Delayed Walking Dead Game Release Detracts From Seamless Play

Avi Vogel

Imagine that you’ve been trapped in a camp and, not having been able to loot much in the town over, you have only four items of food that you can divvy up between your parties. Do you share the food with your enemies, hoping that they’ll be more cooperative later on, or do you reward the individuals who have been more integral in your journey up until now? Do you let yourself starve to feed the children, or do you let them stay hungry so that you’ll have the energy to help the group when trouble inevitably strikes?

This is one of the many scenes that Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead: Season One presents to players. The game, based on Robert Kirkman’s eponymous comic book, takes place in a post-apocalyptic world taken over by zombies.

Instead of coming in a complete package, each of the game’s five volumes will be released at a different date. Though it is an interesting approach, I don’t believe this strategy is working as well as they might have hoped. While television show episodes are released weekly, building suspense without losing intensity over the course of a few days, video game episodes cannot sustain consumers’ interest when release dates are separated by many months. I didn’t deal with this wait time; I waited until all of the episodes had been released so that I could experience all of the episodes seamlessly. This is how the game should be played, because it allows the narrative to continue intensifying rather than burning out between episodes.

Pinning The Walking Dead to a single genre would be doing it a disservice. If I had to narrow it down, I would categorize it as an adventure game that explores interactive fiction. Split into two distinct play styles, The Walking Dead blends simple object finding and interactive actions with a robust choice system using dialogue options that the player can select.

Regarding the former style of gameplay, the controls are simple. The player guides a main character of their choice to simple point-and-click puzzles and then to their solutions. Surprises in executing these solutions keeps the game from getting stale. For example, opening a door, a zombie will burst through, and you’ll have to grapple it with welltimed button presses. These moments make for interesting gameplay that doesn’t interfere with the game’s main goal, but at the end of the day it seems they are only included in order to make the experience fit more easily into standard videogame structure. The moments that truly stand out are the smaller, more impressively written dialogue scenes, which constitute the other half of the game.

Whenever a player talks to a character in the game, they are presented with dialogue options and a short window of time in which to decide what to say. Every word can elicit a drastically different reaction from computer-controlled characters. They will not only respond but also remember what you have done and respond accordingly at a later point.

There are also scripted sequences where, no matter how hard the player tries, a predetermined action will take place. At one point, tragedy struck one of my favorite companions, and I was forced to accept the consequences. In a later play through, even when I chose completely different options, the same thing still happened. The end of the game serves only to make players second-guess their actions, which, in my case, made me more frustrated than guilty.

Although not perfect, this is a game that successfully delivers on the promise of good interactive fiction. Each piece seems important, and every choice seems to shape the way the game world develops. If you’re willing to look past the simple controls and see the well-paced story, you will be able to experience a truly unique experience, which is rare in the world of video games.