The Walking Dead: Mid-Season Impressions
The Walking Dead‘s commercial and critical success couldn’t have come at a better time for Telltale Games. Last time I suggested that this may be their last chance to persuade people they’re still capable of great things. Now I have great hope for their future even if the traditional adventure gamer in me hopes they still find the time for old fashioned puzzles and dialogue trees in other games.
I know that’s not the right approach here, though. I know it because The Walking Dead is least successful when it’s most like a traditional adventure game. In Episode 3: Long Road Ahead, for example, it felt jarring that I was somehow able to carry a heavy duty blowtorch about my person without it being visible. Elsewhere, a puzzle involving not being able to reach past someone to grab something for no apparent reason except that they were sad and didn’t want to move to the side slightly felt painfully contrived, but these moments are isolated and brief.
While The Walking Dead remains the best looking Telltale game to date, it still suffers from the occasional unfortunate problem. For instance, during a whole portion of episode 3 the character model of the boy, Duck, was invisible, making a few emotional scenes unintentionally amusing. I wish Telltale had more time and resources to devote to testing and weeding out these sorts of issues, and perhaps the success of this series will afford them that in the future. Also in need of more attention is the animation: the voice actors are up to their task, but the animation often lags behind, their stilted motions and slightly caricatured facial expressions not quite managing to capture the full range of emotions on display. I know they have talented animators on the team, so again it must be a time and resources issue.
But enough of that. The Walking Dead is at its absolute best when forcing you into decisions. You know, of course, in the back of your mind, that what you say and do in any moment isn’t going to alter the story dramatically – the set up for each episode is going to be fundamentally the same for everyone. But Telltale do such a good job with the characters, and the group morale that it still matters. It matters because you care what others will think about what you do or say, because it frequently puts you into situations where you can’t please everyone, and because of the small moments that serve to remind you that the game remembers every decision you make and thing you say.
One tiny example is when the young girl Clementine used the word ‘manure’ in Episode 2, after I taught her it in the first. That was a pleasing touch, and the game has plenty of these. Then, I remember that one of the things I could have said instead of ‘manure’ was ‘shit,’ and can’t help but wonder how that moment would have played if she’d said that in front of everyone instead. Knowing that, I’m all the more careful whenever I say anything at all, now.
That things are going to go to a dark place in a Walking Dead episode is a given, but the three so far have nevertheless continually managed to surprise me with how far they are willing to go. Ending an episode isn’t about fixing a problem, so much. It’s not about improving your circumstances, by a long shot. By the end of each, the status quo has become so thoroughly wrecked that the only hope is in patching together what is left and hoping you might make something of it. I can’t forsee the series ending well for anyone, and yet care enough about the characters that I still have to try.
The stage is most definitely set for an exciting final two episodes, and I’m invested enough to await their release with nervous anticipation and more than a little dread at what may happen. I’ll be back when it’s over to report my final thoughts and deliver a verdict on what I thought of the five episodes as a whole.