As the recent Batman games from Rocksteady have showed, it is entirely possible to create genuinely great games based on pre-existing licenses. Telltale Games, best known for the Sam & Max series of adventure games, took up the challenge of creating an episodic game based on the popular Walking Dead comic series/television show. And they have created what could be the most emotional game from modern times.
Let’s get this out of the way from the start: the actual gameplay in The Walking Dead is pretty archaic. Like any other adventure game, the gameplay can be distilled down to “use Item X at Location Y.” TWD incorporates an occasional action sequence based on quick time events during zombie attacks, but somewhere around 95% of the game is strictly an adventure game. What makes the set of five episodes truly stand out are the interactions with the fellow survivors. While the franchise features zombies as the source of the conflict, the main draw is experiencing how normal everyday individuals cope with both the world and each other. Choices you make throughout the five episodes carry weight similar to the Mass Effect series, as the characters will remember your choices and call you out on them. What separates the choices from Mass Effect is that there isn’t a paragon or renegade system; that is, every single choice is gray, and no matter what you do, you will annoy someone.
Special mention has to be given to the player’s relationship with Clementine, an eight year old girl that you meet early in the first episode. While most children characters in video games are straight up annoying (such as Hope from FFXIII), Clementine is a caring, kind, and impressionable child set within a horrible world filled with undead monsters and violent groups of people. Whenever a choice that could have repercussions arises, Clementine is present and witnesses your actions, and starts to meld based on what you say and do. Without spoiling anything, there are a few events where you find yourself thinking, “I have got to stop Clem from seeing this, NOW.” Such a potential for caring for what amounts to data and programming is very rare in games.
While not many people will recommend The Walking Dead based on the gameplay, the story and characters are quite possibly the greatest seen in recent memory. The cast is incredibly realistic, and you will come to care for them. Word of advice: bring some tissues along for the ride. You’re going to need them.