STAFF REVIEW of The Walking Dead: Season One (Xbox One)

Friday, October 31, 2014.
by Adam Dileva

The Walking Dead: Season One Box art The Walking Dead, originally released in five separate episodes on Xbox Live, is now also available on Xbox One as a download or disc as a compilation of said five episodes along with a bonus episode that tells a slightly different story afterwards. At first I wasn’t sure how well the episodic releases were going to work and affect my interest, as sometimes I just want to power through a game and complete it when I’m able to. After getting through all five, I can understand the episodic delivery method. Sure, waiting at a cliffhanger at the end of each episode for months wasn’t always fun, but that longing and eagerness to find out what’s going to happen plays so well into the story telling of The Walking Dead.

For those unaware of what The Walking Dead is, years ago Robert Kirkman created a graphic novel series named The Walking Dead, which focuses on an epidemic zombie outbreak. Since then the zombie genre has completely exploded in popularity even resulting in The Walking Dead being adapted to an insanely popular TV show and other media formats. For those fans already in the know, The Walking Dead game takes place in the same universe of Rick’s story (it begins while he’s still in a coma) and the graphic novels are canon, but this is a completely different story with completely new characters. If you know your Walking Dead characters (comic or TV show), you will run into a few familiar faces which is a great fan service, but keep in mind this is an alternate story focusing on other survivors.

These days it seems almost too easy to create something with zombies in it and it’ll instantly become a hit, but simply adding zombies to a story will only get you so far if that’s all you focus on. Just like the graphic novels and now TV show, The Walking Dead is incredibly engaging because of the way they truly get you to care about the characters and their outcomes. If you know your craft well enough you’ll create a story about people, desperation, and sacrifice while playing on every emotion available, which just also happens to have zombies in it. This is where Telltale’s The Walking Dead excels and shines beyond anything I ever expected. Telltale has focused on the characters and the human elements of the situations rather than making something strictly about zombies and trying to survive; sometimes survival is only part of the story, and that’s what The Walking Dead will show you. You’ll be given many difficult decisions to undertake and will completely affect others in your group and even their livelihood. One incredibly tough decision after another, you’ll need to do what you can to survive, but you’ll have the hardship of caring for others as well in a world where modern society crumbles and nowhere is seemingly safe for too long.

You are put into the shoes of Lee Everett, hailing from Macon Georgia and a former history professor at the University of Georgia before the outbreak. As the game begins you’re being hauled away from the city in a police car for being a convicted murder, though at first it’s unclear if you’re really a bad guy or not. Aside from the main points of detail, much of Lee’s background is quite vague, though done purposely so that you can fill in those gaps yourself during your travels throughout the five episodes. It’s odd, as Lee is a voiced character with his own quirks, personality, and emotions, but at the same time he’s who you choose him to be with all of the decisions you make throughout the game. If your personality is to be completely shut off to everyone Lee will reflect that. If you decide to be honest and open, that’s a possibility as well. By the time you’re done The Walking Dead you’ll see Lee as almost a reflection of yourself if you’re honest with yourself and choose the options you probably actually would in those impossible situations.

Early on Lee will stumble upon a little eight year old girl named Clementine (who you’ll get to know as Clem) who’s left alone at her home as the outbreak happened. While you’ll play as Lee the whole time, Clem will always be a constant in Lee’s story and even his (and your) decision making when impossible situations arise. I don’t want to delve any further into any of the story as it’s easily the highlight of the game, and if I spoiled anything I would not forgive myself, as I’m glad nothing was spoiled for me. I will say though, that the relationship that Lee and Clem form over time is something that you absolutely need to experience. It’s not often that a character is not only voice acted so well that it’s believable, but the smallest facial emotions that show only add to the believability of these and the rest of the character’s you’ll meet along the way. If you know The Walking Dead graphic novels or TV show, she’s much like Carl where she starts off as a simple kid but is forced to grow up much too quickly . Do you protect her by sheltering her from the evils in the world that you face or do you protect her by teaching her to protect herself in the harsh world they now live in? Decisions like this will be a constant and if it wasn’t for the flawless deliveries from the voice actors, it would not have been as gripping of a tale that it truly is.

You’ll meet a variety of survivors along your travels, some of which will stick around for the whole journey, where others will not make it as far as you might expect. You’ll constantly be making life and death choices, either direct or indirectly, and once you get a few episodes in, there are some seriously difficult choices that you’ll have to make and you might even question yourself as I did, wondering if that’s what you actually would do in that situation and if it was really the right thing to do. The choices you make carry weight and aren’t as simple as ‘good’ or ‘bad’; almost every choice seems to fall into that grey area. Quite often I had a logical reason for choosing what I did, but sometimes it’s not as simple as that and you need to choose the lesser of two evils and then justify it to yourself. From the very beginning you’re completely hooked by the tale that unfolds in front of Lee and it doesn’t let go of your attention until the credits roll in the final episode. You’ll experience tragedy, fear, relief, shock, anger, and almost any other emotion you can think of. The Walking Dead is a sad story that will weigh heavy on you even after you’re done playing. Lee and Clem won’t be forgotten for quite some time and I’ll be remembering them for years to come.

I may be painting The Walking Dead as simply a decision making game, and while that’s true to a point, and where the game carries its weight, it’s also an adventure game, though not probably what you might expect from Telltale Games. You’ll be able to move Lee around freely and there will be puzzles to solve but the real game mechanics is the ‘choose your own adventure’ style of gameplay. The left stick will control Lee’s movement and the right is a reticule that will show pop ups and interactions on it when hovered over appropriate objects, people, or zombies. In the later episodes there will be times where you’ll have to shoot walkers and having to line up your shots, and while these may feel a little out of place since these sequences are so few, it’s just another tool Telltale uses to catch you off guard and keep your attention.

As you interact with other survivors, dialogue choices will appear on screen, usually with timers so that you can’t sit and lull it over and over analyze. You’re given just a few seconds to read the responses and make your initial reaction to the circumstance at hand. You make your choice and the game moves on, no second chances are given. Every choice you make will adapt the story as you progress, and it’s completely possible to affect the outcome of others in the following episodes. Regardless of how you decide, your choices are going to add up over Lee’s journey and could add even more tension later on. You may not see the ramifications of some of your decisions right away, but there’s always a price to pay to keep balance in the world.

It’s odd, but the walkers don’t even always seem like the biggest threat to Lee and his group; sure they play a part in the overall tension and lack of safety, but the true tension comes from interacting with other people. Some people handle bad situations with stride while others don’t. You deal with fellow survivors, bandits, and walkers; how you decide to deal with each situation will sometimes show you something in yourself you may not have expected; I know it did with me. It can become a heavy burden, knowing that no matter what you do and choose, not everyone will survive, regardless of your intentions and best efforts.

After finishing The Walking Dead Season 1 it felt like Telltale tapped into almost every emotion possible throughout my story of Lee and Clementine. As I got half way through on my second game, making completely different decisions to see the different outcomes it became apparent that while you’re given many choices, the major core plot points are always going to be forced on you in some way. This isn’t a bad thing considering the level of writing and voice acting, but don’t expect a drastically different outcome for Lee and Clem at the end of it all the second time around; you’re still going from point A to B, but the journey in between may be slightly different. That being said, please play through it at least twice, as I found my second go a much tougher time, as I was TRYING to be a jerk instead of the selfless hero, but still found myself gravitating to my natural instincts even though I knew the outcome. Sure the critics will say it contains the “illusion of choice” since the outcome will essentially be the same, but it’s not always about the end, it’s about the journey, the relationships you build and emotions you experience with the choices you’re forced to make.

While some may not enjoy the controls or the ‘interactive story’ element, I believe it suited this story and game mechanics perfectly. The writing and acting is done to absolute perfection, the story truthfully moved me and there were even two specific moments where my jaw literally hung open as I whispered “oh my god” to myself. It’s very difficult for a game to get you so invested in its characters and story in such a short amount of time; Telltale has done this to perfection. Even the short lived characters are memorable and I replayed the game a second time just so I could visit with them once more.

I’ll come right out and say it; The Walking Dead made me cry. It’s been a very long time since a video game has been able to do that to me. The Walking Dead is perfectly paced, keeps you wanting to move forward but doesn’t give you time to fully process and deal with what heavy moral decisions you’ve made at the same time. Lee, Clementine, and Kenny are now some of the most memorable characters I’ve ever interacted with in a video game and they will be remembered for many years from here on.

If you’re previously played Season 1 on Xbox 360 or elsewhere, you’re well aware of the technical issues the game had. Frame issues, loading issues, and other small things, that didn’t break the game, but could take you out of the immersion at times. I was hoping that the jump to the new hardware would alleviate some of these problems, but alas, they only have been partially quelled. Frame rate issues still exists, but they are far less frequent, and when they do occur, it’s far less prominent and distracting than it used to be. Load times are improved and there’s no longer any late loads, but again, it’s vastly improved, but not completely fixed. Lastly, it seems as if they lighting has been greatly improved, as some scenes looked much sharper and realistic with ‘natural’ light filling the room or shining through the windows. Again, while not perfect or any major optimization, it’s improved from its previous versions and regardless of these technical issues, the story telling is so masterful that it can be overlooked and this is easily the best version of the game to date.

If you’ve never played the game before, you NEED to experience it, simple as that. I’m very particular with my words, and I don’t normally throw around “must” and “need”, but you must and need to play the Walking Dead Season 1. I’ve only given out a perfect score once before, coincidentally enough, for this same game on Xbox 360, and this one is improved, so scoring it was simple. I’ve never had a game engulf so many of my emotions so deeply before and show me how I really am as a person inside if I was actually playing out these scenarios. The Walking Dead Season 1 was, and still is, one of my favorite games of all time, and I’m so glad I get to finally play it on Xbox One.

Overall: 10.0 / 10
Gameplay: 10.0 / 10
Visuals: 10.0 / 10
Sound: 10.0 / 10


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