The winner of an absurd amount of awards and the source of some of the best writing and characterization found in gaming, there’s really nothing more I can say in my review on The Walking Dead: Season One that you haven’t already heard.
Yes, it’s masterful, and tells one of the most poignant stories I’ve ever witnessed in any medium of entertainment. Lee’s journey and mission to protect 8 year old Clementine is adorable and heartbreaking and will stay with you long after you’ve watched the end credits.
Yes, it’s flawed. Technical hiccups mar the surface and pull you out of the experience on multiple occasions. While I was lucky enough to never have a game breaking bug, or endure my save file inexplicably peacing out, I definitely had some weird bugs, including a crazy glitch that elongated, stretched, and turned everyone’s necks. By far the most terrifying experience in the entire title. You think you hate Ben? Wait until he twists his neck around and stares at you Exorcism-style. It’s the stuff of nightmares.
All of these things are true. What I’d like to address is how a there is a large populous that believes The Walking Dead: Season 1 doesn’t deserve its accolades because it’s not, in fact, a game. That the way you control and experience the title is more like an interactive film. That it shouldn’t belong in the same category as videogames because you’re not in full control for the majority of the time.
All these assessments are true. And yet, ultimately, they are wrong. The Walking Dead’s mechanics and design don’t remove it from the categorization of gaming; rather, it demonstrates the strength of the medium, showing how gaming is not only as capable and effective as other entertainment platforms, but how it might also just be the most versatile.
What is accomplished in The Walking Dead: Season 1 isn’t possible in other forms of entertainment. While every player will ultimately have the same story unfold and reach the same shattering ending, it’s the choices that you make along the way that will really define the experience. Yes, I won’t be able to alter the course of the story in any drastic way, but when I choose to answer with kindness, and you instead choose to lose your cool, that’s an imprint on my own experience. If I facilitate redemption in a friend, and you elicit anger and frustration, that’s my own imprint. While there are more obvious examples of different courses the player can take, in the end, it’s all of the small interactions that really define the experience.
What’s great about the title is that your decisions are final. You don’t get to explore every dialogue tree, every option. You make a choice, the game moves on, tailoring the next scenes based on your decision. Sometimes, the ramifications are immediate. Other times, you won’t see the consequences until they are called back later.
In my play through, I made some mistakes. But if I could go through again, I wouldn’t change anything, because that was MY experience. Just like the loading screen of the game tells me, this game is shaped by my own decisions, and good or bad, I wouldn’t trade them, because I MADE the story. And in the end, when I was tearing up, that was because of the deeper relationships I forged through my own influence on the game, not by witnessing a static, unchangeable script. It cut deeper, and made a more powerful lasting impression, because that was me.
So yes, The Walking Dead: Season 1 is a game. And it’s the best kind of game, because it pushes the boundaries of how we think of the medium, and reminds us what is possible through gaming’s approach to storytelling.
The Walking Dead: Season 2 was clarified to be coming out this year, rather than 2014 as previously reported, and thank god for that. I can’t wait to see what other stories, characters, and soul-crushing decisions I’ll have to make in season 2. In the meantime, if you haven’t gotten a chance to check out the five episodes of the original, do it. It’s a gaming experience that anyone even remotely interested in the medium should have.
I give The Walking Dead: Season One five super depressing zombies out of five.