Rating: M for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language
Available for: PS3, PS4, PS Vita, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Android, iOS, OS X, Microsoft Windows, and more (no, seriously)
This post will contain minor spoilers for Telltale’s The Walking Dead, Season 1.
Side Note: I’m doing another Halloween game post in a couple of weeks (a bit belated, I know). It was recommended to me as an appropriate game for the season, but I wasn’t able to finish it in time for this week, so I’m doing two Halloween posts!
Just in time for Halloween, I had to choose an appropriate game for the occasion!
There is a reason Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead, Season 1 (2012) is one of my all-time favorite Telltale Games. Normally, I would have no interest in zombie stories, but The Walking Dead series turns the danger of zombies into a backdrop for the true story: the examination of humanity and the desperation that arises as a consequence of the apocalypse.
The Walking Dead, Season 1 begins in Atlanta, Georgia, at the start of the zombie apocalypse, and focuses on Lee Everett, a university professor who has been arrested for murdering his wife’s lover, as you later discover. While in the police vehicle, the officer crashes into a zombie crossing the street, causing the police car to veer off the road and land in a forest-like area. While trying to escape the increasing number of zombies, Lee finds himself in a seemingly normal backyard and there he meets a young girl by the name of Clementine, who has locked herself in her treehouse to hide from both zombies and looters. After speaking with Clementine, you find out that her parents were on a trip to Savannah, Georgia and Lee offers to help get Clementine to her family. Along their journey, they encounter many other survivors and the destruction the zombie apocalypse has left in its wake.
I honestly believe that the Telltale Games format is particularly ideal for this story, perhaps even more so than their other games. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy some of their other series, but when it comes to timed dialogue and quick decisions, the reliance on instinct only enhances the story being played. There were so many moments where I felt as if I needed more time to decide on what to say but I only had seconds to respond: the characters were not going to wait around for me while arguments exploded and life-or-death decisions had to be made. Moreover, when it came to making decisions on who to save or how to act, there were many times where I falsely believed that “both” was still a viable answer. With my “first” answer being the only one that counted, I was able to truly see where my instincts lay, with sometimes surprising results. This all makes The Walking Dead as a video game even more special: your instinct is what makes the final decisions. Other mediums such as books and movies could not allow for the level of immersion that would force the audience to examine how they would react in a zombie apocalypse when pressed for time.
The timing in this game was not the only important factor. It might be easy to think that under dire measures, you would have a good idea of how you would act/react and what kind of decisions you would normally lean towards, but many of these decisions are not just as simple as just…making the decision. The questions and choices are meant to have a certain level of consequential ambiguity: it is impossible to make everyone happy and even harder to find that “right” choice. Some might decide that they would rather lean towards selfishness and survivability as their focus, but Telltale throws in another element to still make your decisions harder. Clementine, who is 8 years old at the beginning of this story, looks up to Lee, and many of your actions are measured against her impressions. So, do you continue to teach her about right vs wrong, even if it involves stealing food from someone else? Or do you emphasize survival at any cost, knowing it might save her life later down the line?
One of the other things I love about The Walking Dead, Season 1 is the focus on people and characters for the majority of the narrative. It was easy to forget that there was a zombie apocalypse happening when group tensions were high and people were fighting to survive in a world gone to chaos. Each episode will introduce you to new characters and new ways people have decided to handle the apocalypse, sometimes having you witness the very worst of humanity. Episode 2 in particular has always stood out to me: tension and suspicion is slowly built upon throughout the chapter and it plays out like a horror/suspense movie when the ball finally drops. There are so many moments, both big and small that will give you pieces of how other people reacted to the apocalypse, and in many of the cases, the scenes are heartbreaking. It allows you to see the zombies for who they used to be, not who they have become, reminding you that these were once people full of life. I swear my heart dropped every time they stopped on a photograph or Lee would closely examine a house or school.
Even years later, The Walking Dead, Season 1 continues to leave a strong impression, showing that there can be many ways to show the consequences of humanity within the context of a zombie apocalypse. Video games with zombies don’t have to just focus on killing them: you can create a story about people in severely desperate situations, revealing the best and worst of themselves and the family and hope that can arise from it as well. If you have not played this game yet, I encourage you to do so, even if you’re like me who does not like zombies. The Walking Dead, Season 1 is so much more than just another zombie apocalypse story, and it makes great use of its medium in order to tell its story.
Before I sign off, I wanted to throw in a quick reminder that I will be participating in Extra Life this year! I’ll be livestreaming on my Twitch channel on Nov 4, starting at 2pm PST. For more information, you can check out my previous post here.