be passed up. It would be unfair to mark this game’s success as a “return of the adventure game,” but it certainly helps. Those who enjoyed this game would do well to check out Telltale’s other offerings, as well as those being produced by Daedalic and Wadjet Eye Games.