The Walking Dead is a tool to bilk money from the over-emotional: A ten hour smoke and mirrors act whose gameplay hook is a massive con trick which is calculatedly designed to flummox the easily manipulated punter who has no idea about game design and garner the game far more critical praise for its non-existent “Branching storyline” than it deserves from lazy critics who lack the time to properly dissect it or the energy to fight against the tide of baa-ing me-too fans.
…is what I’ve said about The Walking Dead for months, because it would irritate Kevin from The Mature Gamer Podcast. Now that I’ve actually played the game, it’s time to sit down and have a look at what I really think of it.
Perhaps it would be best to backpeddle a bit. For the last few months, I have been enthralled by the flapping gumholes of Kevin and Sheepdog of The Mature Gamer as they argued this one back and forth. Sheepdog insisted that nothing you could actually do in the game would affect the plot outcomes you ended up with apart from a few very simple binary choices. Kevin’s position was that the game was a labyrinthine masterpiece and that everyone who disparaged it was as evil and wrong as Mister Noseybonk from the 1980s educational show Jigsaw.
Have you Youtubed “Noseybonk?” It’s OK, go ahead, I’ll wait. Good.
Now, it should be pointed out that I was not particularly invested in either of their opinions. Neither Kevin nor Sheepdog are in any way naturally qualified to pontificate on the zombie apocalypse as both would be eaten within 12 hours of the initial incursion; Kevin by the survivors after trying to declare himself leader of everything, and Sheepdog by the walkers after getting the sleeve of his coat caught on a doorknob during a quicktime event. The point here was that someone was wrong, and it couldn’t be both of them.
Bouncy’s perspective throughout the whole drama was “It’s good. Go and try it. It’s a good game.” However, I am from the internet, where rationality and reservedness are kryptonite and “Who is wrong and what penalties will be devised and enforced against them” is a social dynamic.
Now, first my opinion of the game. The Walking Dead is so good – SO good – that the only real failing you can level at it is that it begins so strongly that it can’t keep its momentum going over the whole thing. Chapter 1 is a really strong opener to the series, chapter 2 does an incredible job of building tension and features a genuinely frightening climax, and chapter three is a slow, drawn out punishment in which many awful things happen and you end up feeling beaten up, emotionally raw and pretty much exhausted.
After this, the wheels come off the zombie train a bit. The whole point of The Walking Dead as a franchise is that the title refers to the survivors, not the walkers, and this point fades into the background. Episodes 4 and 5 spend their time telegraphing two big bads, one of whom never receives any kind of payoff and the other of whom plays out like a goofy deus-ex-machina. Perhaps this reflects the strengths and weaknesses of the original book – fantastic at fine character detail, really dreadful at broad narrative sweeps. Hmm.
As for who was right? Well, The Walking Dead’s plot branching system is overly simple and replays of chapters will leave you feeling cheated and a bit silly that you were worrying so much about protecting one character or the other, so Sheepdog was right. On the other hand, the tiniest choices you make in your interactions with the NPCs will colour and nuance their reactions to you throughout the game, making each playthrough uniquely your own and providing one of the most definitively immersive fusions of gameplay and storytelling ever produced, so Kevin was right.
Most importantly though, playing through the game and over-analysing the effect of each gameplay choice because I cared about the bickering of people on the internet ensured that I couldn’t enjoy any of that, so they were both wrong. You hear that, guys? You’re wrong and you’re awful human beings and you ruined The Walking Dead for me.
TL;DR: What Bouncy said.