I’ve been waiting for a decent episodic title for a while now, and having just finished the first Walking Dead TV series on DVD, it seemed a perfect choice of review. By golly, I was actually rather excited by the prospect of The Walking Dead on XBLA. If the TV series was anything to go by (I haven’t read the comic book, nor will I, because comics are for kids), this IP is something that’s treated with a little more respect than most.
If you don’t know about The Walking Dead TV series, it’s about as standard a zombie franchise as you can get. Sweeping all the clichés and stereotypes into a TV series and offering them up with a decent enough story and some pretty nice characterisation, you can’t really go wrong. If you like zombies, and let’s face it who doesn’t, then you’ll enjoy The Walking Dead TV series. I’m careful to choose my words carefully here, as it isn’t brilliant, nor is it groundbreaking. It’s good, that’s all. Don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise. Sure, season two might go off the rails and add something unique, but thus far it’s just good.
But back to the game. In essence, what you get for your 400 points is a small chunk of point-and-click adventure mixed in with QTEs and the odd timed decision in the more dramatic moments. It’s about 3 hours in length and shoehorns in all the clichés you could wish for. I have no problem with the game itself, and this style of ‘poor man’s Heavy Rain’ is not a terrible direction for the franchise to go in. However, the nature of the gameplay is basic in the extreme, leaving the narrative and characterisation to do a lot of the work.
The two aforementioned elements really do hold up the gameplay admirably. Of course there is no real twist on the standard zombie narrative, but in all honesty, why would you want there to be? Zombie-based media is all about predictability and The Walking Dead delivers in spades. Even the characters present, of which there are many, fall into the standard stereotypes like well-oiled cogs and help you enjoy the experience even if you’re not really engaged in the game in any meaningful way.
And I guess that’s the biggest problem you might have with The Walking Dead. As a game, it’s just not very involved. Sure, come the end of episode one, you’re looking forward to finding out what happens to each of the characters, but that doesn’t really reflect on the gameplay. Much of the game feels like a one or two-button interlude before the next cut-scene. While there is action, and a few tense moments, the actual motor functions you’re required to perform change very little. It’s lacking in any real interactivity, and that very much feels like a missed opportunity. There’s no real money shot, as it were. Throughout the first episode I was convinced there would be a tense action sequence toward the end that released the tension built up over the course of the game. It didn’t happen, so you walk away feeling a little unfulfilled.
Apart from going out with a fizzle rather than a pop, the The Walking Dead falls down in that it’s not a TV series. This may sound like a rather obvious point, but in a title that has so much riding on the quality of its cinematics, even the smallest issues become irritating. For example, in dialogue you often have about a second’s gap between answering and the next piece of dialogue. This can, on occasion ruin what is really a rather accomplished script, for a videogame at least.
Even without these elements, there’s much inherent in the genre that simply doesn’t work on a console, or is so retro it feels a little off. The frustration of working out a puzzle only to find that your solution doesn’t work – despite being far more logical than the one the developer decided upon – is just something I’m not into. Now had it taken the genre to another level and introduced a more free-form approach, I would be all for that. It doesn’t though. You do it how you’re supposed to do it, and that’s that.
The only slight point of interest is the decision aspect. Apparently (I say this because I’ve only played through it once), your decisions affect the whole of the rest of the story. Admittedly, thus far those decisions have been about who you save and who you dish out chocolate bars to, but I do hope they have some kind of impact later on.
The Walking Dead isn’t a finished game, so it’s difficult to say with complete confidence how enjoyable the final product will be. However, it’s worth noting that this first episode, while enjoyable, was somewhat underwhelming and when you think that the whole thing will cost you 2,000 points (and possibly more), you begin to question whether it’s really worth it right now. The only real link with the TV series is a few characters that come and go, but they feel entirely unnecessary and the rapidity and unexpected nature of their departure feels forced and mildly irritating. I get there feeling this is one that will be better bought as a bundle and enjoyed in one go. There’s no real benefit to this being episodic, and not really enough content to warrant the 400 points. I still enjoyed the experience though, and ultimately that’s the most important thing.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox 360 code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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