Walking Dead is a very difficult thing to describe for the uninitiated. It is a comic that has been turned into both a game and a TV series. The game takes place within the same reality as the comic, where the TV show is essentially a reboot- same characters, but different timeline. It also, on the surface, is a zombie apocalypse game. In essence, however, it is a human civilization apocalypse game.
My wife asked me last night why I like all the zombie stuff I do: All the Walking Dead iterations, Shaun of the Dead, older Resident Evil games, the game Day Z; while I generally hate scary movies. I realized, while trying to explain it, that the whole zombie genre does a few things very differently than any other horror movie. There is the superficial layer where zombies are unique because they are dumb, slow monsters with a glaring weakpoint to be exploited- their only strength comes in numbers… and actual strength I suppose.
There are three ways zombie media interests me: primal survival, choices, and people. First, there is the CONSTANT question of if you could outrun the hoard. I’ve been hunting a few times, and was a boy scout, but if I was in the woods, could I make a shelter, hunt for food, and find drinkable water, all while NOT being eaten alive? Secondly, in zombie movies, I am constantly thinking about what I would do in a person’s situation- hiding in the house could mean starvation, running to loot a grocery store could mean getting attacked by hoards, and running to the country could mean being killed by bandits. Now, I am not one of those people who has a Zombie survival plan, FYI, I am well aware that zombies are fake. I just cannot help but think “Oh, no man, its only two! Throw a brick to distract the far one, kill the first one then sneak up and kill the second. Using a gun right now is just DUMB!”
Lastly, the place where a really good piece of zombie fiction gets me is when the zombies are only a backdrop. The real threat in great zombie fiction is people. The more I thought about it, I realized that Zombie fiction is the new forefront of sci-fi. Sci-fi has a long tradition of pushing boundaries addressing social issues, and confronting political wrongs before the rest of culture can in a realistic setting. In most sci-fi this was done by taking you to a future where either a social injustice was corrected (Star Trek), or where it was made far worse via slippery-slope (1984). Great zombie works have the same ability, because it allows humanity to be stripped to its bear bones. What happens when someone watches their loved-ones turn against them? How hardened and unemotional do people get? In a time when the only hope is to band together, how tough is it to trust ANYONE?
What makes Walking Dead the comic great is that it hits all three aspects extremely well. Zombies are a threat, as is nature, but so are people, and choices have consequences. It works very well. Walking Dead the game does the same things, except you are the one making the choices, and with limited time. You have to make choices that could cost a life, or just effect a friendship. However, that relationship may later mean someone lives or dies. Walking Dead is a great zombie game, but it is more.
Without spoiling to many plot points, you play as Lee, a history professor from Macon, Georgia. You start the game in the back of a police car, after being arrested for murdering the man your wife was cheating on you with. Suddenly, the world is changed. Soon, you stumble into a house and find eight year-old Clementine home alone. Her parents are in Savannah, and you take her in to protect her. This is where the game really turns. You are no longer living for yourself alone, you are trying to protect this innocent girl. And you will get attached to her- this game is part zombie-game, part parent-simulator. Do you try to lie and comfort her, or do you tell her the scary truth? Do you yell at her for doing something risky, or stay calm and ask her not to do it more? All of these choices will have consequences, and combined with the fact that most have to be made in the span of 10 or so seconds, they quickly become very real.
Walking Dead is a great game. It has fun, engaging gameplay. There are some bugs occasionally, but most I had were minor. The thing that makes Walking Dead stand apart is it isn’t just a great game.
Walking Dead is one of a very few games that I would recommend to anyone who says games cannot be art. I challenge you to play this game, and not be moved, to not be emotionally connected, to not feel. It transcends its media and becomes more than a game, it becomes an experience.
And it is, in my opinion, the second best game of 2012.
Updated: Added Game Graphic