In a world desolated by ravaged beings, feverish chaos and countless, grueling deaths, one might question where any significant peace could come from. Telltale Games, though, sought to answer this question and shape an entire experience around “peace amidst chaos,” and they did just that with The Walking Dead: The Game in a way we’ve never seen before in a zombie title: a little girl. Yes, a simple, yet complex relationship between a prison-bound protagonist and an innocent little girl crafted a thrill-ride that’s undoubtedly anything less than Game of the Year. Some may still ask how or why, but when you sit down in this world and meet these characters, you quickly find out how Telltale Games shaped the way you play games.
Without spoiling much, The Walking Dead: The Game opens in a similar way to other zombie titles: normalcy. Lee, a soon-to-be prisoner, is being hauled in a police car when a “walker” totals the car. After a significant amount of confusion on Lee’s part, he becomes aware that something has gone horribly wrong, so he seeks out a nearby town for answers. Unfortunately, yet thankfully at the same time, Lee finds more distress before meeting a scared, shy little girl named Clementine. With humanity in pandemonium, the two seek out survivors, as the game begins to unravel itself out.
On their journey they meet countless survivors, groups and dead bodies. Many of these strangers soon become friends, or at least counterparts wishing to stay alive, as they’re expedition takes them from the fields and woods of the south, to the deadly streets of Savannah. Throughout this, Lee’s faced with protecting “Clem,” as he likes to call her, while looking out for others whom may or may not have their best interests in mind. Characters come and go, decisions are gut-fully made, and your ending truly becomes your ending, shaped by every single decision made throughout the game.
This is The Walking Dead: The Game, but writing about it barely does the game justice. It’s an experience that must be faced firsthand, because it truly is Game of the Year worthy. How, you ask? From an outsider’s perspective, it’s a game with little player interaction in terms of gameplay, which is a fact we’ve come to be comfortable with in the zombie spectrum of games. But creating your story is what The Walking Dead is all about. Every decision – decisions that range from rationing out food to select party members, to saving specific characters from an attack – shapes your story in countless ways, whether that be who walks side-by-side with you into the next episode, or how that character behaves during a future event. This fact isn’t groundbreaking in this industry, but it’s never been elevated to such importance as it has with this title, and to be frank, it’s been done to perfection.
And as we hinted towards at the beginning of this editorial, The Walking Dead: The Game truly is all about Lee and Clementine. Their relationship begins almost awkwardly, as Clementine barely trusts Lee (rightfully so), but realizes he’s her only savior at this time. At this point in the game, she’s innocent; immune and unfamiliar with the world that has “gone to hell.” This aspect is easily visible, as she’s always at Lee’s side, clinging to his leg. But interestingly enough, as Clementine becomes “indifferent” to the events around her, she evolves into a character that can defend herself and survive amidst any situation. This is only done by Lee’s care and attention, though, and this fact is a shining spot in the narrative that never becomes predictable or even comfortable. By the end credits of Episode 5: “No Time Left,” Lee can rightfully be perceived as Clementine’s father – a father who’d do anything in his daughter’s best interest to keep her alive. This fact closes emotionally, but it’s worth every second of the ride.
In 700 words, it’s difficult to tell you why The Walking Dead: The Game is Game of the Year, but we’d shout it from the highest of heights to sell you on this fact. It’s a game marked by emotion and relationships. A game where zombies take a backseat to the decisions and behaviors of characters both new and old. A game that shouldn’t be missed by anyone. Telltale Games have crafted a gem that’s impact will certainly be felt for years to come, as downloadable titles load up to duke it out with the “big boys” in gaming – a gem that’ll leave you in tears (trust us).
You can follow Tate Steinlage’s every day life that includes college, Sporting KC, and yes, gaming @SteinlageT.