A pivotal release in the progression of video game storytelling
The Walking Dead’s multimedia explosion continues and results in not only one of the best games of 2012 but a breakthrough in interactive storytelling.
The Walking Dead most closely resembles the adventure and point and click games of the 90s, which were focused on methodical environmental and character interaction. Such games have undergone a resurgence in popularity in recent years but parallel to this, a sub-genre has emerged with its own unique flavour. Perhaps David Cage’s 2005 release, Fahrenheit, can be credited with kick starting this tangent. The essential elements of the adventure genre remain in place; rather it is the form of interaction which is most divergent. Pixel hunting and item combining are discarded in favour of a more streamlined and deliberately paced affair. The Walking Dead embraces these newer developments to a tremendously effective end.
Each of the game’s five episodes last roughly between two and three hours, a product of the game’s unique development cycle. This turns out to be the perfect length; long enough for each episode to establish and revolve story threads whilst still furthering the overall season arc. With The Walking Dead’s emphasis placed firmly on storytelling, its success depends hugely on the quality of the writing. Thankfully, this is where it truly excels, with terrifically well realised and well-acted characters and a genuinely affecting plot.
Upon starting each episode, the game will remind you that the decisions you make (some minor, some life or death) create a tailored and unique experience. This isn’t entirely true; all paths eventually lead to the same destination but the way in which decisions are presented and the feeling of weight each one carries does make it truly feel like you, as a player, are creating the story. The narrative Telltale manages to weave and its near flawless execution make this illusion of choice ultimately not even matter in the slightest.
Labelling The Walking Dead a game is a tricky task because as much time is spent watching as is playing; and even then, interaction is quite comparatively limited. Rather, it is best to position The Walking Dead as a new kind of game, one which manages to strike a balance between narrative and gameplay never seen before.
This piece of interaction fiction pushes forward the medium and demonstrates a level of storytelling prowess and maturity few thought was possible. Anyone with even a passing interest in the digital arts has an irrefutable obligation to experience this landmark release.