19th June 2013
I recently interrupted my play-through of resident evil 6 to complete the walking dead video game. Late last year, my brother mentioned the walking dead to me and while I had heard of it elsewhere, hadn't actually watched it. I told my brother that I would pick it up in the new year, figuring that if it was as good as my bro thought it was, I'd want to experience the whole thing properly and start the series, read the comics and play the games at the same time... oh and I should also chick in listening to a podcast about the show at the same time. This is, more or less, my main entertainment at the moment, and boy is it worth it.
I actually wanted to say a little about the show and comics first, just to give a bit more context on where I am coming from. the show is an ultimately very entertaining if flawed take on the zombie genre and is, for the most part very well acted and with strong, well defined characters. the comic handles the broader social questions around morality more deftly, and places greater emphasis on dialogue than you might think. And personally, i think podcasts are a great way to get some interesting debate with an active and enthusiastic community out there to discuss tv shows and actors they find both enjoyable and frustrating - for me the discussion adds to the experience (massive shout out to the guys at baldmove for producing a very funny and thorough podcast on the show).
Amidst this mix of TV / Reading and discussion, I also have the game for my iPhone (on which i've actually replaced the screen myself) and its the first game I think I've reviewed on the platform. For me, the iPhones games are for the most part limited and not the sort I invest time in, but the Walking Dead is too good not to include - I didnt just invest time into the game, i invested in the characters, interesting decision and genuinely inventive gameplay.
Onto the game itself, in terms of what I liked and disliked, there are many points of the game that I enjoyed and the complaints are minimal and almost entirely functional. In fact, the only major complaint I can have about the game is the fact that it is sometimes hard to play on the comparatively small iphone screen that makes some of the button presses and views awkward. This complaint however is entirely forgivable once you start actually playing the game itself, so enjoyable is it.
1. The Characters are well defined, interesting and excellently voice acted
Each and every character you come across in the game is nuanced and believable and the game allows you to interact with them more or less, how much you want to. The central duo of Clementine and Lee (the playable charactereach have an interesting back story and have a character arc stronger than certain parts of the series. Clementine in particular is a fully realised and developed person who you are encouraged to protect, given her vulnerability as a 8 year old girl in the zombie apocalypse end of the world scenario, but you can also choose to train her in using a gun to help defend herself. Lee's character is tragic in a very classic way - the anti hero with a troubled past but driven to do the right thing through a new sense of purpose in Clementine. Both are excellently acted, with Clementine in particular believable and perfect for the character throughout. Thats not to say the supporting cast aren't good - there are many great performances with characters you can chose to side with, victimize, develop relationships with and, on occasions chose between life and death. I'll discuss the decisions in a moment, but what makes the key decisions your character has to make about them so tough. The game is paced perfectly around critical decisions that are unique to the game but fit in well with the walking dead universe.
2. Decisions Decisions
Decisions are at the heart of the walking dead gameplay, though the mechanics and outcomes from them are cleverly disguised in the games mechanics. I mean, I really enjoyed 2 things specifically about the decision making. firstly, they felt like big choices, that is whether or not people lived or died - you can, not to spoil the game, decide at certain parts who to side with, how to kill and even how to kill them. This feels extremely involving and creates a great sense of immersion in the game, even though I played it on an iPhone screen. The second point around decisions is the context you get from the wider gaming community. I wouldn't say that this changes anything fundamental about the game per se, but it does shape how you view your character and the way you play through the game. So, for example, if you play through the game taking a cold hard approach to everything and everyone, you'll not only find yourself alienated from the characters in the game, the likely hood is that you'll find out that you're also making decisions that are in the minority compared to those of otherg gamers. Like i say, I am not sure that it adds depth to the game, but crowd sourcing fellow gamers decision making data and using it to provide context to your own gameplay experience was a stroke of genius that only served to add emotional weight to the game. Personally, I loved both the decision arcs and context and rarely have I felt so involved with a game on an smartphone.
3. The structure - perfect for a handheld device
The overriding feeling I have about the walking dead is that it was just designed, written and acted really well, right down to the developers clearly taking into account the device it was being played on. I know it was released for the iphone, xbox 360 and PS3, but for me the 5 act & supporting chapter structure worked perfectly for a portable device. Each smaller chapter took me around 20 - 30 mins to play through (perfect for travelling / remembering where to come back to) and there were always nice natural break points where a pause or exiting of the game worked well. The game by now means looked or felt held back being played on a smart phone (with one minor complaint) and indeed felt as well planned out as any big budget commercial game with even pacing followed by suitable climaxes. There is even an element of predictability that I would say was a strength of the game - because of the 5 5 act + smaller chapters, you kind of get to know when the peaks are likely to arrive and so, working out when to pause and come back is usually very easy. For a portable game this is crucial, as you wont want to be playing the climax of the chapter right before you are due to navigate the tube at Waterloo - you want a degree of knowledge about when may be a good time to break, and the games fairly simple structure generally makes this obvious, in a very good way and I really do mean it when I say this is undeniably the best game I've played for the iphone or any hand held (with the possible exception of peacewalker on the PSP).
What didn't I like - really not much. The only issues I really had were around functionality - having your screen double as your controller does restrict the view (naturally) which can be a pain and the touch screen sensitivity occasionally goes out the window and mis-interprets your controls, but hey, that's life. If I was being very harsh, I'd say that while the game is a great point and click, some of the action elements feel tacked on - the shooting isn't really that great when you have to do it and there are a couple of moments where the games jerk from narrative to action doesn't quite hit the right notes, but these are minor criticisms.
All in all, this is a great game that I wouldn't have been disappointed paying full price for, but at £12 for 5 episodes, its an absolute bargain and a minor technical marvel given the quality of the game on an iPhone, both in terms of plot, acting, graphics and game play.
I also think the game benefited from the bold decision to script it largely outside the TV shows universe - there are a couple of cameos (no spoilers), but the game is both solid in its ties to the shows main themes (isolation, lack of purpose, protection) but distinct in its portrayal of them to feel like a new experience in a recognisable game world.
This is one of those games I cant really rate highly enough - fun to play, satisfying to complete and interesting to think about, you cant ask for much more from a top quality hand held game that is in no way held back by the platform I played it on.
I'd give this a solid A - recommended to play, whether you love the show or not...
Dont get bit...