I never really understood the appeal of Zombies. I get that the dead returning to unlife is scary and if it happened in real life I’m sure I would find myself sat in the corner softly whining, leaving all the big tough men to deal with the problem. But I’ve never been afraid of them in video games.
I loved the original Dead Rising and even found the second one to be a bundle of laughs. Maybe that’s the problem. It’s hard to be scared of something when you’ve clocked over a hundred hours killing them with chainsaws. However, I have discovered an exception to that rule.
The Walking Dead is developed by TellTale games, famous for such enjoyable funfests as the rebooted Sam & Max series. It’s based on a series of comic books I’ve never read, in the same world as a TV series I’ve never seen, so I can honestly say I went into the game as an every man. I failed to see how a company that’s become popular with adventure games could make a Zombie game truly scary. And yet, they succeeded.
You begin the game as Lee, a convict being taken from one prison to another. The nature of his crime appears vague at first, although you do find out the gory details as you play through the game. Suddenly, the cop escorting him crashes into a pedestrian crossing the road and swerves off the road.
Lee comes to, just about alive, and finds the cops body outside the car. Believing him to be dead, Lee takes his time inspecting the wreckage when, surprise surprise, the cop turns into a Zombie and tries to kill him. This is the first time I’ve been scared of Zombies in a loooong time. You to push yourself away and frantically scramble with a shotgun, left by the dead cop, trying to force some shells in it before the Zombie cop turns you into desert.
As you go through the game you’ll discover colourful characters, all with a back story, some more likeable than others and have to make choice based on the groups survival. More often than not, your choices will decide whether a character lives or dies.
This in itself may not sound like an outstanding basis for a game, but a lot of the time you are given just a few seconds to make your decision. Several times I was given a choice, picked one out of panic then face palmed a few scenes later.
The game subverts the common representation of a Zombie game, deciding, correctly, that the Zombies are scarier with the fewer you have to kill. In the first episode you barely kill ten enemies. When you compare that with Dead Rising, where there is an achievement for killing fifty thousand, it certainly increases the fear factor. Like I said, once you’ve killed enough Zombies to fill the entire grand canyon, it’s difficult to feel threatened by them.
The story is probably the stand out point of the game. The exact nature of the Zombies remains a mystery and there is absolutely no hint of biological warfare or a mutated disease, which is fantastic as far as I’m concerned. That approach has been done to death. Mysteries lose all their intrigue once you explain it.
The game play is where the game falls flat on its face, knocking a few teeth out. All the combat tends to be is mash the ‘Q’ button until you have a chance to shoot or stab the bogey, then press another button to do that. However, it works because of the fairly linear story and still has the option of failure, which is where a lot of mainstream games fail nowadays. Most titles are so scared of you missing anything that they hold your hand through the entire game which detracts from the experience.
The only other downside I can see, is that it’s one of the games that claims your choices have an outcome on events and while that’s true enough in the short term, by the end of the game every single player will be in just about the exact same situation with the exact same characters alive. This isn’t a bad thing per se, but it’s the fact it claims to the contrary that does. There’s nothing wrong with a linear story, despite what modern day games believe. In fact, in these occasions the story tends to be better.
In conclusion, the characters are likeable, the atmosphere is perfect and the choices, albeit almost pointless, are difficult enough that you feel like you need some time to think about it even while the game is screaming at you to make a quick decision. The game play can hardly be described as game play, but it’s the uniqueness of the storyline that will get you hooked. I shows you exactly what a survival horror game should be like. It’s panicky, scary and a struggle just to survive.
8/10 – A fantastic experience, let down slightly by a few lies here and there. Overall, it has more than enough charm to get you hooked. If you’re going to get a Zombie game let it be this one.