What’s All the Fuss about The Walking Dead?

Posted October 7, 2012 by Paul Walker in Editorial
What’s All the Fuss about The Walking Dead?

We’ve all been there — a game which has passed you by for one reason or another is suddenly being talked about everywhere you look. Perhaps said game was part of a genre you don’t usually care for, so you never gave it second look. Maybe it was a game you had earmarked to play later but, swamped by other titles, you never got round to it. It might have even passed under your radar completely.

After said game gradually starts to accrue a series of rave reviews and impassioned features fawning over its brilliance, you start to feel that you really made a mistake by not playing that game. An incessant hum of social media buzz (most of which you don’t understand) continues to pick at that mental scab, consistently reminding you of your pariah status as one of the uninitiated. After all, how can you call yourself a gamer if you haven’t played this game!

This is exactly what happened to me with The Walking Dead. Of course, The Walking Dead was not a high-profile release backed by a multi-million pound marketing campaign and preceded by months of previews and speculation, so I can perhaps be forgiven for not being onto this game quickly. But it’s a game that gradually started to clamour for my attention. My curiosity had been peaked, but I still dismissed it.

I’d like to say that this is because the whole zombie thing has become very cliché in recent years, but I’m afraid it’s not. The fact is, I’m a wuss. I don’t like horror, I don’t like scary films and I hate scary games. Zombies just aren’t my bag. The Walking Dead comic that started the whole thing is not something I particularly want to read, the T.V adaptation which followed is not something I care to watch and this final piece in the zombie triumvirate was initially equally unappealing.

Nevertheless, I’ve decided I can’t ignore it any longer; people won’t stop talking about this game. I’m going to take the plunge and find out what all the fuss is about.

What will Zomtopia look like?

Despite my child-like trepidation about jumping into the zombie infested world of The Walking Dead, I have picked up on a few things that give me hope that I can enjoy it. According to those that eulogise about the game, its brilliance can be attributed to a strong narrative focus, well rounded characters and the way in which the game presents the player with difficult choices — this sounds like a great start to me.

In terms of gameplay, its not escaped my attention that the The Walking Dead includes some point and click puzzle elements. As a lover of the genre this gives me cause for optimism. Whether I can enjoy those elements within what ostensibly appears to be a horror game remains to be seen.

I’m also intrigued to see how the concept of an episodic release structure works. For those not aware, The Walking Dead is gradually being released in a series of five episodes, with three currently available at the time of writing. Telltale Games have been doing this since their inception with games like Sam and Max Save the World and Tales from Monkey Island, although I confess I have yet to sample one of their titles in this manner.

Is the episodic release structure something which comes into its own in an increasingly digital age? Or, in reality, is breaking a game into episodic chunks a sure-fire way to frustrate the gamer as they are forced to wait for each part? Will the episodic breaks feel contrived, interrupting the narrative’s natural flow? These are all things I aim to find out.

Anyhow, that’s enough talking, its time to jump in and see what all the fuss is about.

A survivor’s tale.

In surviving the first two episodes of The Walking Dead, I’ve forged strong friendships — some of which have survived better than others — made some difficult decisions and negotiated some tense situations, just as the game’s champions have suggested I would. I’ve also loved every minute of it.

For those who, like me, hold somewhat of a pathetic fear of all things horror, you will be pleased to know that you need not worry — my initial concern that the The Walking Dead’s zombie thematic would sully any enjoyment I might find in this game were quickly assuaged. The Walking Dead isn’t really about horror, its about placing the player in tense situations where choices which will effect characters that you care about have to be made.

I won’t go into too much detail in order to avoid spoilers, but I think I can just about safely tell you that very early on, your character finds himself responsible for a young girl named Clementine. The fact that you actually care about Clementine and feel responsible for her wellbeing is a testament to the games designers and is indicative of the kind of relationships you build with other characters throughout your journey.

Its the strength of these relationships that really makes you fret over the choices with which you are confronted; there were times I literally found myself out of my seat during the tensest moments. The Walking Dead is structured in such a way that it forces you to stick with your choices by using an autosave function, and its for the best — it reinforces the fact that your decisions matter  and leaves you dwelling over whether you made the right call long after the fact.

I think its fair to say that there is not much gameplay in The Walking Dead as such — there are some relatively simple puzzles and a few QTE segments, but this is primarily a game focused on narrative. That could be a weakness in a lesser game, but The Walking Dead knows what it wants to be and it engaged me so well that I completely bought into what the game is trying to do.

In that vein, I have to say that Telltale’s episodic release strategy seems to work perfectly for The Walking Dead. Its a different kind of gaming experience to sit down with a self contained episode for a couple of hours, but its certainly one I would be open to trying again in the future should the episodic release method take off. Contrary to my concerns, the breaks between episodes do not feel at all forced. In fact, much like a TV series, the structure allows each episode to tell a story which, while connected to the overall arc, can build to its own climax.

This is an instance in which I’m pleased that I listened to the hype. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the first two episodes of The Walking Dead and am looking forward to getting stuck in to episode three. If you’ve yet to try the game yourself, I’d highly recommend it. You can pick up the first episode of The Walking Dead for only a few pounds on Xbox 360, PS3, PC or Mac, so there’s little excuse not to give this game a go.

About the Author

Paul Walker

PKD aficionado, Slavoj Žižek enthusiast, Arsenal Fan and gamer. The last racing game I enjoyed was Carmageddon, because you didn't have to race.

    Paul Walker
    October 8, 2012 at 10:31 pm

    It is difficult. The thing is, you can’t really describe it properly without spoiling it.


    Richard Plant
    October 8, 2012 at 3:18 pm

    I’ve been chuntering on at folk about this one for a while now, and it’s amazing quite how difficult it is to reduce down what you feel for the characters into simple words. It speaks volumes just how maddening it is trying to speak about it.


    October 7, 2012 at 10:50 pm

    My thoughts exactly, Paul.

    Mass Effect made its name through a decision making engine but Walking Dead really made you care about the choices you made not only through the immediate response of the other person but also the long term effects. You have to be really careful what you say but I find it a really natural way to play that kind of game.