Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Play The Walking Dead In Real Time

There really is a zombie invasion. Independent film, interactive gaming, and literature are all overrun with them. And why not? Zombies are fun. They provide a challenge but are easy enough to beat if you're fast on your feet.

But there is a downside that comes with popularity. Not all zombie offerings are equal. Even people who have a passion for them eventually lose patience if they try to sample everything (much like vampires). I try to be cautious despite being curious, looking for things that pay off like Call Of Duty: ZombiesWorld War Z, and The Walking Dead

It was the tie-in to the series that convinced me to give the latest interactive offering a chance. I'm glad I did. The Walking Dead game for the iPad rocks despite the price point that has some people shaking their heads. 

The Walking Dead from Telltale Games rocks.

Based on the comic book by Robert Kirkman, the Walking Dead game from Telltale is an immersive, choice-based adventure that represents an evolution from its other cinematic story lines. The art is sharper, the interface improved, the pacing more fluid, and the experience feels different.

The choices you make matter. Not all them were inset into the game just to carry the story froward. They change things. If you lie to a character or choose to save one person over another, there are consequences, nuances, and subtle changes forever. Some are more important than others.

Some choices that are more visceral than real make the game surprisingly immersive. But even those that don't change an outcome will change how various characters react to and interact with you later.

The storyline is as rich as the comic or television series. 

The story exists in the same universe as the one many people are familiar with. While this game is based on a different group of survivors, they are geographically close enough to each other to allow for cameo appearances.

The primary perspective is provided by Lee Everett. Everett, a university professor convicted of murder, is being transported out of Atlanta to prison when the epidemic starts. From the backseat of the police car, a few exchanges between the police officer and Everett provide some back story.

It also enables you to set the early tone of the experience. You, as Everett, can be reasonably regretful and cooperative or more callous and disinterested. Depending on how you act will dictate what you learn. And then, bam. 

The police officer is too engaged in chatter to notice the first zombie in the game as it ambles across the highway. The impact causes the car to veer off the road. Everett is left dazed, drifting in and out of consciousness. When he comes to, the world is a very different place. Soon, he meets survivors.

Some are new. Some are old friends. Most notably in Episode 1, Everett meets Hershel Greene and his son before Shawn becomes one of the walking dead. He also runs into the always resourceful and likable Glenn, who is traveling to Atlanta in this timeline. Glenn has yet to meet up with what will become the Rick Grimes group.

The Walking Dead game is more story and less kinetic.

If you are familiar with other games by Telltale, like Back To The Future or Jurassic Park, you'll have some sense of the Quick Time event (QTE) environment. The Walking Dead is better, and delivers what seems to be the right amount of length for each episode. Expect about two hours of playtime each.

The story itself is strong enough for anyone feeling starved for the series between season breaks. It has stood on its own as a digital comic. Anyone who plays, however, will be glad there is more. The sense of controlling some character's destiny is entertaining, even if it is limited.

There are a smattering of forgivable setbacks. For instance, if you see a dead police officer, you really want the ability to search for his side arm. You can't unless it's in the script. Weapons and useful items are relatively constricted.

The next most common critique is how the game is being released. Across all platforms, players are anxiously awaiting installments. Episode 2 was just recently released (but not for the iPhone or iPad). Episode 3 might arrive by mid-August.

More troublesome for many iPad and iPhone owners is pricing. The Walking Dead doesn't distinguish between platforms, charging $4.99 for Episode 1 and $14.99 for the bundled preorder, Episodes 2-5. I don't personally have a problem with it given this isn't a stripped down game, but iOS customers are becoming increasingly frustrated by price creep. This one nearly eliminates portable platform savings.

The Walking Dead Game By Telltale Survives 7.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

The most fascinating aspect of the Walking Dead is it is among early entrants in the evolving cinematic game concept. This kind of gaming — balancing an interactive comic, light action, easy puzzles, and psychological depth — seems like this would be a natural fit for the future. It could be especially be great for games based around James Bond or Star Trek.

For portable iOS, The Walking Dead is only compatible with iPad 2 and up or iPhone 3 and up from iTunes. It is also available for the PS3, Xbox 360, and PC/MAC platforms. The Walking Dead [Online Game Codes] can be found on Amazon. My review is based exclusively on the iPhone and iPad experience where it feels natural despite being the last platform.
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