A guest post by Chantelle Porritt.
A few years ago, a friend recommended to me that I read a series of comic books called “The Walking Dead“. And I was hooked! The series was focused on the survivors and their reaction to the zombie apocalypse as opposed to how many zombies could get their head bashed in before the next chapter. It’s a fantastic comic book series, and if you haven’t read it I recommend going out and picking up the omnibus right now. So naturally, I was very excited to find out they were making a TV series based on the books! GREAT! As long as you ignore the majority of the second season.
So we’re going to ignore the show right now because the game is much better. It is so true to the comic books. I’m one of those people who when a book I love is adapted into a movie or a TV show or whatever, I want to see the story remain as much intact and not messed with as much as possible. The Hunger Games managed pretty well, Harry Potter forgot about the existence of Peeves, and The Walking Dead series was adamant Hershel’s farm was worthy of an entire season and strange scientists who offered you showers in the middle of an apocalypse would also try and blow you up.
The game however is not the same story you will read in the comics. It’s a story told alongside the original story; it adapts from it. It doesn’t mess with a story you love and ruin it (yes, I have issues with the TV show).
You play as an entirely new character, Lee, and his story develops and you learn more about him the deeper you delve into the game- much like the comic series. I don’t want to talk too much about his storyline, or what I’ve discovered of it, because I don’t want to spoil it. It’s much more fun to discover it for yoursel! I also loved that I could explore the storylines of characters from the comic book series before we meet them in the books. But their stories aren’t messed with. It fits in. If you’ve read the comic or watched the series you’ll recognise Hershel, Glenn and Lilly (although it took me a while to recognise who Lilly was, b*tch). You meet Hershel’s son, Shawn, before he ends up in the barn. We see what Glenn is up to before heading into Atlanta city. And Lilly… no one likes her.
The main chunk of the story (or where I spent most of my time) happens when you’re trapped inside a pharmacy (I think that’s the equivalent of an American drug store), and you have to interact with the environment to help out the other survivors. The one thing I have no particularly strong feelings about is Clementine. An 8-year old girl who Lee rescues/is saved by and you kind of… babysit. It’s nice to have someone there who the character you play as has to make moral decisions based on, but the game could function perfectly well without her. I don’t know, I mean.. I like her. But if she wasn’t there I wouldn’t mind. I hope she’ll contribute more in future episodes because I do like her and everyone makes a big deal out of her… I just haven’t got it yet.
Before I started playing this I hadn’t really done any research into it. I didn’t know what type of game it was (other than the obvious… a zombie game, duh). But the gameplay and controls shocked me. Some parts felt like an elaborate quick-time event system, some parts felt like a 3D point-and-click system with third person controls. All overlaid with a four-way conversation chooser thing. And I liked it. It worked.
The game is not a zombie shooter. It is not about killing as many zombies as you can. It’s about surviving. This game is not Left 4 Dead or Dead Rising. So the fact I couldn’t raise my axe and swing didn’t bother me. The controls were relative to the situation Lee was in. It’s hard to describe because the way you controlled the game differed all the time! Totally not in a bothersome way but in an “OMG THIS IS AWESOME” way. It was totally weird to begin with, but I think it helped to build tension because you couldn’t control it how you wanted.
At one point I’m backed against a car with a zombie crawling towards me. All I can do is move my head and pick things up. I can’t run away. I find I can pick up a shotgun and a shotgun shell. But it’s so slow. Come on Lee! He tries to load the shell but it doesn’t work. The zombie is practically on top of me and I try to reload again. I manage to roughly aim at the zombies head and BOOM… safe. It was great being able to control it the way I did. Because really… I couldn’t. Not like a conventional zombie game. I was in a panic! I didn’t want to die! Who cares about reloading… that didn’t even cross my mind ! I couldn’t let Lee die! It was so tense!!
On top of all that, you have to make choices. Big, fat, juicy choices. As far as I can tell, they don’t affect the outcome of the game greatly… OK, there’s maybe one choice that will. But they force you to choose your morals in the heat of the moment. Yup, they’re on a timer. No sitting there deciding how paragon or renegade you are. Just choose!
I liked how whatever you decided on, a little UI element would pop up and tell you what the character you’re talking to felt about whatever you just did. Most follow along the lines of “Clementine will remember you checked up on her”. Without really thinking about it, I lied to Hershel.. in my head I was trying to protect Clementine… these guys didn’t need to know I just sort of picked her up and took her… I’m protecting her!! So I told him I was her babysitter on my way out of Atlanta. He didn’t believe me. He shouted at me! Thankfully that was all he did. Later on, Lee isn’t so lucky. What really surprised me was after completing the game was a bunch of stats comparing the choices I made to the choices other people made whilst playing the game! Ooo, I love stats! I was being judged all along! It makes me want to play it differently and see what trouble I can cause!
In keeping with how similar this is to the comic books.. it looks exactly like a coloured-in chapter! The biggest comparison is how close Hershel, Glenn and Lilly look to their comic book counterparts. I had to flick through my books just to double-check. Even the farm is exactly the same. I love how the characters are 3D in their environment but they’re comic book stylised. You can see the pencil lines. Or the subtle shading of the blood on Lee’s shirt. And the curls in Clementine’s hair. It just made me feel like I was playing an interactive chapter of the comic book. Oh wait.. I was!!
My favourite part of this game was whilst rescuing Glenn. And we all know Glenn is a sucker for a damsel in distress, so we have to rescue another survivor before he’ll return to the pharmacy with us. What ensues is an elaborate chunk of gameplay where you have to sneak through a motel car park full of zombies. It really makes the most of moral choices, the control system and the graphics to make this a great scene. I don’t know if that’s the demo level, but it should be… And for £3.50 (I played it on Xbox 360, so 400MSP) it’s more than worth it! It’s short, I completed it in two and a half hours, but it felt like longer because I was so absorbed. I really can’t wait until the next one is released.. oh yeah, there’s going to be eight episodes!!!! Eight! So excited.