The Walking Dead: Season 1 Review

Game: The Walking Dead: Season 1

Genre: Adventure

Systems: PS3, PC, Xbox 360

The topic of zombies is always a popular one, more so in the present day.  Zombies themselves have become a type of genre in their own right: there are the classic slow zombies, the fast acting zombies, the strange inhuman zombies, the monstrous zombies, and the list goes on and on.  Despite the large variation of the deadly deceased, what truly makes a great zombie epic is the people involved.  Luckily, The Walking Dead, by Telltale Games, understands this point very well.

Story:  The general story of The Walking Dead is your typical zombie apocalypse.  Zombies begin to appear, no one knows how, and, after a few days, the entire populace is overrun.  Nevertheless, The Walking Dead’s main focus is people.  The people are well drawn out, the people progress extraordinarily, and the people interact seamlessly.  In fact, The Walking Dead’s only focus is the human element.  The Walking Dead seldom tries to scare the player with cheap surprises or even haunting buildups, and it was clearly made that way.  Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of disturbing things that happen, but they are in reaction to the situations of a zombie apocalypse and not due to the zombies themselves.

This realization of personality is fully utilized with the two main characters, Lee and Clementine.  Lee is the individual you play as.  Due to extreme circumstances, Lee becomes Clementine’s caretaker and their relationship is the true drive of The Walking Dead.  Lee is who you make him to be; Clementine, on the other hand, is one of the best if not the best portrayal of a child ever conceived by media.  She is not the weak annoying child we love to despise, but rather, a developing person.  She is vulnerable but not helpless, she is naïve but intelligent, and she is provoking but not insulting.  Individually, Lee and Clementine are great characters, although together, they reach near perfection.  Playing as Lee becomes a whole different story when a small child is present.  She pulls you back and makes you truly consider your choices.  It is a clever twist on the typical choice system because your choices have a heavier weight.  Furthermore, you sincerely develop a bond with the characters.  By the 5th episode, you feel a grand connection between the two that is hard to describe.

The other individuals are also well done.  There are familiar persona tropes: the hard boiled leader, the bad-mannered individual, and so on, but they are treated with care.  They are complete illustrations of otherwise cardboard cutouts.

Presentation:  Presentation was where The Walking Dead dropped the ball.  Do not misunderstand me, the style of The Walking Dead was great, it felt like watching a comic book, however, there were many small issues that eventually added up.

Primarily, movements and animations left much to be desired.  Movements were often jagged and unnatural.  Walking was specifically clumsy.  Instead of walking, it seemed as if the character was simply gliding along the floor.  When hitting a wall, the gait would just slow down and appear as if the character was leisurely moon walking in place.  Animations were great when they were applied.  What does this mean?  Animations were not utilized for clothing, hair, and other minor details.  Emotions and gestures were exceptional, therefore, when juxtaposed to nothing more than a warping template of clothing, it becomes very noticeable.

Secondly, the game exhibits many technical hiccups.  The game would often stop between conversations, scenes, and gameplay to cutscene transitions or vice versa.  Normally this would not be a notable issue within a game.  However, the game is 80%-90% conversations and cutscene; consequently, it does become a constant hindrance that affects the flow of the game.  There are also a number of glitches that appear.  Sometimes, the camera would focus on a character’s crotch, an empty space, or indiscriminate objects during a conversation.  The camera would also reset at certain moments.  For example, I would be viewing the top left corner of the screen and the camera would suddenly focus back to the center.  This particular problem arose persistently in one of the game’s locales.  Other instances would consist of random anomalies such as a gun flash lasting an entire cutscene.

In spite of this, all is not bad within the world of The Walking Dead.  As I had said previously, the style of The Walking Dead is very fitting.  It faithfully recreates the vibe of the comic book and retains this feeling throughout the menus and title screen.  The staging of certain settings and camera angles during action sequences also plays out as a movie, creating a unique atmosphere.  Furthermore, the zombies are not carbon copies of each other.  There was rarely a time when two zombies looked identical.  Of course, the zombies looked similar, but each of them contained different scars, clothing, and missing parts.

There are more spectacular aspects of The Walking Dead’s presentation, such as jaw dropping set pieces and nicely done backgrounds, unfortunately, they are coupled with more hiccups, such as frame rate issues.  This is quite a shame because those moments really disturb the intimidating ambiance presented by Telltale Games.