WARNING!! – MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
Feels like it has been months since I played through the first episode of TellTale Games ‘The Walking Dead’. And indeed it had been. Just over 2 months in fact.
TellTale Games made a promise of releasing each episode monthly and failed to deliver at the first attempt. Apparently this episode had an awful lot of bugs that needed ironing out which pushed back the release date. Thankfully none of these bugs seem present here. Also, what became frustrating for gamers like myself was that the PS3 Version didn’t appear on PSN until 6 days after it was released on XBOX and PC. Oh how they teased us.
All of that seems irrelevant now when it became available on PSN yesterday evening.
And boy was it well worth the wait..
It’s impossible to talk about this game without mentioning the story. I will do my utmost to avoid giving away any details which may ruin your experience and will keep spoilers to an absolute minimum but if you don’t want any aspect of the story ruined, then I suggest you stop reading now.
Those of you that played the first episode will know that it is the story or more specifically your relationships with other characters that propels the game forward rather than the action. If you are expecting an adrenaline pumping splatter-fest where you are more worried about health packs and wondering whether to equip a shotgun or a beretta, go rent Resident Evil 5 instead.
Or wait for Activision’s frankly stupid and generic looking FPS spin on the Walking Dead franchise.
What makes this game special is that even the most throw-away of comments made to other characters in the previous Episode will have some bearing on how they treat you in this one. It all feels so natural and plays out so fluidly you begin to feel these relationships are pre-determined no matter what you do. This is most definitely not the case. For this the writers and developers should get a lot of credit .
This in itself is an incentive to come back and play through these scenarios differently. Since the episodes themselves are quite short (You can easily complete one in a couple of hours), replay value is very important and was obviously encouraged by TellTale Games. I played through Episode 1 a second time with the intention of making Lee out to be a mean, lying asshole. Perhaps make decisions based on a man who is (apparently) capable of murder. I genuinely couldn’t do it. I had begun to feel attached to the relationships that had developed based on my decisions first time round and anything that deviated from that just didn’t feel right. It’s very unusual to get emotionally attached to characters in a video game but TellTale Games manages this effortlessly. This is down to in part the superb voice acting which is often something developers overlook or spend little time on getting right.
In fact I would go as far to say that there are more touching, and altogether more believable human moments in a single episode of this game than there was in the entire TV series.
The game picks up 3 months after the events that led to our group of survivors fleeing Lee’s parent’s drug store in Macon. Lee and new guy Mark are hunting wabbit as food supplies for the group have gotten scarce. Lee proves himself to be more adapt at swinging an axe in the opening moments of this episode which is a relief after having to witness his not so clean attempt of ‘humanely’ putting his brother out of his misery in Episode 1. Just a subtle indication that time has passed and Lee has gotten more experienced in survival. And in the case of the rest of the group, hardened by it.
As well as having to worry about the hoardes of walkers around their new camp at the Motel, they have to contest with the hunger and infighting between the characters. Being given the seemingly minor task of passing out the handful of rations allocated for the day becomes more complex as you attempt to keep all parties satisfied. Someone will inevitably be disappointed but it is up to you which relationships you want to enhance or improve.
When the party are brought to a seemingly idyllic Dairy Farm with reinforced security and promises of a home-cooked meal, Starved For Help really comes into it’s own.
What sets apart good post-apocalyptic stories from the schlocky ones is not the elements which threaten the survivors (in this case the undead) but the de-civilised society the characters are thrust into and how they cope with it. The threat quickly comes from within. Episode 2 is rife with such scenarios and there is a genuine sense of threat from inside the ranch as well as from the bandits which stalk outside.
The Quick Time Events happen more frequently in this episode and it does feel like there is less time to carefully think about your next decision. Which is good, because the gameplay itself is hardly challenging. The ‘puzzles’ themselves are so basic that if in the extremely unlikely situation you can’t find what you are looking for, simply hovering the cursor over every part of the screen will inevitably draw your attention towards that pesky elusive item.
There are moments at the farm which feel a little rushed and a bit silly (using a free-wheeling tractor for cover is a standout example) but for the most part it is a seriously solid location to allow the story to unfold. There is a real feeling of foreboding threat when all of the action is set in one place and allows for more time for the characters to develop. This was something Season 2 of the TV series tried to achieve with relative success (although the series could have been 4 episodes shorter in my opinion). At times I felt like I was playing an interactive version of the final act of 28 Days Later. In Danny Boyle’s film, Cillian Murphy’s character and his band of survivor’s are rescued by a group of soldiers and brought to a seemingly secure military compound with fortified fences and the promise of hot food and warm bedding. This however becomes more sinister when it becomes clear what their motives are.
Although the motives of the farm owners differ, it also poses a grave risk to Lee and his group.
The climax of the episode offers one or two moments of genuine unease. Played out to great affect by superb voice acting, sound design and presentation. I wasn’t happy with some of the decisions I made towards the end and even chose to replay one. It felt like I had cheated a little bit by replaying the scene, but I couldn’t bear even thinking about the consequences of not acting sooner during one particularly disturbing scenario. Again, full credit to TellTale Games for making the player feel attached to the characters enough to care about how their future relationships develop.
Overall, a very solid episode. Well worth the wait and gave us more insight into the characters various arcs but also left enough mystery and questions up in the air which will no doubt be touched upon again in Episode 3.
Episode 3 – Long Road Ahead is due for release in August 2012. (Hopefully!)
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