Video (games) killed the storyteller: Telltale Walking Dead Episode 1
Voice acting & dialogue: 7/10
*SPOILERS AHEAD* (Small trigger warning for child death)
Episodic video games are hard to ignore when writing an ongoing column about storytelling within the gaming industry. An episodic video game is one that is released in parts rather than as a whole and is typically part of a series. Video game add-ons are also included in the definition of episodic video games and are becoming increasingly popular in recent years.
Video game developer Telltale Games has released a number of episodic video games that focus almost entirely on the story of the game rather than the gameplay. My personal favorite is “The Walking Dead” series, an episodic video game series loosely based on the TV series of the same title.
Gameplay is rather simple compared to other games I’ve reviewed in this column. There are a number of “quick time” events where the player must button mash in response to a situation as well as explore the environment to collect information. Other than that, the game focuses primarily on the story and how the characters, and the player’s responses to characters, change the narrative.
The “Walking Dead: Season One” revolves around the concept that the world is overrun by zombies. Compared to other zombie shooters Telltale focuses on the aspects of humanity and the inner struggles of a society within the beginning stages of an apocalyptic scenario.
The game begins with Lee Everett, your character, being arrested and taken to prison. After a car wreck—and a quick encounter with a zombie—Lee wanders into town and meets the second protagonist of the first episode, Clementine. They then begin their epic adventure through a zombie infested, post apocalyptic world and meet a string of new characters throughout.
Hearing voice acting while going from scene to scene with the characters was enjoyable. I have given it a 7/10 because the voice acting was strong, even if the dialogue was sometimes lacking in creativity. Some scenes did feel void of emotion, but I blame the dialogue and not the voice acting as a whole.
The story is one that was harder for me to rate. I feel that a 6.5/10 is a fair rating. These reasons include the lack of creative difference in player choices and the effects of these choices on the world narrative. Interacting with characters is the whole gimmick of “The Walking Dead: Season One,” but the interactions have little sway in how the story plays out.
The first episode of this series is restricted to how the plot will flesh out, even though the game advertises that the player can “choose their own path.” Many times I would interact with a character in a positive manner or save a character from a hoard of zombies; however, regardless of my choice as a player they would still die two minutes after. Characters’ dialogue would remain unchanged despite my choosing to be “mean” toward them. I felt cheated from many scenes, and that is why I’m giving the story a 6.5/10.
The game is hard to digest regarding some of the more emotional scenes. For example there is a scene where a young boy is bitten and your character must decide to kill the now zombified child or convince the child’s father to do it instead. This may be harder for some players to digest and it happens twice within the story. The player can choose to be mean and ruthless or kind and understanding in this scene depending on the dialogue they choose. Because of the graphic content and subject manner in general within “The Walking Dead: Season One,” I give the digestibility an 8/10.
Overall, the storytelling within the game is strong, and I enjoyed it immensely. The question remains, did “The Walking Dead: Season One” kill the storyteller? Not quite, but it did bite the storyteller on the shoulder and turn them into a walker, so they could amble towards an abandoned motel with the rest of the horde.