The Walking Dead
by Diego Beltrami
The Walking Dead, the emotional rollercoaster that no one could stop talking about. Based on the Comics by -my dreaded- Robert Kirkman.*
After hearing how it was constantly lauded for its story and narrative I wanted to try it for myself. Much to my surprise my initial reaction was of disappointment. The story wasn’t good at all. It was quite generic even.
I guess it was a most unfortunate choice playing this right after The Stanley Parable. This is a game that relies much on the same mechanics that Galactic Cafe plays with on The Stanley Parable so I was very much aware of the strings the game was puling and the carrot in front of my that was supposed to keep me going. The game isn’t subtle, and if you’re familiar with the tropes you can clearly see when the game is trying to lead you on one path. Maybe it’s trying to make you like some character, so you know he or she will later do something ugly or die or when a character is acting like an ass it will obviously turn out to be right. It doesn’t do much to revert tropes or play with them in different ways, it just goes with it. What’s worst you can tell that a lot of the times the big choice that the game puts in front of you won’t have a long term impact, it will never change the story significantly so I know that if I save certain character instead of another, that character will die anyway sooner or later. There is no real danger, you’re the main protagonist, so anything dangerous will either end up solving itself or worse case scenario you’ll have to reload.
So I continued playing, feeling the same indifference towards it until suddenly something just clicked. The story might seem dull and obvious, but that’s because the story is mostly that. But the interesting part of game isn’t the story it’s the relationships between characters and their reactions to the choices. The Walking Dead has some of the most believable human characters in a game of its kind. All of them have their personalities well defined, with all their nuances and quirks. They’re not just stereotypes or blank pages waiting to be filled by the necessities of the narrative. And these are the basis for their reactions to the player choices. And these reactions are all logical, some might be unpredictable at the time but they’re still coherent to their characters.
The emotional moments that people laud it for are there, only not in the great scheme of things, they’re in the small details, in the conversations after the aftermath of some terrible occurrence. When characters can show their vulnerabilities and the writing just shows them like real people faced with a reality that overwhelms them. There’s when The Walking Dead truly shines as its own thing. Sadly -or maybe it’s just because of it- the overall story is so generic and the game so simple and straightforward that it ends up being a nice experience, not the earth shattering storytelling revolution game of the year the hype machine created.
At the end of the day, while the game didn’t rock my world and I’m not much interested in the sequel, I enjoyed my time with The Walking Dead and I think it is an experience worth having.
* Kirkman took over writing duties in Ultimate X-Men and butchered it in his first number. For a more down to earth, serious and with permanent consequences take on X-Men, he revived characters long -and quite definitely- dead, introduced time travel and a lot of the ridiculous shenanigans for which comics are infamous about. All of which the Ultimate universe was trying to avoid. That’s why I don’t like his work.
** Credit where it’s due: Image from here