I’m just going to stay it right off the bat: The Walking Dead is my personal pick for game of the year, no contest. It is simply, in my opinion, easily one of the greatest adventure games ever made and one of the best stories ever told by a video game. Episode five was the very satisfying conclusion to what has been one heck of an emotional trip into Robert Kirkman’s world.
This will be my spoiler free-ish review. I may or may not write a spoiler-filled reflection on the game in a while, but for now you can rest assured that if you haven’t played the game yet, I will keep the spoilers to a minimum. Though I will say, right off the bat, that my severe acrophobia did not make playing this last episode any easier.
So, Lee doesn’t have much time left to rescue Clem from her mysterious abductor, and as he tries to find out who it is and where they are, things just keep going from worst to worsterer. (I know that’s grammatically blasphemous… My not-so-inner editor just died a little, but there’s really no other way to describe it.) I was honestly surprised by how this game could still manage to throw me for a loop several times, even though I was expecting it. I knew certain things might or would happen and yet it was still like a punch to the gut when they did. Things kept falling apart, and yet all you can do is keep moving on.
I was also constantly surprised by just how expert Telltale has become at manipulating my emotions. Man, I hated Clem’s kidnapper with a passion, right up until right before I met him and suddenly I was having second thoughts, even though it was too late. The emotional whiplash is even worse since right before the encounter you have a pretty awesome zombie-killing scene with some brilliant music that just pumps you up and gets you ready to take on the whole world, forget about some two-bit human chump. But then you see one thing on your way to meet him and it’s like popping a balloon. “Oh!” You think to yourself, “Oh, wow. This can’t be happening. I now know exactly one thing about this unknown kidnapper, and instead of hating him, I suddenly feel very sorry for him, and wish it didn’t have to come to this.” At least, that’s pretty much what went through my head. This showdown, if you can call it that, is probably one of the best parts of the episode, nay, the series. It forces you to face the many sadistic choices you’ve been forced to make one last time and either own up or express regret. It’s a simply brilliant scene.
And in the end, everything leads up to what it now seems to me that the game was always inevitably leading up to. Again, I won’t spoil, but I will say that as a parent, I very much appreciated the end, and was surprised at how much pride I felt at what was happening, even though I probably should have been crying. And yes, I can honestly say this series never made my cry, but I will admit it came pretty close several times. I will not make fun of anyone who admits that they did cry at this game. It’s that emotional
(Very Long) Bottom Line: I’ve seen that The Walking Dead has already been winning Game of the Year awards. It deserves each and every one. If we here at Buy Zombie gave out a Game of the Year award, TWD by Telltale would have my enthusiastic and wholehearted vote. I would dare venture into what some may consider blasphemous territory and say it’s even better than the comics themselves. Is the game perfect? Of course not. It has plenty of flaws, but almost all of them are technical issues related to the medium it’s presented in. But I’m a story guy and I’m usually far more interested in a game’s story than anything else. The Walking Dead has a story that is so powerful and emotional, and the way the story is told is so immersive, that I have no problems overlooking those technical issues and declaring Telltale’s The Walking Dead one of the greatest video games ever made.
More than that though, when it comes to what I consider “the zombie apocalypse” I have a very small “canon” of stories/movies/whatever that I feel anyone interested in the genre must read/watch/experience. The original book, I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson, for being the source of the genre; The original Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, for being the sources from which most of the tropes and cliches we all know and love come from; World War Z, for being able to show the global scale of the apocalypse while keeping it incredibly personal and human; and Left 4 Dead, for being a masterpiece of subtle storytelling. Sure there are plenty of other works that I suggest that people check out, (the apocrypha, if you will) but the canon is what you have to check out. I am very particular about what I add to it. The Walking Dead comics have been on my apocrypha list since I first read them, and I’ve been on the fence about including them in the canon for just as long. The Walking Dead by Telltale Games however, won me over during the fourth episode. I was just waiting to make sure they didn’t flub the finale, and they didn’t. This game is a classic, and if you consider yourself a fan of the zombie apocalypse or even just zombies in general, then you must play this game. Play it the way it was meant to be played, look past the limitations of the medium and focus on the story. Let yourself care about the characters, form your own opinions about them and play accordingly. You won’t be disappointed.