Walking Dead, The
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Game Reviewed: Walking Dead, The
Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Telltale Games
Platform: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC, Mac, iOS
Category: Adventure, Puzzle, Interactive Narrative
ESRB Rating: M
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The Walking Dead has become a premier franchise in recent years, a beacon of intelligent, character-driven writing in the overclogged genre of zombie apocalypse literature. The original comic series has been running for nearly a decade now, and the television show is enjoying success in its third season. The franchise has been praised for focusing less on the simple threat of zombies and more on the difficulties and dangers presented when humanity is pushed to drastic measures in a desperate bid for survival.
Telltale Games, famous for making quality point-and-click adventure games (like Myst and The Secret of Monkey Island) in an era when they’ve mostly been forgotten, seeks to use the universe and themes of The Walking Dead to create a game that is not about challenge or “winning,” but about navigating a story full of complex characters, difficult decisions, and a desperate bid for survival. And they succeed. Oh, do they succeed.
The player takes on the role of Lee, a man who is being transported to prison for murder when the dead begin to rise. When the car hits a zombie and careens off the road, Lee is left stranded and alone until he meets a young girl named Clementine whose parents are on vacation. Lee takes Clementine under his wing as they meet up with survivors and try to make their way in an increasingly dangerous world.
The Walking Dead aims straight for the heart, putting the player in a position where they need (and genuinely want) to protect this little girl. It throws difficult decisions at the player that will test their resolve in a myriad of different ways. This makes The Walking Dead one of the most emotionally affecting video games ever made, truly earning a spot in the best of zombie literature. And in order to do so, it dips into some of the darkest corners of the human condition. This is not a game for children. Let’s see why.
What Parents Need to Know
Zombie literature is, by necessity, graphically violent. Zombies are dead humans who have been reanimated by a mysterious virus; they do not think or feel pain, and the only way to kill them is to destroy the brain. So many zombies are missing limbs, or have disturbingly damaged faces, and killing them is a rather bloody affair.
Really, this makes it so counting off the instances of graphic violence is pointless. We see amputations, and not always with tools capable of removing limbs cleanly. One man’s upper skull is crushed by a heavy object. Another character is impaled. Others are bitten in two and torn apart by the zombie horde. Graphic violence is all throughout this game.
I’ll just save us some time and say that nearly every word in the book is used rather often. Though points for Clementine for calling Lee on it whenever she gets the chance.
Sex is inexplicitly referenced a few times; nothing graphic.
Nothing of note.
Moral choices must often be made, and more often than not, there is no morally right answer. Who do you save when two people are being grabbed by zombies at once? When a member of your own group snaps and kills another, do you leave them behind to die or keep them with you at the potential risk of the rest of the group? When someone is bitten and will turn into a zombie soon, do you kill them before it can happen, or should a loved one do it? These are the types of problems put forth by this story. In all honesty, I consider this a good thing; it forces you to question your standards of morality and actually make difficult decisions, and will test your resolve to do the right thing in the face of stress and genuinely good reasons to do something a bit more morally grey.
A Child’s Perspective:
I usually use my nephew for this section, but I would not so much as consider letting him near this game. Considering the gameplay mostly consists of conversation and a few logic puzzles, children with short attention spans would not be entertained anyway, and beyond that, it takes a very mature mind to unravel the layered themes and complex morality of this story; it would fly right over the head of a child.
I’ll be up front with my main impression of this game: The Walking Dead is one of the most emotionally compelling works of interactive art I’ve ever experienced. Clementine is a genuinely well-written, well-acted character, and protecting her becomes the driving force of the experience. Beyond that, the game captures the spirit of The Walking Dead perfectly in that the zombies are not the enemy; we are our own enemies. Desperate survivors are far more of a danger than the walkers, and when pushed to our limits, our friends (or even ourselves) are the true threat.
True to this theme, The Walking Dead is stressful. You will need to make decisions to which there is no right answer. You will have to make difficult choices that some part of you will regret no matter what you choose to do. And if you take the high road, as I did, working to control my impulses and act with mercy, grace, and trust, some event—it could be one of many events throughout the course of the story—will break you, and you will do something that may not be right, and that you may regret, because it really is the best thing for Clementine and the other people around you. This game, more than any other I’ve played, tests you on your own integrity and moral judgment, and if you pay attention, you will learn something valuable about yourself.
And if you don’t shed a tear—or even sob uncontrollably, as I did—during the last minutes of the game, you’ll have to let me know how your life as a soulless automaton goes for you.
So yes. The Walking Dead has gore and language that is nowhere near appropriate for children. But assuming you are not a child, I cannot recommend highly enough that you experience this game. If any game has the potential to change your life for the better, this is a top contender.