Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Shit Gamer’s Review : The Walking Dead

‘The Walking Dead’ has been one of the most talked about video games over the past couple of years, as evidenced by the fact that I had actually heard of it. It consists of five interconnected episodes in which you take the character of Lee Everett, a convicted criminal, as he tries to survive in another zombie apocalypse. For a zombie game there is actually little action, and for an adventure game there are relatively few puzzles; much of the game consists of event scenes and conversations, some of which you have two or three options for choosing what Lee will say. And therein lies the game’s hook – through the words you say and the choices you make, you can influence how the story unfolds. Other characters will react differently, or even live and die, by what you choose to do at each point. It does really feel like watching a TV show in which you get to ‘be’ the main character.

For a shit gamer like me, this style of game is irresistible. Compared to most other games, fighting off the bad guys is a relatively simple task. Jumping across buildings and manoeuvring along ledges requires just a click on a circle, or tapping away on a single key. There are even huge chunks of the game in which I don’t have to make any actions at all. Never in my experience in the gaming world has my lack of dexterity and accuracy in pressing buttons been less punished.

But ah… isn’t there the stress of being able to quickly make the right decisions so as to get the best possible outcome for yourself and your group of survivors? While it is indeed true that watching the timer run down while I try to figure out what the hell I’m going to say did increase the heart rate a little the beauty for me of ‘The Walking Dead’ is that not only does it not punish you if you are a shit gamer, it does not punish you if you are a shit decision maker either (or if you can’t make any decision). The decisions you make will affect the details of the story, but not its general path; regardless of what you do or fail to do you basically end up in the same place.

All of this may sound a bit boring to those who like to have a bit of agency in their gaming, but to me ‘The Walking Dead’ is brilliant. Like the comic and TV show, watching these characters try to survive is absorbing, but you are even more invested in what happens because you feel like part of the group. Actions can have surprising consequences, and you will not know which seemingly innocuous decisions in early episodes will come back to (literally) bite you or your comrades later on. Also, when the whole game takes about ten hours to play, even the worst gamer can feel like an arcade superstar.  And even with a zombie apocalypse, there was still less death than when I play Super Mario Bros. 

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