[The fifth episode of Walking Dead: The Game, “No Time Left,” is now out and available across iPhone and iPad. It’s a $4.99 download, and it’s the last episode of the first “season” of the series. It’s a heart wrenching, beautiful episode and a superb ending to a fantastic series of games that work extremely well on touch devices. If you haven’t seen any of the games yet, we’ve prepared something of a primer for you that explores what this series is and if it’s any good. Spoiler: it’s awesome.]
Walking Dead: The Game is a five-part episodic game series produced by Telltale Games, a studio that has a pretty good track record when it comes to adventure games like the Walking Dead is. You’d figure this series is just a cash-in on a super hot property, but it’s totally not. Instead, it’s an interesting and faithful take on the universe with superb writing bolstering otherwise solid production values. If you’ve ever wanted to experience the world of Walking Dead first-hand, this is how you should do it.
In the game, you play as a guy named Lee. He’s a convict who escapes a cop just as the zombie apocalypse begins outside of Atlanta, Georgia. In the lead episodes of the series, Lee is more of a vehicle than a defined character. The decisions you make as him are ultimately the ones you’d make. Later, Lee becomes unquestionably a decent guy who is interested in one thing: saving a curly haired, adorable little girl named Clementine. The two meet early on in the first episode and Lee keeps her close to his side throughout the series as he travels around the southern countryside.
The bond between Clementine and Lee grows as the series moves along and there’s a good chance you’ll develop one of those weird video game emotional bonds with her, too. She is written scarily well. She’s an innocent in a broken world, both curious and cautious, scared and excitable, but ultimately she’s just a kid: frail, naive, and accident prone.
In the Walking Dead comics, a common theme is the rapid-fire degeneration of people in a world that no longer has any rules. In violent bursts of viscera and noise, the people in the comics break. They flip-flop or do uncharacteristic things. In Walking Dead: The Game, this theme runs deep. The people in the game become fractured, miserable little things as the fractured, miserable little world they now inhabit feeds on them. It’s neat to watch unfold, as horrible as that sounds.
There’s no relationship in the games as intense as, say, Rick and Shane’s race to emotionally cripple each other in the comics or TV series, but no episode in the game backs away from people and their emotions. How Lee, Clementine, and the rest of the group Lee assembles react and cope are what these games are all about — and it’s the strongest point of overall design. This series also runs alongside the events of the comic books, so you’ll see familiar faces and places. This is pretty cool, too, as it’s just rare enough to feel special.
Choice is an important idea to Walking Dead: The Game and you’ll make a lot of them via menu and dialogue bubbles. When people speak to Lee or a situation that demands his attention comes up, you’ll get the option to respond as Lee. Sometimes, the choice is as simple as choosing to learn more about what is currently going on. Other times, you’ll have to choose between the life and death of a member of your party. The easiest decisions are directional: where should you go next or what do you think the group should do next?
The promise of Walking Dead: The Game is that all your choices — from the simplest to choosing to let a party member die or sacrifice himself — will have an impact on the overall story being told. Every episode remembers the choices you make and each new one takes that data into account. In some ways, your story in Walking Dead is unique, but only in the way that a Choose Your Own Adventure story feels unique. There are definite, in-stone narrative moments in this series, but you’ll take different branches to get to them. Stare too long or start over too much, and you’ll see the basic structure of how each episode will ultimately pan out. It’s of note though that the illusion is strong and satisfying if you turn your brain off.
There are also adventure game-y sections, often presented awkwardly. You’ll search for levers or a critical object to progress the plot. You’ll also have to shoot zombies in some sections. These often hurt the pacing, and, for the most part, the implementation is poor. As far as video game flaws go, this is pretty fundamental however these sections are easily forgivable because the writing is so strong and the scenarios are so short.
On iPad and iPhone, you’ll swipe and tap for both dialogue and action. The visuals are good, but not as nice as what you’ll see from Walking Dead: The Game on XBLA, PSN, PC, or even Macintosh. The coolest thing about the iOS version of the game is that it’s a much more intimate and convenient way to play the game for those of us who don’t have the time or desire to sit at a keyboard and play.
The app itself is $4.99 and comes with the first episode. Subsequent episodes can be purchased via the “episodes” menu in the game for $4.99 or as a whole for $15. You’ll save a few dollars the latter way.
If you’re a huge fan of Walking Dead, this is an ideal way to experience this universe outside of its other two mediums, TV and comics. Telltale nails what’s important, and isn’t afraid to present the gritty, horribleness of Walking Dead. And the conclusion of the series provides some of the most touching moments in video game history. No joke.
Just a note: Telltale is known for slashing the prices of its App Store games often, so make sure add it to your Wish List if you’re still on the fence.