Television series have never been particularly adept at engendering video games, and if anything, their commercial success is solely dependent on viewer nostalgia and histrionic fan reviews. Friends: The One with All the Trivia released in November 2005 received mediocre reviews, while Liquid Entertainment’s Desperate Housewives: The Game was a complete washout. So in 2012, when The Walking Dead Game, developed by Telltale Games was released in an episodic format between the months of April and November, many fans of the TV series didn’t pay it much attention. By the time it won Spike’s Game of the Year award, a few heads began to turn and I along with the rest of the skeptical masses decided to give this dark horse a onetime ride.
The Walking Dead Game is a point and click adventure game set in Robert Kirkman’s post apocalyptic walker infested universe. Recent releases have infuriated lexicologists to no bounds by morphing the traditional meaning of the word “video game” into a hodgepodge of pliable conceptions that even soul trapped gamers find difficult to comprehend. The Walking Dead Game certainly did not spare them. In every manner of the word; contrived, deduced or abstracted, Telltale’s new brainchild is a game of choices. Each episode begins with the following words: “The game series adapts to the choices you make. The story is tailored by how you play.”
Ultimately where The Walking Dead Game takes the cake is in its intricate plot and for this reason many critics have observed that Telltale’s creation could be a huge leap in the field of interactive storytelling. Not only does this game provide a fresh, additional storyline to play through, but in full credit to the writers, The Walking Dead Game has a story which rivals its television counterpart in terms of quality and finesse. The result of this polished masterstroke is a game which puts you in the character of Lee Everett, a felon who is being transported to a penitentiary on the very same day that the infection has broken out. After a rather eventful car ride, Lee walks into an abandoned house to find Clementine, an eight year old girl who has been hiding in her tree house to save herself from her now turned babysitter. What follows this brief introduction is the development of a relationship between Lee and Clementine in a world of perversion, conceit and chaos.
In recent years, the inclusion of children in games which bear darker themes has come under both acclaim and criticism from the media and a section of the gaming public. The trailer of Dead Island is one such instance which brought forth mixed reviews with a certain portion of critics lauding it for its sheer artistic brilliance and another set accusing Techland of being heartless vultures thriving on a marketing scheme spearheaded by the death of a child. Clementine was the element X in Telltale’s brainchild which propelled The Walking Dead Game to the regal pedestal of a possible game of the year. Battle hardy veterans and psychedelic cyberpunks, after years of Battlefield, Saints Row, Grand Theft Auto and Metro 2033 were forced to play the role of a situational parent. There is something about innocence that makes it worth protecting and this is brought to light in this game time and time again. Do you shoot someone because they are a liability to the team? Clementine will remember. Do you steal from a vehicle just because you’re short on supply and it is conveniently parked in front of you? Clementine will remember. Do you mercy kill someone before the walkers can get to them? Clementine will remember. All in all, players soon realize that in a world of little morality, the only thing that sets apart walkers from humans is their better nature. That said of course, there are moments when neither choice is the right one, and Lee is forced to pick the lesser evil. Nine times out of ten, Clementine will be your moral compass in taking a controversial decision. Anybody can kill a hundred hungry walkers in a fit of frenzy induced by such video games, but to shield childhood from horrors of mankind’s darkest shades? That takes a certain unyielding grit which is seldom tested in most games today.
The Walking Dead Game is more than a video game in many aspects. As you play through the different episodes, in a greater scheme of things you realize, the clicks of your mouse or console controller are actually imprints of your soul. Due to its interactive nature, I noticed a surprising pace in which bonds of survival are developed between the gamer and the NPCs. Besides, you also tend to develop a kind of immunity against tragedy as the toll of death becomes an ever rising number. This immunity holds in all but the final scene, which is brilliant in its get up, and it constitutes one of the strongest conclusions I have seen in games, movies or television shows. Whether zombie slicing is your clandestine dream job, whether you have a sudden onset of esoteric paternal feelings or merely that you adore a good story, The Walking Dead Game is a must have for anybody with fingers.