Monday, September 8, 2014

The Shit Gamer’s Review – ‘The Walking Dead: Season Two’, and ‘The Wolf Among Us’

As someone who is more an expert TV watcher than gamer I was engrossed by Telltale Games’ first instalment of ‘The Walking Dead’ series. Basically, one’s chances of not finishing a Telltale Game are equivalent to not finishing watching a DVD box set – sit there for about ten hours and you will do it. (Though you do feel your gaming abilities may be a tad shit when you die just from not pressing ‘A’ quickly enough.)

However finger dexterity is not the point of Telltale Games; it is being in the centre of the tension, as each action you make and decision you take affects the other characters around you. These are the more colourful, more realised, versions of the ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books, with the added bonus that you get the stats on what adventures other players chose as well.

In the first season of ‘The Walking Dead’ you were Lee Everett, continuously trying to protect the young girl Clementine from hordes of ravenous zombies. In the second season, you take the role of Clementine, a few years older and more hardened, as she joins a new group of survivors. Essentially the gameplay is the same as the first set of episodes - shooting zombies in the head, pushing zombies off you, keeping an eye out for assholes – these are the things that you will have to do again to progress.

One main difference though is that the second season is less reliant on puzzles, and more reliant on simply making dialogue choices than the first season. I am a little conflicted on this development. On one hand, pushing buttons and pulling switches in the first season held up the story when I am impatient to know what comes next at the best of times, but on the other it has made progressing through the game even simpler.

But I think it is not the lack of puzzles that has meant the second season is a small step below the first in quality. I think it is more that I seem to have less of an influence on what is going on around me. For example in the first season the cast of characters in each episode was somewhat different depending on who you had chosen to save. Also, there seem to be less shocks – in the first season, there were incidents I will never forget like the scene outside the van in episode three, and the first entry into Crawford – but I don’t think there was a ‘holy crap!’ moment in season two.

‘The Walking Dead’ may be a victim of its own high standards here, but I have actually preferred playing another recent Telltale adaptation of a comic book series, ‘The Wolf Among Us’, based on DC’s ‘Fables’ series. The main premise of ‘Fables’ is that the characters of fairy tales, nursery rhymes, and other public domain stories have been driven out of their homelands and have built an exile community in modern-day New York.

In ‘The Wolf Among Us’ you play as Bigby Wolf, aka The Big Bad Wolf, who is now in human form and the Sheriff of Fabletown. The game has amped up the detective/noir aspects of the comic book series, both in atmosphere and in plot, with Bigby trying to solve a series of murders. The villains, all taken from fairy tales and such, are excellent, particularly the terrifying Bloody Mary, who can emerge suddenly from mirrors to kick your ass.

Your chances of dying in ‘The Wolf Among Us’ are essentially non-existent; even if you fail to press ‘W’ or ‘A’ a few times you can generally recover to win the fight. The main ‘challenge’ here, in terms of gameplay, is choosing the order in which to do things; scenes can play out somewhat differently depending on the choices you make, more akin to the first season of ‘Walking Dead’.

So as far as being games, neither ‘The Walking Dead’ or ‘The Wolf Among Us’ are all that difficult. Yet I have enjoyed ‘The Walking Dead’ games more than all but a few issues of that series, and probably more than all the TV episodes, while I loved ‘The Wolf Among Us’ more than all but the best couple of ‘Fables’ storylines. Perhaps these titles should be thought less of as games and more of as a new form of graphic storytelling, which takes you out of the ‘flat’, passive, two-dimensional world of traditional comics, and gives you the chance to determine – at least to some extent – the actions of the characters yourselves (which, to be frank, is what many comic book fans want to do anyway). If that is the case then I can’t say I mind, particularly since the games are no more expensive than a trade paperback anyway. 

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