DO NOT READ THIS IF YOU HAVEN'T BEATEN THE EPISODE YET.
First of all, before I say anything else, I want to give a HUGE
thank you to the Telltale Team for tirelessly working overtime to fix the issues surrounding the game's release, and for giving a free Steam key when all else failed. I may have been really critical of Telltale lately, but there isn't a single other game company out there that cares more about its fans, so thank you. Now go get some sleep.
Anyway, after BttF and JP being such letdowns, I wasn't going into this game particularly optimistic. Maybe it's just that my expectations were so low, but overall I was pleased.
For starters, the writing was great, although you can say that about every Telltale game (even the bad ones!). Telltale's always been really good when it comes to getting an emotional reaction out of the player, whether it's laughing your ass off at Sam and Max or feeling bad for a young Emmett Brown, so it was pretty interesting seeing what they'd come up with in an M-Rated environment. Stuff like having to repeatedly swing an axe into your brother is...creative, to say the least. There aren't a lot of games that force you to perform acts of violence but make you feel uncomfortable about it (I guess GTA4 could count, maybe), so props to Telltale for venturing into mostly unexplored territory. I also found myself liking all the characters too (except Lilly's dad. Fuck that guy
The game's nice, graphically. Telltale found a decent middle-ground between cartoony and realistic that mostly avoids the issues with both styles. The sets were incredible as well, I should add. I don't think Telltale's ever put this much detail in their backgrounds before. And Jared Emerson-Johnson's music is great as always.
Now onto the real meat of the matter, the gameplay. Like Jurassic Park, this is an interactive movie. Unlike Jurassic Park, this is an interactive movie done right.
While you're still sort of moving on rails through the path the game sets out for you, they give just enough freedom along the way to keep the player engaged. Also, that whole motel scene was just incredible. Probably the best Telltale moment since the fight with Charlie Ho-Tep.
I'd also like to discuss the non-linearity this game loved to use as a selling point. Now, this is obviously a nice idea since it allows the player some freedom. One of my gripes with JP (and to a lesser extent BttF) was scrapping the Sam and Max-style dialogue trees and instead having these long...dialogue sequences, where you're forced to pick something to say and you can't backtrack. This was especially irritating because it usually didn't even matter what you picked, and the game would move forward regardless. (Hell, sometimes they'd even say the exact same line, no matter what option you picked.) In adventure games, progress should happen by solving puzzles, and a "puzzle" that solves itself no matter what is...well, it's just a crappy puzzle. Anyway, The Walking Dead does a huge improvement on these "dialogue sequences" by having what you say matter...and giving you a limited time to answer. Suddenly, these once-boring scenes can get pretty tense.
At the same time, though, I get the feeling in the long run this game might not be quite as non-linear as Telltale claims. It's kind of hard to judge this when there's only one episode so far, but I'd like to point out the incident on Hershel's farm. I chose to save Shawn, yet despite my choice Shawn died and Duck lived. It seems pretty clear that, no matter what you pick, you're going to follow the same basic story with a few minor differences. I was sort of expecting there'd be an opportunity for some huge deviations, to the point that Episode 5 would be a completely different game for everyone who played it. But to be fair, that kind of game would be difficult for even a big-budget developer to do, much less a smaller one like Telltale, so I won't complain too much.
Is there any other negative stuff I should bring up? ...Well, I miss point-and-click adventure games. I guess I shouldn't hold it against The Walking Dead for being something completely different, though. "It's not an adventure game!" was a valid complaint with BttF because it tried to be one but failed, and it was a valid complaint with Jurassic Park because the new direction that game took was just plain abysmal, but with The Walking Dead...yeah, I guess I can't fault it too much. If I raise a big stink about how it's not an adventure game, I guess I'd be as bad as the 13-year-old kids whining about how it's not an FPS. Still, I do hope Telltale gives us something more...traditional soon. I guess there's always King's Quest.
Oh, and the Steam achievements are really uncreative. They're all progress-related. Come on, how about something you need to go a little out of your way for? I guess the achievement whores out there will like it, though.
Anyway, so far I'm liking this a lot.
Easily the best game Telltale's done since The Devil's Playhouse. Eagerly looking forward to the other episodes.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to deal with something far scarier than a zombie outbreak...finals week.