The lights are on
I had heard a lot about this game, and specifically about this series, and how good it was, but I never really had the money for all five episodes. Then, this last week, I saw that the first episode was free on Xbox Live, and the other four episodes were all half-off. Yes. Please. I booted this game up, and got down to the business of experiencing the first episode.
What works in this game more than anything else are the story and the characters. Every interaction is important, and every dialogue choice is important, which is great, because most (read: 99%) of the game revolves around talking to other people. Lee is handled well, as are Clementine, Carley, Herschel, and Glenn. Each character has reasons to do things, and acts accordingly. There is only one instance I can think of where a character acted differently than what I expected. You can chalk that up to good writing. There are some pretty weighty decisions in this game, such as deciding (twice) whom to save out of two options, and putting someone out of their soon-to-be-a-zombie misery. The choices are generally tough, even when deciding how much of your past to reveal to other characters, but there is one glaring exception. The decisions that Lee makes in the game make sense. I understand why a 30+ year-old would want to attach himself to this young girl, I understand why he would want to go with Kenny and his family towards Macon, and I understand why he would want to rip up a picture in the back of a pharmacy. Even the decisions of others make sense, like Herschel having misgivings about Lee (after all, I did choose to lie to him), and a character wanting to shoot a child because of the possibility that they were bitten. In this dark world, these things make sense.
Maybe this is just because I have to play on in standard definition, but this game doesn't look very good. Or maybe it's Telltale's style-choice. Yeah, it's probably that. Zombies, while scary, could be much scarier. I'm more afraid of them because I know what they can do to me, than I am afraid of how they look. You can chalk that up to having read the comic, having a general understanding of zombies, and having been killed by the first zombie in the game (more on that later). There is no one character that I would say actually looks good in this game other than Lee. And that's really only because he's a very generic looking character. If something isn't an available template in a character creator, like Lee would be, then something just feels off about them. They feel too cartoony for the serious world of Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead.
This game is certainly of the adventure variety, and it both suffers and gains from this. First, what works for this game. In a zombie apocalypse, things are going to be tough. If you're in an unfamiliar location, then you probably won't know where the keys to the back room of a pharmacy are. Much like how a real-life survivor would have to scrounge for supplies, that's something that's a big part of this game. Some of the solutions necessary to finding items like said keys are ingenious. Something else that I really liked about the game was that it wasn't your typical adventure game. In this game, there are subtle hints as what you need to do next, instead of the usual "Find X, but I don't know where you should look." For example, when you're looking for those keys, you don't find them where you expect to. But, if you do something that the game suggests earlier, you'll find them. It was a great moment of sudden realization when I remembered that the game had really given me a hint as to how to get past what had become a huge annoyance to me (I had spent at least an hour looking for them). If this is where adventure gaming is headed, I'll be there.
What I don't like about the genre choice (and the kind of game it is in general) is that it's locked into a combat style that does not work. In order to satisfyingly work when just walking around, the cursor moves around relatively slowly. But the combat requires that cursor to move quickly, or at least, more quickly than it currently moves. During the first combat sequence, I died because I didn't know where exactly the shotgun was, and so I overshot it, and the zombie started chomping on my leg before I could get back around to it. There also appears to be a sweet spot in this game during combat, which is annoying. You won't be able to hit the zombie before it, and after, you're going to wind up sliding through the bowels of the undead. During two of the last three combat sequences, I was killed because I couldn't hit that sweet spot, or the game wasn't registering that I had hit it. I say that it wasn't registering it because when I restarted (the game has a good checkpoint system by the way), I could swear that I hit the button at the exact same time, and had the exact same moment of terror for a second when my character didn't do anything, but it was only on the second try that the figurative hammer fell on the literal zombie skull.
This afternoon I'm going to rip into the last four episodes, and this one has certainly left me excited for the prospect at seeing more of Telltale's wonderful take on The Walking Dead property.
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