Game Review | The Walking Dead | Season 1 | Overview
Season Summary: In a world devastated by the undead, a convicted criminal is given a second chance at life when he comes across a little girl named Clementine. (IMDb)
In my opinion, The Walking Dead was where Telltale Games hit their stride and they’ve had an extraordinary streak of high-quality, narrative-driven games ever since, matched only by The Wolf Among Us.
In fact, it’s so good that the only real criticism is something that I know many people have complained about with the TV show too: it’s just so bleak and depressing. It really does verge on misery porn at times and can be a struggle to keep going.
Now this isn’t too big a deal for a TV show, where the action will continue as long as you sit there and watch it, but can prove draining in a game where your actions are what drive the story and lead to the plot moving forward.
The lighter and/or more cathartic moments are so sparse that it can feel like a chore at times to keep plugging away at a story that seems to be trying its best to cause depression in the player. The thing is, this is exactly the reason why the central relationship between Lee and Clem works so well.
Because the world is so crappy, and the people in it even crappier, their genuine affection for each other grounds them perfectly, making the player able to empathise with them far more easily than any of the rest of the cast. A lot of the game’s rare humour comes from little interactions between the pair, as do the majority of the tender, heart-warming moments.
And it’s this central relationship that will determine how much you like The Walking Dead, because the rest is just flat out miserable. It’s very effective at setting the tone and providing a consistent atmosphere throughout the season, but it might be best to take a break between episodes to do something a little more fun.
The only other criticisms are more general Telltale issues that are still present in later games: yes, the cartoon/comic book art style looks great in still shots, but the animation quality is generally not great (bar the majority of facial expressions, which certainly sell the emotions in the voice-acting).
Then there’s issue with seemingly random control prompts for certain sequences, with other similar sequences – sometimes within the same episode – having completely different controls. Similar to something like Life is Strange, this feels like a deliberate design decision to induce stress in the player by mixing things up rather than keeping some consistency.
The problem is that the stress is from frustration with the game mechanics, not the situation or the narrative, which breaks any immersion or suspense of disbelief. Maybe they couldn’t write their way out of a particular spot or they just thought this was the best option – either way, it feels a little cheap.
Despite what seems like a lot of complaints, everything else not mentioned is excellent. The score perfectly fits the world; the characters are all distinct individuals, with their own personalities and the performances to match; and the emotional moments really, really work.
The Walking Dead's first season is a fantastic story, restricted only by the limits of its gameplay, with some wonderful characters that should be known – and loved – by as wide an audience as possible. Lee Everett is one of the best protagonists in gaming and I can’t wait to see what happens next with Clementine – I just hope season two lives up to the same standards.