Jon Gracey's

Games That Rocked…James Hamilton’s World – #20: The Walking Dead: The Game

In iOS, Mac, PC, PS Vita, PS3, PSN, Xbox 360 on January 5, 2013 at 2:19 pm

Today’s article is by James Hamilton:

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Title: The Walking Dead: The Game

Format: PS3, PSN, Xbox 360, PC, iOS, Mac, PS Vita,

Released: 24th April, 2012 (Episode 1)

I’ve never cried at a videogame because I’m the toughest guy I know. But if I was ever going to, I’d have cried at various points during The Walking Dead: The Game, which I played through for the first time this week. I didn’t. But I could have.

Cover_images

Stories have usually been a draw for me in games. Making character decisions that will affect in-world relationships and how your game turns out is the bit that will hook me by the eye and drag me in. I prioritise the “Speech” skill in Fallout games. I answered all the questions in Catherine truthfully. I even enjoyed Fahrenheit – that awful PS2/Xbox game which somehow managed to twist compelling noir into a poor man’s The Matrix (with added alien-fucking!).

But The Walking Dead leaves them shuffling in its wake. The choices you make don’t give you skill points or grant you weapons. There’s nothing to unlock. There’s no right choice to make – just wrong choices. Everything comes down to character – not just your protagonist, but your character. Your decisions just matter. In each episode you’re faced with about five impossible choices, and about five seconds to make them. It’s about split second gut instinct based on nothing other than what you, the player, think is right. More often than not, it’s not even as simple as “choose which character to save”. You have to make snap decisions with equally awful options without knowing how its consequences will affect the rest of the game.

Behind_door

I’ve never played a better written game than The Walking Dead. It’s not a game about zombies – it’s a game about people and about relationships. It’s unbelievably well constructed. The second episode stands out as being wonderfully sinister – I don’t think any other game has managed such a pervasive sense of dread without actually showing you anything obviously amiss – but each of them is chilling, tense and heart-wrenching in ways you would never expect. Any writer should learn from The Walking Dead, because nothing is introduced arbitrarily. Nothing’s wasted. It’s a masterclass in how to construct a story.

So yes, it’s very heavily scripted – almost at the expense of the game itself – but this is a strength rather than a weakness. The game is in the characters: who you trust, who you build friendships with, who you invest in – and these choices matter. Towards the heartbreaking finale, you’re forced to reflect on the impossible decisions you made. Calls you made in Episode 1 might come back to haunt you later down the line. All you can do is go with your gut and hope you did the right thing.

Clem__zombie

And woven through the middle of it all is the central relationship: player character Lee and his young charge, the eight year old Clementine. It’s beautiful, it’s warm, it’s got more heart than a Valentine’s Day chocolate box, and it’s going to stick with you long after you’ve played through it all.

The defining moment for me in the whole game came from that relationship. In the first episode, I chose from one of three options to make a very minor, conversational character choice while chatting to Clementine. That little decision created the most wonderful character moment an episode later – and it simply wouldn’t have happened if I’d chosen to say something else. It didn’t affect the outcome of the story – but it did affect me.

Cast__table

I’ve never cried at a videogame, but golly gee – I’d be lying if I said The Walking Dead didn’t break my icy heart. And if you didn’t reckon a videogame could do that, you owe it to yourself to spend a paltry £15 on this one and see if it’ll break yours too.

James Hamilton

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James Hamilton is, amongst many other things, a writer/performer for and founder of award-winning sketch comedy collective Casual Violence.

James Hamilton

Don’t let the photo put you off; he’s a thoroughly nice chap.

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