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The Walking Dead Review (XBLA)

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating

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The Walking Dead Review (XBLA)
Telltale Games
Telltale Games' take on The Walking Dead is easily the studio's best work yet, and one of the most well written and emotional games you'll ever experience. Available as five separate episodes on Xbox Live Arcade, or all together on one retail disc, The Walking Dead is worth a look for fans of the TV show and comic book series it is based on, zombie fans in general, or anyone still wondering about the potential for videogames as an impactful storytelling medium. Find out more in our full review.
Game Details

  • Publisher: Telltale Games
  • Developer: Telltale Games
  • ESRB Rating: “M" for Mature
  • Genre: Adventure
  • Pros: Incredible story with great characters; nice presentation; Clementine is the best kid in a game ever
  • Cons: Actual gameplay isn't anything special; choices don't "really" matter

Story

Telling a new story separate from AMC's "The Walking Dead" TV show or Robert Kirkman's "The Walking Dead" comics, Telltale's The Walking Dead game places you in the role of Lee, a convicted murderer on his way to a Georgia prison who is in a car accident on the way to the big house and wakes up hours later in the middle of the zombie apocalypse. While Lee was a murderer before the story starts, it is fairly clear early on that he isn't a bad guy. The circumstances behind his crime are kind of understandable. And through his actions over the course of the game, he proves his worth time and time again as a good human being. Starting most importantly with finding a young girl all alone named Clementine who he vows to protect and help survive.

From the start of the game you are presented with choices on how to handle just about any situation. It has to be noted that your choices don't affect the overarching story at all, major plot points are going to play out no matter what you do, but your choices do affect who is with you, how much they trust you, and things like that. You'll have to decide on who to save in life-or-death situations. You'll have to choose your dialogue options wisely because, unlike past Telltale games, you can't just run through every dialogue option here. The game often will give you a timer on a decision, and you have to make a snap judgment on what to do, and then live with that decision for the rest of the story. It is absolutely fascinating and really keeps you engrossed on the experience.

The reason why it all works is because the characters are incredibly well written. They don't seem like typical videogame robots spitting out pre-determined dialogue. They really are people that you learn to care about. Clementine in particular is just entirely loveable right from the moment you first meet her and is easily the best child to ever appear in a videogame. She is awesome. The key to The Walking Dead that sets it apart from every other zombie game out there is that it isn't really a zombie game. It is a people game. Sure, there are zombies wandering around that occasionally pop in to say hello, but the driving force of the story is your human relationships, not just blasting zombies, and for that reason alone it is wonderful and refreshing.

Gameplay

Telltale Games
The only thing holding The Walking Dead back is that it still has to be an interactive videogame at the end of the day, and this is where it stumbles a bit. Similar to Telltale's last game, Jurassic Park The Game, The Walking Dead is mostly presented in static scenes with a bunch of things with markers over them that you can interact with. The control scheme is slightly different in that you now can move a cursor around the screen with the right stick, and then perform actions with the face buttons (the Y button is Lee's thoughts, the X button talks to people, the A button interacts with things, and the B button is for weapons) and you also can move around freely once in a while with the left stick.

The controls are simple and easy to get used to, but still occasionally can cause confusion when you need to make a snap decision because you usually have to move the cursor over to the option you want and select it. Because there is always a timer quickly ticking down in those situations, I found myself sort of panicking and flipping to the first option I could find even if I wasn't sure I wanted it. In the handful of combat situations it can also be annoying to have to move the right stick to aim, and then press the B button to use the weapon since they both use your right thumb. I got into the habit of moving the right stick with my left thumb and then pressing the button with my right thumb in those situations. Awkward, but it worked.

A slight issue for some is that The Walking Dead is barely a game. Yes, you control things and press buttons, but it is interactive only by the shallowest definition. It is a means for delivering a story, and an effective means at that because of the illusion of choice and control it presents you compared to other mediums, but it is still barely a game. I put it in the same category as Heavy Rain or LA Noire - not especially good games, but they are successful and worthwhile because of their storytelling. In that category, The Walking Dead is clearly at the top. And unlike the other two games I mentioned where the story actually kind of sucked when it was all said and done, The Walking Dead's story is incredible and more than enough to carry it.

XBLA And Retail Versions

The Walking Dead game was first released as a series of downloadable episodes on Xbox Live Arcade and other digital distribution networks. The first one was released in April 2012 and the fifth and final one released in November 2012. Each episode was 400 MSP ($5) each, and offered around 2-3 hours of gameplay. Choices made in each episode, obviously, carry over to subsequent episodes. In December 2012 a retail disc version was released that contained all five episodes with an MSRP of $30. That is more expensive than buying the episodes separately, clearly, but the convenience of a disc version that won't disappear if your lose access to your digital files (plus the ability to resell it later ...) might be worth the extra cash. This review was based on the retail version because we wanted to experience the whole story before writing a review.

Graphics & Sound

The presentation is another very strong point in The Walking Dead. The graphics use a cel-shaded look that mimics the comic books well while still being versatile enough to show realistic details in the environments. Character models look very nice, and even though the faces are a bit stylized and cartoonish, show emotion very well.

The sound is also spectacular with incredibly good voice work from all of the cast. Without the great voice acting, the impact of the story could have been lost, but it is, thankfully, great all around. Excellent music, great sound effects, and pitch perfect zombie moans and groans round out a great audio package.

Bottom Line

Telltale Games
In the end, The Walking Dead is a fantastic experience that we highly recommend. The story is fantastic and the characters are incredible thanks to strong writing and great performances from the voice actors. It is far from a traditional game, however, and relies entirely on its story to keep you playing. The gameplay certainly won't hook you. But it is still worth playing because the story and characters really are that good. The game does have an "M" rating for violence, language, gore, and highly emotional and tough situations, so it isn't a game meant for kids. If you are mature enough to handle, it, though, we highly recommend it for a purchase.
Retail copy was purchased by the author.
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