Before getting into this write-up on Telltale Games’ latest episodic video game series, The Walking Dead, I’d like to share a brief history lesson on how we got here today. You see, this game -and my career as a part-time video game reviewer- might not have ever existed if it weren’t for a fellow by the name of Guybrush Threepwood. The year was 1989, and at the age of 10, I had just moved back from living overseas with my family. To help me cope with my new surroundings* and having to leave my Apple IIC** behind, my parents purchased a PC***. Life was good – but it was about to get better, because 1990 was the year in which Lucasfilm released The Secret of Monkey Island. I can quite confidently say that the first time I played Monkey Island was the first time my young adult mind was blown. It took the Sierra**** game-play mechanics that I had been fumbling with for the past year, removed frustrating key command entry, eliminated the possibility of dying and added a heavy dose of humour to what was already a very entertaining genre.
Ever since then, I have patiently waited for -and hastily consumed- most games that have come from Lucasfilm*****, Tim Schafer or Ron Gilbert (two of the creative minds behind the original Monkey Island). Fast forward to today and both Schafer and Gilbert continue to lead successful careers in the video game industry, although both have long departed from their full-time roles at LucasArts. If you get the sense that we are diverging here, you wouldn’t be wrong. Let’s speed up this this “brief” history lesson: The LucasArts team continued to make more games, greater success was had, a sequel was canceled, Telltale was formed by the canceled team and somewhere along the way Telltale pioneered****** the episodic content system in the video game industry.
Looks kinda like the Black Ops 2 midnight release queue.
So here we are today – or rather, April 2012. Telltale Games has just released the first of five episodes in a video game series based on one of the most popular shows on TV, AMC’s The Walking Dead. If you don’t consider this strong pedigree breeding with strong pedigree, then you’ll probably be happy to know that in my full time job I am not a geneticist. So let’s talk a bit about what Walking Dead is: it’s an adventure game, but unlike others it is split across the five aforementioned episodes. The episodes are short (about 1-2 hours long) and are further broken down into seven chapters (each about 10-30 mins in duration). Telltale was given creative flexibility to develop their own story line for the video game and as such, this first Walking Dead “season”******* is not based on any of Robert Kirkman’s Walking Dead comic book series. The Walking Dead fanatics, though, will be happy to hear that Kirkman did provide oversight during the story development to ensure that the game was aligned with the themes of the comic book and TV series.
With respect to the game-play, Walking Dead uses a point-and-click mechanic that is familiar to all adventure game fans. Interspersed within the game-play there are also quick-time events and player decision points, that affect the outcome of the episode and ultimately the game. I do want to caution adventure game and general videogame traditionalists though; The Walking Dead is not a difficult video game. The focus is heavy on player engagement and character development. As such, you will rarely find yourself stuck within a puzzle or dying multiple times at the same quick-time event. You will also very quickly notice that an achievement is granted after each and every chapter. At the end of the game you will have 100% of the achievements. This was done intentionally, as Telltale wants you absorbed in the game-play, not hunting for trophies in odd corners of the map.
In the coming weeks, look for my reviews on each of the five episodes of The Walking Dead. If you haven’t played the game yet, I encourage you to pick it up soon, as I cannot guarantee that my next five reviews will not have any spoilers. Happy gaming!