We didn’t vote on a single Game of the Year at BeefJack, but it’s pretty clear what would’ve won it if we had. Ben Ebell, Joannes Truyens, James Haresign, and Sean Cargle explain why The Walking Dead was their favourite game to come out of 2012.
The Walking Dead is one of those games you know is special from the moment you start it. It’s an engaging and emotionally charged adventure game that had me enraptured from start to finish. Though there are lots of zombie games out there, few have nailed the oppressive and bleak atmosphere that makes zombie fiction so interesting. Though the threat of the undead is unyielding, most of the conflict in the game comes from your interactions with other people.
You’ll make friends (or enemies) with your fellow survivors, and those relationships will be tested as you’re constantly faced with tough decisions that have no clear answer. The world of Kirkman’s Walking Dead is a muddy grey where there is no right and wrong. It’s a good thing the game was episodic and I played it over the course of half a year, since a marathon of each episode back to back would probably leave me exhausted and gloomy. These decisions shape the narrative around you in ways that make the game a truly unique experience each time you play through it. There are obviously twists and turns in the story that can’t be avoided, but how I dealt with each one helped give me a sense of control over the narrative.
It is a zombie game, though, so there has to be some conflict that isn’t just group politics and moral dilemmas. The Walking Dead isn’t afraid to get gory and there are some moments in the game where I got squeamish or was even shocked at what I was seeing on-screen. Even as a point-and-click adventure game, the combat and violence is pretty visceral.
The cornerstone of the game is the interaction between Lee Everett and Clementine. Telltale bet the farm on the player forming an emotional attachment with Clementine and it certainly paid off. Their relationship draws players in and refuses to let them go. Clementine becomes such a priority that you’d be surprised what decisions you’ll make just to keep her safe. By the end of the series I was emotionally exhausted, somewhat depressed, and already looking forward to another playthrough.
The Walking Dead is a shockingly good game and I can’t recommend it enough.
I had the honour and pleasure of reviewing all five episodes of The Walking Dead game for BeefJack, so what can I say here that I haven’t already rehashed four times over? It’s perhaps interesting to note that The Walking Dead rates as my Game of the Year despite playing more like an interactive movie. Not that it challenges the notion of what a game is in the same way that a Dear Esther does. It merely stretches it.
What ultimately put The Walking Dead ahead of all other contenders for the top spot is its FPS. I’m not talking about framerate, as it did stutter at times due to Telltale’s penchant for letting technical issues slip through. No, I’m talking about feelings per second. Mass Effect 3, one other contender for the title of Game of the Year, felt it needed to kill a kid within its opening minutes to convey the gravity of the circumstances. The Walking Dead has no such cheap drama; it comes at a high cost in the form of Clementine.
She managed to inform every choice that she was involved in or present for. What I did, I did for her (something Telltale themselves realised with the #ForClementine marketing hashtag). I wanted to preserve her innocence, but at the same time prepare her for a world that would undoubtedly strip it away. Clementine was Lee’s chance at redemption, his moral compass. The kid in Mass Effect 3 just made me wonder why that Reaper didn’t target the Normandy instead. I mean, it was right there.
I digress. Stories in games are often a varnish or an excuse and don’t have the best track record as a result. If they did, The Walking Dead’s tale of Lee and his band of fellow survivors wouldn’t stand out as much as it does. When scrutinised closely, the choices you make don’t have much durable resonance, but that’s not the point. It’s the choices themselves that matter. Each one comes with a time limit and is often looked at harshly in hindsight. Mass Effect 3 allows you to stare into space unblinkingly while you ponderously weigh each moral quandary you’re presented with, making it all the more artificial and hokey.
Because of this and more, The Walking Dead stands as my Game of the Year. Also, I didn’t mean to knock on Mass Effect 3 so much. It did get second place in my top three. Sorry, Dishonored.