Lee Everett’s failed the one golden rule of murdering folk: don’t get caught. As such, he's on his way to prison when civilisation collapses around him. It’s through Lee that you experience the harsh horrors of this new and unrecognisable world, and it’s not long before he, and by extension you, becomes responsible for Clementine, a little girl whose parents are out of town. In a world gone mad, it soon becomes clear that Clem is your number one concern, as you endeavour to reunite her with her parents.
The Walking Dead: A Telltale Games Series is all about the relationships Lee has with the survivors he meets on his journey, and Telltale’s take on the classic dialogue tree echoes this sentiment. When talking with survivors you’re presented with four responses all mapped to the face buttons. These responses are timed, with a bar rapidly depleting as you consider your decision. The choices don’t subscribe to typical RPG dialogue options, where morality is often binary. Instead, they’re always specific to the situation at hand. This is not only evidence of the fantastic writing, but it also highlights Telltale’s wish to make you ‘connect’ with Lee. He’s your character. While you may not have chosen his name, hairstyle, and background, what you choose during a conversation will hold consequences for Lee and Clem, either helping you to cement a solid ally, or in some cases, decide whether they live or die.
Whenever you side with somebody during an argument, or choose to be gentle when having a heart to heart with Clementine, a box will appear in the corner of the screen, explaining the impact of your decisions. It’s a little touch, but it really does drive home the fact that the decisions you’re making are changing the game world and may come back to haunt you later on. The more we played, the less we found ourselves role-playing as Lee, because we became him. The situations Lee found himself in and the relationships he had with the people around him were because of our choices. All of the characters are very believable, and a large part of this is the excellence with which the character of Clementine is developed. Children are hardly the medium’s strong point, but Telltale has hit it out of the park. As time passes you become ferociously attached to her, dedicating yourself to keeping her out of harm's way. When events occur that risk jeopardising her, you feel just as incensed as Lee does.
When you’re not thrust into linear dialogue-em-ups, you’ll be wandering around a closed environment collecting the required items or talking to the people needed to progress the plot. Often following a difficult decision or an intense bit of button mashing, these sections offer a much-needed breather and a chance to gauge the other survivor’s feelings. You control Lee with the left analogue stick and use the right to select what you want to interact with. A major flaw with Telltale’s previous outing, based on the Back To The Future franchise, was that it tried too hard to be a point and click adventure, often deviating from the plot by forcing you to collect a multitude of inanimate objects to ‘combine’ with the characters. While you’ll still find yourself doing that from time to time in The Walking Dead, it makes sense in the context of the situation. Need to get a generator running? Ask around and see if anyone knows where you can find some tools.
Don’t be fooled by its dialogue heavy structure. There are moments of action, often compounded by a survivor being stuck in a life threatening position. These quick time events frequently involve mashing a particular button to push back a walker (what zombies are called in this universe), or in some cases, ill-advised shooting sections. During these, you rather bizarrely control the cross hairs with the right analogue stick, which not only feels a little alien, but also makes it very difficult to react fast enough.
The episode structure is well thought out, and begins with a cutscene serving to remind you of the decisions you made previously. At the end of each chapter, provided you have an Internet connection, a screen will be displayed outlining the episode’s major choices. As if to reassure you that ‘even though it was a tough choice, you had to do that’, it also shows the percentage of players who made the decisions either way.
Telltale’s game engine is starting to show signs of old age, with occasional bugs and glitches hampering the gameplay. They’re only little things, but really do distract from the experience during particularly emotional scenes. The loading times are also a pain, with the game tending to chug as it attempts to remember the impressive amount of dialogue strands required to reconstruct your experience. The cel shaded art choice is a bold move and really brings the world to life, but you have to wonder if, in part, this was a decision made to cover up the tracks of a creaky game engine. The voice acting really breathes life into the excellent writing, with everyone delivering their A-game.
It's been a long time since we've cared this much about a group fictional characters, perhaps stretching as far back as Final Fantasy VII. The Walking Dead is a phenomenal title that will live long in the memory of anyone who experiences it. Oh, and if you don’t shed manly tears at the finale, you’re not a real person.