As a fan of Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard’s The Walking Dead comic series – which I read from the very first issue on the day it was […]
As a fan of Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard’s The Walking Dead comic series – which I read from the very first issue on the day it was released, way back in 2003 – I was very keen to try out Telltale’s episodic, narrative-based adventure game when it first released in 2012. At the time, I’d just secured myself a shiny new iPad 3 and it was the perfect game to play on it, the touchscreen controls fitting the game’s dialogue heavy, quick-time-event style brilliantly. It was maddening to wait for the next episode when one finished, given the cliffhangers each part ended on – but that only added to the anticipation and excitement when new episodes were released.
Then there was that ending, which I’m not ashamed to admit made me cry; it had a huge impact on me – to this day, I can remember almost every moment. Weary of the impact being dulled, I didn’t play any more of the games in the series, wanting to be left with a perfect – if incomplete – story.
Yet I recently played the Telltale Batman games for the first time and enjoyed them so much that it made me want to explore more of the defunct company’s games. In some cases, it’s easier said than done – with them being so heavily involved in licensed properties, many of their games have now been removed from digital storefronts. The episodic nature of the titles they produced, along with how they were physically sold (with just a single episode on disc, accompanied by a code to download the rest of the season) means that you need to find sealed physical copies in order to guarantee that you’re not just going to be left with an incomplete game – and they’re becoming ever more scarce, as you can imagine.
Fortunately, the games in The Walking Dead series are all available on Game Pass, aside from The Final Season, which was discounted recently on Xbox – with Skybound Entertainment, Kirkman’s multimedia entertainment company in charge of the rights, meaning the whole series is still available to purchase. As an aside, LCG Entertainment have the licenses for the Batman and The Wolf Among Us, meaning those titles are still available too. I’ve spent the last few weeks working my way through all of Telltale’s Walking Dead games; I’ve reviewed each of them here and will include links below. The only title missing is The Walking Dead: Michonne, which features a fan favourite character from the comics and TV show, but doesn’t tie into the narrative of the main game series in any way. It is however, in progress – and a review will be coming.
The story of Lee Everett, who escapes police custody when the zombie outbreak is beginning and soon finds himself taking care of a young girl named Clementine, The Walking Dead is remarkable for its quality of writing, sense of choice (and the consequences that arise from your dialogue responses or actions) and brilliant acting. It really did lay the groundwork for the series and had several devastatingly impactful, highly memorable scenes throughout its five episode running time. The ending remains as powerful a sucker punch as it ever was. Full, non-spoiler review here.
An interesting bridge between seasons one and two, 400 Days gives brief glimpses at a number of different characters who go on to appear – again, briefly, at least for the most part – in Season Two. I had hoped that their roles would be more significant in the second season, given the groundwork laid here; unfortunately, the potential is wasted in the next game – aside from one character who becomes pretty vital to the narrative. It was enjoyable for what it was, but you definitely feel as if there’s little point giving these characters any time in the spotlight after the events of season two. Full review here.
It’s not easy to look beyond season one without spoiling events for yourself – with even the cover art being a bit of a giveaway as to the setup – but the second season of Telltale’s series still manages to throw some seriously dramatic, heartbreaking twists into the story. In fact, they waste little time shaking up Clementine’s world in devastating ways, right from the beginning – with a few massively tragic, traumatic events leading her to find a new group of survivors who themselves are running from some dangerous people. It features the stunningly unforeseen return of a major character from the first game and there are some truly intense moments that will leave you reeling. Though it lacks the climactic gut punch that the first game had, there’s an awful lot of scenes that will stay with you long after the credits roll on Season Two. Full review here.
An unusual entry – even more so, after playing the final season – A New Frontier begins with new character Javier (known to his friends and family as Javi) racing to his father’s deathbed. Arriving too late, things go south very quickly for Javi and his family – his newly deceased father suddenly reanimated and very hungry. Flashing forward a number of years, we join Javi on the road, trying to keep his family together. Though it does feature Clementine – whose appearance is revealed on cover art, so I’m comfortable with discussing her being here – it’s definitely a story about Javi’s family. The theme of family looms large over the events of A New Frontier; it’s a very compelling story and there are moments where you’ll see how Clementine got to where she is during the events of the game, but – those sections aside – it does feel somewhat inessential given that the new status quo brought about at the ending is not used at all for The Final Season. Full review here.
Back on the road with Clementine – and now AJ – The Final Season improves upon the glossy, visually brilliant look of A New Frontier and even opens up several areas and scenes to full third person control, which has its ups and downs. Though this more open exploration does make proceedings feel less linear and scripted, it does often kill the momentum that the narrative in the series always did so well. Not only that, but there are a number of scenes where the third person control just isn’t good enough for the hectic scenes that play out – and end up hurting the game more than helping. However, the narrative builds to a strong finale and a long-thought-forgotten choice made back in season one comes back to haunt you – with devastating consequences. Though the epilogue feels manipulative and too drawn out in some ways, it’s a fitting end to Clementine’s story. Full review here.
The series as a whole is now easily one of the best set of games I’ve ever played, with a narrative that really feels as if it was shaped by my choices and actions, however cleverly illusory that may be. I have found Telltale’s The Walking Dead to be a far better treatment of Kirkman’s universe than Kirkman’s own comic books or the TV show that’s based on them. The strong narrative feel, which does sacrifice a lot of freedom in comparison to other games, won’t be to everyone’s taste, but the formula really did work for me. Unquestionably one of the biggest achievements in gaming, in my opinion, even with the slight missteps of 400 Days, A New Frontier and The Final Season – each of which still ultimately work as compelling narratives. At least now, I understand why characters make such dumb decisions in zombie fiction, having made plenty of them myself under pressure over the course of these games.
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