*** Warning – [Spoilers ahead] – do not read if you don’t want to know the end of the Walking Dead Game ***
Last night, I finally got around to finish playing or rather experiencing the interactive PS3 version of The Walking Dead by Telltale Games. Based on Robert Kirkman’s award-winning comic book series, the game version of the Walking Dead (issued as five separate episodes) is about a world devastated by an undead apocalypse and the horrifying choices you’re forced to make to survive as the character Lee Everett. Lee is a college professor whose life took a turn for the worse when he was convicted of killing a man who was sleeping with his wife; he claimed self-defense but the state thought differently. Early in the game, Lee meets Clementine – a quiet and imaginative girl with two attentive, loving parents and from this point in the game they meet, interact with, argue with, fight with and lose a series of characters as they move through the new world.
What’s particularly interesting with this medium is that as a player you start out playing this game as the character (Lee), but by the end of the first episode you’re immersed and making the decisions (which impact on Clementine and other members of your group) based on your own ethical code rather than as that of the character. This makes playing the game a stressful, thought provoking and tricky balancing act with potentially fatal consequences lurking in the background.
It also makes the ending of the game even more effective. This ending and some of the decisions which occur before it in the game (like characters being mercilessly despatched with little warning) has had a major impact on today’s gamers. In fact, the last time I can remember a similar type of online response was when Final Fantasy VII players watched Aerith get killed midway through the game by Sephiroth which prompted a huge outpouring of player comments on message boards and blogs about the emotional impact of the scene. Unlike say, Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain, where you played four different characters who might not reach the end of it (but interacted with people and elements in a similar way to the Walking Dead game interface), this is the only time I can remember that the main protagonist that you are playing as in a game dies before the end – lending the epilogue after the end credits with Clementine – who you’ve protected throughout the game – alone waiting to see if the two people in the distance are friendly or not an extra existential weight.
What’s interesting is from a playing perspective the ethical dilema’s and resolution that this game evokes are very powerful and from the point of view of fantastic interactive storytelling it will be a major crime if Telltale fail to end up with a whole heap of Game Bafta’s in March.
Update 06/03/13: Telltale’s Walking Dead picked up the Mobile and Handheld and Story BAFTAs
More on the game here: Walking Dead @ Telltale Games
How the stats played out (episodes 1 – 5): Walking Dead Stats
Telltale Blog : Season Five Interviews