REVIEW: Telltale's The Walking Dead (Season 1) - Stormborn EditionS

A storm is brewing...It's Bonny John a.k.a Stormborn's first review here on TAY or anywhere, for that matter!

The Forecast:

Game: The Walking Dead (Season 1)

Developed and Published by : Telltale games

Platforms: PC, PS3, 360, Vita, soon to be on Ouya

Metacritic Average Review: 89.5 (Between platforms)

This review is based off of my play time on the PS3 port.

REVIEW: Telltale's The Walking Dead (Season 1) - Stormborn EditionS

The Walking Dead is arguably the most prolific zombie-centric franchise to be enjoyed the world over in this modern day. Originating in the form of graphic novels created by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, and Charlie Adlard, the series has since made its way onto the TV and into video games, cementing its place into pop culture.

Today's review looks at 2012's Game of the Year - Telltale's The Walking Dead. You may be wondering, why review the game only now after more than a year since its release?

Because I only just got around to playing it. Duh. And if, you haven't already, you've waited long enough like I did! With the release of Episode One of Season Two of The Walking Dead, now's the best time to get into the game and take part in the hype that has infected gamers everywhere. Without further delay, let's begin!

REVIEW: Telltale's The Walking Dead (Season 1) - Stormborn EditionS

Telltale's The Walking Dead is a game that is actually rather light on the "gaming" aspect of the medium. Instead, the developers sought to emphasize telling a story through character interaction and consequent relationships - elements that have evolved from the comic books that inspired the direction of the game altogether. This focus creates a custom tailored experience that progresses the game in a linear path for the sake of continuity as a whole, but with twists and turns to get you to the goal line that makes your playthrough unique to your friend's time with the game.

Between April and November 2012, Telltale's The Walking Dead was released in 5 installments; chapters that really helped strengthen the element of presentation and direction that the game takes to transcend the medium. At the completion of each chapter, the player is given a small teaser trailer hinting as to what would come next, much like how its TV show counterpart would at the end of an episode. This enforced the idea that this was less of a game and more of a viewing experience akin to a movie or TV show as it were. Telltale's The Walking Dead has a goal to disguise itself like a game but stand out as something much, much more.

For the latecomers like I, playing this game in its entirety was comparable to "marathoning" episodes on Netflix. The instant gratification of having the next episode ready to play was preferred without question than having to wait for the next installment when the series was still running. With no real cemented time-table for the episodes to be released, the spontaneous and surprise nature of delivery can be quite annoying for a gamer who appreciated the recently completed chapter. Of course, this is only a testament as to how much people enjoy the content - the anticipation is damning but it makes getting the next installment all the more exciting and fulfilling.

REVIEW: Telltale's The Walking Dead (Season 1) - Stormborn EditionS

You take on the role of Georgia native Lee Everett, a man who is seemingly given a new lease on life when he finds himself amidst the earliest days of the zombie apocalypse. Of course, the term "lease on life" is used very loosely here in more ways than one, especially after considering the fact that Lee takes on a the role of guardian to a recently orphaned 9 year old girl named Clementine. She being the first victim of the outbreak you meet on this journey, you are immediately made aware that this relationship is the key focus to to the story and direction of the game.

The Walking Dead is a point and click style adventure game, where several buttons are designated to specific functions, such as "pick up" and "inspect". Players will move Lee around a variety of set pieces and are encouraged to check out every nook and cranny of the environments. Their determination to explore the game world will allow them to discover items and pieces of information that may be necessary for the task at hand or simply paint a clearer picture of the ever evolving face of the apocalypse.

Naturally, the events that are most exciting is when the action begins. It is at this time that players will find themselves mashing buttons to complete quick time events, which make way during moments of the game when expected and otherwise. I found very little instances that I was caught off-guard with a QTE, as I learned to expect them after spending some time with the game. With a stance neither for or against quick time events, I found myself performing the onscreen commands with great fervor, and enjoyed the part it plays for the game.

Finally, the bread and butter of the game is the conversation aspect to building relationships with characters. Players are given various branches of dialogue to speak with available characters at the time in their preferred styles. Perhaps your rendition of Lee is aggressive; others may take a more passive-agressive route or downright wash their hands of any dilemma at hand. Whatever the case, what you say- and how you say it- is capable of delivering major twists and turns in how this story goes down.

In a strange sort of way, the game at its core almost plays out like the classic game of "Mad Libs". You fill in the "blanks" with conversation and then let the action dictate the rest of the way. The game is rather linear in progression when it comes to main story lines, however. Events will come to their conclusion the way the gang at Telltale Games wants you to enjoy their vision for you. It's everything in between these archs that are written by you.

REVIEW: Telltale's The Walking Dead (Season 1) - Stormborn EditionS

+ A Game Anyone Can Enjoy

Players who are interested in the game but fear they'll be left behind for not following the other versions of the franchise need not worry. Telltale's The Walking Dead can be played by franchise veterans and newcomers, whose only requirement to enjoy the game is to be an avid fan of the zombie genre. Although less than a handful of characters from the comic and TV adaptation make an appearance in game, their roles are brief but welcome. Fans of the The Walking Dead will enjoy the nod, and those unfamiliar will not even realize who or what they're missing, making it a non-issue.

Gamers of both the hardcore and casual variety will find a lot to like about The Walking Dead. Hardcore gamers will find a change of pace in comparison to what they're normally used to. Forget about clearing a boss battle or looking to trump a high score, let The Walking Dead take you on a new kind of journey. Think of it almost like a vacation from the other games that normally take up your time - the break will be well worth it and open your eyes to a genre of game you may never had normally been interested in before.

For casual gamers, gameplay is simple and easy to follow. With limited controls, the game can be enjoyed at their own speed, allowing them to get familiar with the format and nature of progression of the story. With most chapters capping off at no more than a few hours at a time, the less experienced gamer can enjoy the series in spurts comfortable to their needs.

However, I think it's safe to say that no matter your background as a gamer, you'll find it hard to put down the controller. The driving motivation for wanting to complete any great game is to unravel the...

+Story

REVIEW: Telltale's The Walking Dead (Season 1) - Stormborn EditionS

Search far and wide for reviews for Telltale's The Walking Dead, and you will see that it is the story delivered chapter by chapter that won praises of gamers and critics alike. The titles to these five chapters foreshadow the next few intense hours of your life as players meet strangers and attempt to figure out who is friend and who is foe, in a number of locales that inspire mystery and exploration. With the zombie threat lurking about every corner, gamers will find themselves calculating their own thoughts about how the story unfolds, only to find surprising twists and turns they never saw coming.

I was subjected to many of these excellent plot twists and surprised myself discovering I was unable to predict the outcome of a few storylines. Within the zombie genre, you imagine that the plots available are ever so limited, but the game will be able to prove you wrong more often than not. Yes, there are moments where you'll exclaim "I saw it coming a mile away," but at the end of the day, you'll be too absorbed in the moment to guess what may come ahead. In fact, the game keeps you guessing, and thus capturing and holding your attention all throughout the play through.

You will also learn that as as much as this game caters to your wants and needs through dialogue to direct the story how you see fit, the consequences of how you communicate will play out in events at times out of your control. All you can do at that time is simply watch the the madness of the zombie apocalypse sort it out with blood, sweat, and tears.

This of course only successful because of the game's...

+ Diverse Cast of Characters

REVIEW: Telltale's The Walking Dead (Season 1) - Stormborn EditionS

What's a zombie apocalypse without a dysfunctional group of every day people turned rag-tag soldiers? The supporting cast for this game was absolutely vital in churning out the story this adventure is given praise for. What's interesting to note is that these characters were built from the ground up for this game by Telltale with barely any input from the original creators. Everything from their appearance, personalities, quirks, and roles were created for this specific property, which as I mentioned earlier, make this game accessible to players unfamiliar with any of The Walking Dead properties.

The varying levels of individuality expressed by the cast are visible from the get go. Characters are born from all walks of life - there's a great balance between male and female characters, all who are represented by various ethnic backgrounds and carry an assortment of shapes and sizes. What this means for you is that you get the opportunity to explore social interactions in a very real way. Variety is of course, the spice of life.

It is without much hesitation then that I say that a game with this many characters will no doubt feed into tropes and stereotypical roles, but was that not unexpected? Having such characters in between did not bother me, and pretty soon the game would come to teach me that I may have made poor judgement and assumptions founded of their disposition at face value.

Even more thoughtful about the design to these characters is the remarkable evolution many of them undertake. Truly, it is a sight to behold when many characters whose company I enjoyed from the beginning ended up being the characters I hated the most, and vice versa. How these characters react to your speech patterns is nothing short of dynamic- just like in real life, social interaction helps to open and strengthen the bonds of friendships with the people you will come to know in the game.

By making an effort to getting to know your group mates, you will be making friends who may come to your aid at a later time in the game. It was this kind of attention to detail that made conversations so rewarding. Knowing that something I said in a small side conversation could come back to either stab me in the back or save my life made the game so indescribably alive and aware.

Of course, how you handle your relationships is up to you. After all, it is possible to...

+Play the Game How You Want to

Want to take charge and lead the gang? Do so by slowly making changes and integrating yourself into the role when the dialogue gives you the opportunity. Otherwise, lay low and let everyone else fight and argue it out while you tend to yourself and Clementine. You could just go ahead and not learn a thing about anybody, if you were so lazy or uninterested. On the otherhand, you may end up playing like I and press everyone down to the bone about what they have to say.

I handled the game the best I could, giving Lee the role of a peacemaker. I made sure he could step up to be a leader when he needed to be, and also intervene when there were fights to be had within the group, taking a neutral stance to see things from both sides without taking any sides. Pretty soon, I found that as I continued to develop his character into what I thought the story wanted or needed, I began to deviate from that plan to integrate my own being as the morale fiber that decided the outcomes of all the risks, issues and concerns faced within story. I found myself fully immersed in the world very early on and it was this relationship with the game that made me feel it was vital I made decisions on how I would tackle these issues if they were happening in real life.

The best part about how you handled everything is that, at the completion of the chapter, the game tells you how everyone else went about making key decisions of that episode! I found myself very interested in seeing what percentage of people agreed or disagreed with how I took matters into hand, learning how I ranked with the average person in calling the shots in the zombie apocalypse.

Because you reap what you sow, the game actively adapts the decisions you make to be threaded into the story based on how much you cared to explore. However, of all the decisions and details its takes to make them, the shining moments come down to the decisions that affect....

+ The Relationship Built Between Lee and Clementine

REVIEW: Telltale's The Walking Dead (Season 1) - Stormborn EditionS

It's been a long time since I was given an opportunity to invest my emotions into characters like Lee and Clementine. The relationship that unfolds between the two will no doubt shape how you decide the future of these characters. As soon as you meet Clementine, players will feel the need, the overwhelming urge and desire to make sure every decision made is not for their own well-being, but for the safety of this little girl.

If there are moments you are looking out for yourself, it is because you know that you owe it to Clementine to stay alive and be there to protect her from the dangers of the world. The game does a wonderful job of letting you care for the girl in your own way, as they have with every other character. You may choose to be stern and straightforward with Clementine, or do your best to preserve her innocence, sheltering her from making eye contact with the ugly head of the apocalypse.

Because the game is so great at absorbing you into its world, making decisions as the caretaker of Clementine will force you to think of how you might care for your own child, even if you're not a parent. I'm not a father in our "real world", but in the world of The Walking Dead, it was a role that I took on naturally. The decisions I made for my character as Lee for Clementine was born of what I would assume is some sort of paternal intuition. Whatever the case may be, I can virtually guarantee that players will find a new level of immersion in The Walking Dead, and like I, care more for Clementine than anyone would have cared to imagine.

REVIEW: Telltale's The Walking Dead (Season 1) - Stormborn EditionS

+/- Certain Annoying Interactions with Clickable Objects

You click the button mapped to the eye-ball on screen, which represents "inspect". Lee moves at a snail-like pace to walk to to the clickable object, only to find that nothing interesting or notable was to be gained from the interaction. For example, let's say the item was a screw-driver. Lee will pick it up it to look at it, only to say "it's a screw-driver".

Such interactions should be canned outright, or at least in favor of less obvious responses that teaches you about the setting or world around you. A lot of the game world is not clickable, so why make something that has no value for the sake of exploration take up the time of the player? While we're at it, let's have the player controlled vessel interact with items a bit faster, or offer a "skip" button if you've already looked at an item before and clicked on it again by accident.

I don't mind scanning the set pieces up and down in favor of learning more about where I am - that's part of the excitement - as throughout the game there were plenty of clickables that were entertaining and valuable to me. They ranged from a number of smile inducing quips to grim reminders of the past. The best of the clickables would allow the player to shed light at the mystery waiting to be uncovered for the story arch, and extending their grasp at the lore of the franchise. We're interacting with the game world to learn more about it, and not to reaffirm whats in plain sight unless its important to how the game and story progresses.

With that out of the way, the next gameplay mechanic that is in dire need of tuning revolve around...

+/- The Action Sequences

REVIEW: Telltale's The Walking Dead (Season 1) - Stormborn EditionS

One one hand, shooting sections can get very intense and does a great job of presenting the sense of urgency. Lives were at risk, and it came down to me and my fire arm to save the day or claim responsibility for those who were lost.

The shooting sections of this game, between a number of action oriented scenes, are definitely vital in progressing the story and ultimately making it exciting and suspenseful. Mixing up the game play to inject a little to life to the generally slower paced point and click adventure offers a change in pace to how we tackle the events of the story. However, to say that these moments where you had to shoot with a firearm were poorly executed and cumbersome is an understatement.

Quite often, and not just limited to sequences with shooting, the hit detection and accuracy made these otherwise intense moments incredibly frustrating, especially when it meant that your successes and failures would dictate the story. The game is not an FPS, sure, but basic gunplay mechanics were needed for these sections, and what was offered was what I thought to be abysmal at best. Overall, I found that the fear I had of not hitting my target was born not of myself failing to operate under pressure because of the stakes at hand , but at my own frustration for how badly handled these shooting sections were.

The thing is, the potential for tighter gameplay in these sequences aren't as much a missed opportunity as in polishing up the...

+/- The Art Style and Character Models

REVIEW: Telltale's The Walking Dead (Season 1) - Stormborn EditionS

I saved my biggest hit and miss for last. On one hand, The Walking Dead pays homage to its origins and uses the source material to mimic the graphic novel as close as it can. Gamers who have played Borderlands will make a connection between the cel-shaded approach of these titles. Although the game delivers with interesting characters and locations to put them in, the visuals are by and far weak in comparison to the quality of the rest of the game. In specific, the game's character models are not the vessels that a game of this caliber deserves.

The problem I saw with these assets are that they become very stiff and robotic during many animation cycles. The game features character models that in my opinion, is one of the worst kind of offenders - where it looks like the character's body and clothes are meshed into one form. That means folds in shirts are simply part of the model, and are not dynamic. If a character were to walk or reach over, bend or twist, the model will look like its simply being stretched and not reacting accordingly. Also, the choices for lighting and shading seen on the characters and faces ended up looking very muddy and did not mesh well with the art style, as they revealed many bumpy and uneven surfaces on these models.

Now, you might say that the game shouldn't be penalized for the graphics because that's not the focus of the kind of product this is, and that the story, dialogue, and characters are what matters the most. This is true only to an extent. Because we are constantly interacting with human characters who sound and speak like real people, we need to have avatars that house these fleshed out characters to further cement the choices we make through interaction. What I'm referring to is reading facial expressions and body language.

Quite often, characters were performing actions or making faces that really took me out of the moment because of either how over the top or hilarious they looked during those moments. I would laugh at certain moments due to how outdated the animation had looked, some of it looking like it came out of the generation of gaming before this one. Emotions and how their faces react to various expressions all look silly and are overly dramatic, taking you out of the sequence but is thankfully salvaged by strong voice work.

You speak to these people face to face, and the game as a whole spends the most time giving screen-time to the current speaker. This is where you end up picking up their current moods and looking for clues about how to handle a character based on their expressions.

REVIEW: Telltale's The Walking Dead (Season 1) - Stormborn EditionS

However, of all the models, it's the zombies that look the worst. One might assume the degraded look might enhance their appearance as the living dead, but its quite the opposite. With the walkers as a highlight and main concern of the players, they should look the part they're meant to play - decrepit yet intimidating, ravished and disgusting. There are a few walkers who look better than the others, but more often than not, the attention given to making the in game zombies a force to fearful of is a joke.

As for the rest of the assets, the game goes to texturizing the surfaces of anything it can with paint splatters, grime, grit, and dirt. What I did like were most of the interactable items - due to their nature of being smaller and examined, they were polished nicely and also uniquely carried a weight as if they were 3D models actually rendered from drawings, a la the Disney short animated feature "Paperman".

In addition to the comic book throwbacks, I really enjoyed the fact that certain characters had "outlines" as if they walked right out of the graphic novels. Most of the in game world locales and objects were nicely detailed and decorated - there was clearly a lot of thought given to bringing these places to life. All the locations were incredibly diverse and felt believable; it really made inspecting the set pieces all the more enjoyable and made discovering the world less of a chore and more of a reward.

REVIEW: Telltale's The Walking Dead (Season 1) - Stormborn EditionS

- Choppy...Everything

Between the animation, frame rate, visual fidelity, and audio, (that's...every aspect of the game) the game stutters in presentation and ultimately hindered my experience in a major way. This is something I could not overlook because it was in the way, all the time. As another reminder, this experience was courtesy of the Playstation 3 copy of the game (downloaded and installed from the PSN store) so other ports may or may not be free of these issues.

I experienced lag in all aspects of the game between viewing cutscenes, my button response time for certain QTEs and shooting sequences, and the audio. Hiccups as seen in fire fights were almost guaranteed - it seemed that hitting a target would reward you with a break in the action with what looked like a scripted visual sequence only to be repeated until each walker was eliminated.

You know how at times YouTube videos can never buffer fast enough to watch the content without interruption? Cutscenes, made of in-game engine sequences were rarely transitional, especially ones that played out after a player interaction such as a shooting sequence or quick time event. That was what it was like in this game, at the most important sequences that were full of the most action and story progression. This was a major problem that really hampered my memory of the game. During the final chapter, I came across spoken dialogue that repeated itself and went in and out. It was definitely not how I wanted the game to end on such a note, and during a critical and particularly emotionally charged scene, too!

I could honestly go on about how poor the game handled on a technical level but the point is, it may not be an issue on other ports. This being the game's worst aspect, my thoughts on this matter does not affect the art of storytelling and character design found in this game - it does however affect my view on the nature of its presentation and how important it is to demonstrate story, visuals and audio in a seamless and clean fashion for maximum enjoyment.

FINAL ADVISORY:

REVIEW: Telltale's The Walking Dead (Season 1) - Stormborn EditionS

How did I get this number? Magic. If you want to fight about why this number score is not to your liking, please go to your browser's address bar and type in IGN.com and look for someone who cares enough to do battle with you over the internet.

—-

It is safe to say that I have not played a game like The Walking Dead in a long time. By and large, the experience I was fortunate to have with the game felt like a vacation away from my usual rendevouz with the usual suspects that we know as the industry "AAA" titles. The Walking Dead was a game that felt like a journey I personally experienced, with each chapter set up with so much potential and then not only meeting but surpassing all that was expected. It is a game that should be played with diligence and patience - explore as far as the game will allow and you will be rewarded handsomely. If you haven't already, pick up Telltale's The Walking Dead and craft your own experience to see why this title was 2012's Game of the Year.

-Bonny John


P.S.

For those who've completed this first game and ready to jump onto the sequel, be sure to check out Kotaku's Tina Amini's initial impressions of the game.


(Alright, give it to me straight! How'd my first review and non-art related piece go? Constructive criticism is welcome and encouraged. Let's have fun discussing the game in the comments below!)