I'm feeling a little emotional right now. And it's all because of a video game. I just finished Walking Dead: The Game, Episodes 1 and 2, and there's a stew of emotions in my chest. This is an achievement that few video games have managed. I can think of only a handful of games that made me cry or get angry or feel something. There's the moment in Ico when you lose the girl, or the endings of some Final Fantasy games, or that moment in XCOM when your favorite character died, or the cliffhanger at the end of Half-Life 2, but there are so few games that manage to evoke an emotional response from its players. Walking Dead isn't the most beautiful game to look at. It doesn't have revolutionary gameplay. But boy, can this game make you feel something.
You play as Lee, a convict who managed to escape from the back of a police car during the zombie apocalypse. You are soon saved by Clementine, a kid, and together you join a group of survivors. In a way, this is the reverse of the Walking Dead TV series. Where Rick is a cop who instantly has authority and commands respect in the group, Lee is met with suspicion from the get-go and has to fight for every friend/ally he makes. Like the TV series though, no one can be trusted, and often the living are to be feared more than the dead.
Graphics-wise, Walking Dead is your basic cel-shaded game. It's nothing to write home about. It does the trick though. The walkers look sufficiently ghoulish if a little cartoonish. The characters look like comic book characters, which isn't a bad thing. Come to think of it, the cel-shaded look brings the game closer to comic books, which of course, Walking Dead was before it was a TV series. The graphics may lack high definition sophistication, but the comic book style graphics don't get in the way either. The characters are able to convey emotion clearly and effectively. This works great for the game because it's all about the characters and the story.
If you've ever played a point-and-click adventure like Sam & Max, or Machinarium, you've got the basic idea. You go around clicking on things and talking to people. Some objects/people/walkers will have options when you hover over them. For example (MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD!), you'll be able to open a locked door once you've found the axe. Or you'll be able to kick a zombie in the face if it gets close enough.
Heart & Soul
This game isn't about the gameplay. It's all about the choices you make. Making friends with one character may pit you against another. You can choose to appease the cranky guy who tried to kill you, or you can try to kill him. At every turn, you'll have to make tough decisions. Do you give food to the kids or to the fighting adults? Who do you save: the nice guy with the electronics skills or the girl with the gun? Do you execute the bad guy or let him walk away? The game remembers all your choices and what you do affects the game in all the succeeding episodes as well.
Third World Nerd Verdict
PLAY IT. I wasn't expecting much from this game, but it turned out to be a big surprise and an absolute delight. It's well-written, and a unique achievement in video games. Playing it is like living through an episode of the TV series. After Episode 2, I found myself wondering if I had done the right thing. There was doubt and regret and fear for the future. When was the last time a video game was able to do that?