Game Picks: 'The Walking Dead'

CorrespondentJanuary 3, 2013 

In the gaming world, one of 2012’s big success stories was “The Walking Dead,” the zombie apocalypse title based on the same comic book series that spawned the hit TV show. Good stories rarely stay confined to their original medium anymore – books become movies, comics becomes games, and everything becomes merchandized.

But when “The Walking Dead” debuted as a downloadable game early last year, it was a strange specimen indeed. Zombie games have traditionally been developed as gory first-person shooters or as tactical games. But “Dead” was an old-fashioned point-and-click adventure game, a genre that has its roots in ancient text-based adventure games from the 1970s. “Dead” placed the emphasis squarely on characterization and storytelling. And, like old-timey radio or TV serials, the game was released in cliffhanger installments. As the game gradually rolled out, it became a huge success, making many top 10 lists for best games of the year.

The good news for patient gamers is that all five episodes have now been collected in a retail console package with “The Walking Dead” (PS3, X360; $29.99; rated M). As with TV shows on DVD, the appeal here is that you can binge on the story all at once, without that annoying wait between episodes.

The story: You play as Lee Everett, a university professor with a dark secret from his past. When the zombie apocalypse descends, Lee becomes a father figure to orphaned six-year-old Clementine. Together, the two try to survive deadly zombie attacks along with other survivors who come and go. Mostly, they go. Bloodily.

Strategy trumps combat

Unlike most zombie games, the combat elements are minimal and used mostly to ratchet up the tension. During quick-time events, Lee may have to fend off a zombie or two (or 40) with gun or fire ax. But mostly the game is concerned with character interaction and problem-solving. Each decision you make impacts subsequent choices, and will determine other characters’ actions.

For instance, Lee can choose early on whether to be honest about his troubled past, or try to conceal it. The other survivors keep close track of Lee’s story. If the deception is uncovered, Lee might find the others unwilling to help at critical moments – like when the ravenous undead try to chew off his arm.

The point-and-click graphic approach has its strengths and weaknesses. Because each scene is assembled like a graphic novel panel, the artwork is composed and deliberate. The game looks great. But this also means that movement and camera control is limited. You can’t wander outside the borders of the frame, although some panning and scanning techniques help a bit.

The game incorporates elements from both the TV show and the comic book series, so you’ll run into some familiar locations and characters, such as Hershel’s Farm and pizza-delivery-guy turned hero Glenn Rhee. Otherwise, the story and characters are entirely original and admirably well-developed. Dialogue and voice acting are superb.

Grim even for a zombie game

Be forewarned: Even for a zombie game, “The Walking Dead” is extremely grim. It’s not just the blood and guts, although there is plenty of that. The developers have set up multiple plot points where Lee must choose the lesser of two or more evils. Saving one friend often means abandoning another to a fate that is worse than death. This raises the emotional stakes, but it can make for a disturbing gaming experience. “The Walking Dead” is most definitely for grown-ups only.

Coming Soon: The gaming industry pretty much takes the holidays off – but look for January releases like the hack-n-slash “Devil May Cry” (PC, PS3, X360), the Japanese online brawler “Anarchy Reigns” and the stealth FPS “Sniper 2: Ghost Warrior” (multiple platforms).

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