The lights are on
Part One: A New Day
Telltale Games has been having some fun lately with HD classics and video game adaptations of long-running television shows or popular movies, as Back to the Future and The Walking Dead go to show. While these games might not appeal to everyone, they will most certainly please fans, and in the case of The Walking Dead- provide a fresh experience and adventure in a world already known to us. That, is, in essence, the brilliance behind this idea of episodically releasing a season or two of this particular series, and I must say I am quite hooked. The major difference between most games and The Walking Dead is the fact that, instead of being either a cut and dry action title, or purely a point and click adventure- Telltale has combined the (best?) elements of both into one, interactive gaming experience that you should not miss. Sure, most of the times you will see some familiar things coming if you've read the comics in particular, or keep up with the television series, however, let it be known that the games stand out in their own right as their own unique experiences- with their own unique consequences.
You start of in Episode One: A New Day as Lee Everett, a man apparently convicted of some felony, being transported to prison (presumably) by a very chatty Georgian sheriff. Before you can be imprisoned for an indeterminate period of time however, disaster (or divine intervention?) strikes, or more accurately- you and the sheriff strike it: namely, an infected individual who has already succumbed to the unknown disease recognizable by zombification. Now, after a series of events, you are free (?) to explore about, but you must also beware of the dangers presented by the growing numbers of undead around you. The Walking Dead is a narrative experience first and foremost, so that is of course the richest and strongest element in this episode and series as a whole. Combat may be harrowing and difficult, as are many of the mechanics to grasp, however, they all serve their purposes well, and to great effect. It's the characters and their characteristics/characterizations that make this game what it is, and it builds off of each success by adding more of the same for added effect.
A New Day is all about survival, as should be expected in the zombie apocalypse. Finding food, scavenging weapons, and battling zombies is all great- but what good is it if you can't survive the first few days in hell? A la Rick Grimes' journey in the television show broadcast on AMC, Lee Everett soon finds himself teaming up with other survivors and bonds with a young girl whom he had rescued from Walkers. For added benefit, and the first of many (but certainly not the last) fan-based decisions, Herschel Green and Glenn make cameo appearances, and even help you along as well. Whereas many zombie adventures such as Left 4 Dead and Dead Rising give you guns and pit you against hordes of the undead, The Walking Dead gives you options and little time to make decisions against a few Walkers alone. Any and all decisions you must make come with a time limit and consequences, prompting you to think carefully before making that gut-wrenching or heart aching choice, even though you know you have to. In what is now typical TWD fashion, even if you don't hesitate to help, people will die.
You won't always see the effects of your choices, but trust me- if you see "Clementine will remember that." then be prepared for something to come back and bite you on the arse. Hard. The idea of a splintering narrative, while conceptually epic, and realistically improbable- is still an awesome thing to witness, as flawed as it might be. Compare it to LA Noire- the game was epic, yet it had its flaws keeping it just shy of true greatness. Well, the same can be said here as well. Every choice you make will have some sort of consequence or reparation down the road, and that's an awfully heavy burden to always have hanging over your head and to be carrying around... People will recall your loyalty or dishonesty later, and trust me- they won't be afraid to call you out either. Each character is different, some with more heroic abilities than others, and some with more flaws. No matter who dies, who lives, and who decides- something exciting will always happen in your playthrough.
As big a part of the gameplay as it is, the narrative of The Walking Dead can hardly be expected to carry the entire game the whole way, so naturally, some portions fall a little below the standards set in other areas. The environments you can explore are normally very space and devoid of many resources, which isn't a bad thing, but the fact that there are only so many items to peruse and look around for means it comes across as a little time consuming and a wasted effort, when you must find everything necessary to progress anyway. The combat is brutal and you'll feel every hit, but it is also quite literally very hit or miss and comes across as very shallow. However, the pointing and clicking is more than acceptable when you realize that you'll only kill about five zombies throughout the entire story in the episode, so it's alright.
Another area that could use some work is that of the puzzles and creativity. What puzzles there were were actually quite entertaining and fun to think through, however, they were often way too few and too far between to really enjoy. They were almost always environmental challenges, such as figuring out how to unlock a door, get across a zombie-infested room, or snag an object off of a corpse without it eating you alive. These situations are quite enjoyable, but not nearly as frequently used as they could've been in order to flesh out the gameplay a little more, and also give the narrative a bit of a rest as well. Granted, they didn't do everything 100% correctly or without fail, but Telltale created something that is really exciting once you get into it, and that I look forward to seeing more out of in the future. It delivers thrills, scares, and a moving story leaving you on the edge of your seat wondering just what will go wrong next.
Part Two: Starved for Help
As with the first episode in the five part season one of Telltale's largely successful zombie/adventure/narrative romp, this particular episode shines brightly, but could also use a little bit of work as well around the edges. Be aware or beware, events of the first episode will be brought back into play here, and some of the consequences then as well as now will definitely have drastic effects later on... Picking up months after the initial episode's ending, Episode Two: Starved for Helped finds our survivors huddled together inside the old motel they found in the very first episode, and eating what is left of their measly supplies and scraps. Things are barely holding together as it is, but when two country strangers show up ready to make a trade- food for gas, the balance is broken for good.
No matter who you side with, or what you decide to do, Lee inevitably ends up hitching a ride with the two brothers back to their prized dairy farm, and a long and tangled stream of secrets unravels from then on out. Starved for Help is certainly an intriguing story on its own, and it also serves as an introduction to some of the newer dangers that Lee and his crew will have to face presumably in future episodes- as well as adding in a chillingly realistic life or death scenario: eat or be eaten. You'll probably be glad to know that the others in your group will still remember important things you let loose in Episode One, and your choices will still be in effect now- and for the entirety of the series as well. No matter who you side with, some of the lesser liked characters are more fleshed out this time around (Larry, Lilly), whereas some who seemed more likeable at first are given some stains on their reputations (Kenny, Mark). It is truly amazing how realistic such a narrative can seem as this, but its evolution has swayed me into another camp entirely.
The gameplay is hardly changed, and yet the narrative evolves to become even more intriguing, the level chapters are even more linear than before in presentation, and the combat and puzzles still provide unique yet frustrating side-quests of sorts. I didn't find the puzzles as interesting this time around, but exploring the farm present in most of the chapters was actually fun, and interacting with other characters was- as always, quite an experience. It might still fall short in some respects, but the artistically crafted visuals and the overarching narrative will keep you entertained for another few hours yet...
Part Three: Long Road Ahead
A metaphorical relationship can be found somewhere in this numerical episode and the corresponding season number of the television show, and I think it would be best summed up as "everything changes." The events that occur in Episode Three: Long Road Ahead are definitely going to impact the final two chapters of Lee's story, and for that matter, everyone else's as well. The events of this episode will certainly alter many lives, while ending others. After completing Episode Two, it becomes obvious that things cannot continue at the roadside motel that the survivors have been holed up in for quite some time, and it also becomes obvious that some things are gonna change- assuming they haven't already. Having already dealt with the particularly carnivorous foes in the previous episode (and not the zombies either), Lee and his compatriots must band together in order to weather out the newest storm brewing on the horizon.
Things have continually gone downhill one after another, and it isn't long before the group is at each others' throats again- the main antagonists being Lilly and Kenny, who each fancy themselves the fittest leader of the bunch. The events of this third episode are well-built, and not only rooted in what has already occurred throughout your time spent playing, but also versed in dynamics as of yet unforeseen and unexpected. While choice is as big as ever, if not quite more so this time around, nothing major has occurred yet because of something Lee has done- although quite a few things have popped back up almost as little "I told you so's" and reminders of what is still yet to come.Thankfully, this time around, things have slowed down a little bit so that the story isn't as crammed down your throat as it was before, and you can kind of enjoy it at your own pace whilst exploring around the somewhat more detailed and inviting environments. Don't get me wrong, it's still as much about story as before, but...it gives you more time to think on your decisions and curse or gloat than ever before.
The focus on puzzles has all but disappeared entirely, although there is one particular puzzle near the end of the episode that stopped me briefly and forced me to stretch my wandering mind a little before continuing onwards. This episode took pacing a lot more seriously it seems, and that effort is well rewarded, as it travels from highs and lows with a purpose- instead of being a full octane adventure or a dull one, it rides the middle ground with sporadic jumps here and there. Again, some of the puzzles seemed really watered down and the lack of appeal is hard to stomach now. Really, if you thought we could handle the gore and graphic content, why did you decide we were too stupid to figure out how cogs work? Come on Telltale. You'll be constantly unraveling clues as to who is betraying or stealing from your supplies, all the while trying to decide whether to move on or stay put, and hunting down many items in order to get an abandoned train up and running.
The action and combat are a bit more varied and spiced up this time around, and that definitely fits within the constraints of the narrative, but it is also a little more difficult than anticipated when faced with groups of foes. Your best choice, honestly, if it is a viable option, is to retreat to somewhere where you can pick them off one by one with your puny axe or wooden beam. The crosshairs method that purposely moves slower so as to build fear and anxiety sometimes goes a bit too slow, and you end up dying needlessly...many times over. The gameplay is still a little rough around the edges, but then again, it was always ever about the story anyways.
Part Four: Around Every Corner
True to its name, every episode of The Walking Dead brings mixed feelings of regret, anxiety, anticipation, and excitement- and it's hard to believe that this is all almost over. We've only got one more episode to go, for the current season anyway, and there's a lot of different ways it could go. And that is scary indeed. This journey has been quite an exciting one so far- with people we've loved dying, people we haven't really loved dying, lots of people dying, and also some human moments where we can rest assured that at least some part of humanity will survive. Episode Four: Around Every Corner is the penultimate adventure in this first season, and I must say- it doesn't disappoint in any way at all. You will still be shocked, surprised, and emotionally assaulted within an inch of your life throughout this episode, and it'll all be the more agonizing because you'll have to wait to see what happens in Episode Five...well, not really anymore, but it was a terribly long wait, trust me.
Episode Four picks off at the ending of Episode Three, when the survivors have finally made it to their destination- beautiful Savannah, Georgia. Still thinking it is wisest to attempt to survive at sea, where there are presumably no Walkers (and not much water either, hmm...), the group searches thoroughly for a mode of seaward transportation, and meets with a new horror of sorts. Somebody is stalking them, and they're also besetting them emotionally by feeding on their worst fears and talking to them through Clem/Lee's walkie talkie. If you thought someone was watching you back in Episode Two (which they were), then you'll be feeling it all again now as well. However, this scary little revelation is quickly breezed over- for the time being, as the survivors adventure into a nearby town (and sort of safe haven) in search of a way to escape out to sea. New characters make lasting impressions, and in a move almost like the Woodbury ones of the television show, dramatic things happen within the group.
Episode Four paces itself a tad bit slower, even after Episode Three's purposeful pacing, and this is intentionally done so, presumably so that you can reflect upon your past deeds, and so that you can soak everything up before continuing out for one last huzzah in your final chapter. At this point, nobody is free of the emotional damage and scarring that The Walking Dead always brings, and it is quite a demoralizing factor that didn't really need to be emphasized, but was anyway- and with great effects. I mean, holy crap, I was almost in tears at some points because of it, and this isn't even the final chapter. My goodness. The writing is near perfection in capturing the realism (or as close to realistic as a zombie apocalypse can be) of the matter, as well as in pacing, and that is already more than you could ask for.
This doesn't always work to perfection, as the drama and emotion feels a bit forced at some points throughout the narrative, but it captures the feeling pretty darn well for the majority of the game, so it's a check in my book. Definitely the best thing that was accomplished in this particular episode was the revolutionizing of Clementine into an actively participating character instead of the sideways bystander she has been in the previous episodes- only really coming forward when it was necessary to tell Lee something that was going on, or when he had done something she thought was wrong. In some ways she is a little more independent, whereas in others, she depends upon Lee here more than ever before. This balancing act works perfectly, and also adds some further depth to both the story and Clem's character- which has definitely made her my favorite next to Lee.
As much as Episode Four might seem to live in the past, there is no such thing as 'A New Hope' like in Star Wars here, as many will die, and the decisions only weigh heavier upon you than ever before. It might not be as exciting or tense as Episode Three was, but Episode Four is great in its own ways, mainly in how it introduces new characters and builds even further upon the ones we are now readily familiar with.
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