So I’ve given you a comparison of the key differences between The Walking Dead Telltale Adventure game and The Walking Dead AMC TV Series. Now it’s time to take the game and examine it under the fine microscope of objectivity. Okay not really, no one can really objectively examine something as subjective as an entertainment and artistic medium, but let’s just look at the game on its own merits. Let’s pretend there is no comic series or TV show and see how the Walking Dead works as its own story. Like the zombies in the game, it’s time to tear our way into the juicy, wriggling guts of The Walking Dead’s body and feast upon its delicious storytelling elements.
Telltale’s The Walking Dead:
A Storyteller’s Review
Like most good stories, the characters are what really hold this game together and makes it such a compelling drama. Lee, Clementine, Kenny and his family, Carley, Lily; they all have their own personalities and history. They’re all incredibly well rounded, and just when you think you can put them into a specific character trope, they do something to surprise you. The characters feel real because they act real, their actions speak louder than their words.
Take Lee for instance, when we meet him he’s on his way to jail for an unknown crime and we barely get a chance to figure out who this person is before they go crashing into a zombie. Now here’s where the character’s reactions become key to my sympathizing with him; when Lee has to take the keys to his handcuffs off the now half-eaten sheriff, he is completely freaked out. In most zombie games and movies, it takes the main character a grand total of one minute to freak out before turning into a zombie-killing machine. Even in Exit Humanity, which I really enjoyed, the protagonist goes from mourning widower to an unstoppable harbinger of zombie-doom in a rather short amount of time. Lee getting panicky and short of breath while trying to take the keys off a dead man is exactly how I would react in that situation, okay maybe in my case there would be more crying and wet pants, but the fact that I can relate with Lee’s reaction makes me care about his character a lot more than someone who kills zombies for relaxation. Of course the real star of the game is Clementine, and her actions are ultimately what make us love her.
Her dialogue suggests that she’s much like any other girl her age; a bit shy around strangers, loves her parents, and doesn’t like it when people are fighting with each other. Yet it’s through her actions that she reveals her true character; an incredibly brave, resourceful and downright cunning girl that has more survival instincts than most of the group. When you first meet Clementine you don’t end up saving her from her zombified babysitter, she saves you.
Yeah, without that hammer Lee would be zombie food. Now look at Clementine, she’s clearly still afraid but she also sees someone else in danger and does her best to try and save him. Someone she doesn’t even know, she risks her life for some guy that just wandered into her house. We can add selfless to her list of character traits. Her actions throughout the game continue to demonstrate her abilities and her character. Whether through her sneaking through an air vent to unlock a door, saving a woman’s life by shooting a zombie right through the head, or simply finding an effective hiding place when shit hits the fan, every action reveals and reinforces facets of her personality.
Which isn’t to say that her dialogue doesn’t have a profound effect on our relationship with her. She speaks like a child, there’s no Cosby-kid dialogue here, and yet she never annoys us with her dialogue. I have got to take my hat off to the writers, because keeping her dialogue authentic while managing to keep her bearable (let’s face it, little kids are usually annoying) was an incredible balancing act they managed to pull off flawlessly. One of my favorite parts is when Lee joins Clementine in a barn where a pregnant cow is about to give birth.
If you didn’t laugh, or at least crack a smile at that, then I’m sorry but something has sucked all the joy out of your body and you have my sympathy. It’s a sweet, hilarious reminder that even amidst the carnage and destruction of a zombie apocalypse, kids will be kids. Clementine will still do stupid stuff because hell, that’s what kids are supposed to do! I fell in love with Clementine’s character, and that’s why I shared such a bond with Lee’s character, because we were both prepared to do anything to protect her.
When Lily went on a paranoid witchhunt to find a traitor in the group, shooting Carley through the head without any evidence or even a proper questioning performed, I ditched that woman on the road. She was a danger to the group, and more importantly, a danger to Clementine. Later when the group is trapped at the top of a bell tower by a horde of zombies and one of the group is dangling from the staircase, I chose to let him go, because the delay needed to rescue him was too great a risk. And when Lee gets bitten by a zombie, I chose for him to chop his own arm off to try and stem the infection, because damn it, Clementine needs us! That’s what made this game such an incredible experience, the attachment with Clementine was a powerful one.
Of course The Walking Dead, as incredible as it is, still has its problems. Episode 4 and 5 I felt suffered from a few problems that did detract from the overall greatness of the game. For episodes 1-3 I felt like all the situations were authentic, natural extensions of the story and the experiences of the group. Finding shelter at the motel, trying to find food at the farm, moving the camp and hopping on a train were all scenarios that were believable in the context of the story. Unfortunately at the end of episode 3 it’s revealed that someone has been secretly talking to Clementine through her walkie-talkie, and see this just brings up uncomfortable questions. How did he get the frequency? Where did he get his walkie? Why the hell is he following the group around? Better yet, how? Our group has been chased by several large herds at this point, how is this guy not zombie food already?
I’ll go into the suspension of disbelief in a different post, but here’s the gist of it; this works like a magic trick, to get us to suspend our disbelief, all you have to do is give us something else to look at and not call our attention to logical inconsistencies. The great characters and story are what made it so easy to suspend my disbelief, but having this sudden walkie-talkie villain appear calls my attention to the absolutely absurdity of his existence. It’s like watching a great action scene in a movie, only to have a scientist cut into the shot midway through and explain why every happening on screen could never occur in real life. His original appearance was bad enough, but when we see his parked car outside a hotel in zombie-infested Savannah we’re forced to question everything. How did he keep up with a moving train that’s being trailed by a horde of zombies? Why didn’t the zombies swarm the car when it arrived? How did he get from the car into the building without being eaten?
I’m willing to let a lot of ridiculous stuff slide for the sake of a good story, but the Walkie villain was just dangled in front of me and begged me to try and explain his existence. Still, in the grand scheme of things, this sudden appearance doesn’t detract from the overall enjoyment of the game. It’s more of a mild hiccup, and the fourth and fifth episodes are filled with great moments and touching scenes.
In the end only one thing matters: Clementine, and her story concludes in a way that will reach into your tear ducts and rip the tears from your eyes. After escaping our inexplicable villain, Lee, now succumbing to the zombie bite’s infection is dragged into a jewelry store by Clementine. The main door is now jammed and the only way out is through a locked door, but Lee is out of time. He knows he could turn into one of the Walking Dead at any moment, he can’t help Clementine anymore. And that’s when you realize that the journey was never about Lee, it was never about saving Clementine.
It was about teaching Clementine to save herself, to give her the knowledge and wisdom to survive in a hostile new world.
With some help from Lee, who kicks her a weapon when the zombie is about ready to chew her legs open, Clementine completes her journey.
Then it’s time for Clementine to do something for us; she has to let us go. Lee is on his way out and in a few minutes he’ll be a clawing, undead monstrosity just like the ones outside. Lee is chained to a radiator by his remaining hand so he can’t do it himself.
I was given a choice, I could have let Clementine walk away and leave Lee to turn into a zombie. I could have spared her the pain of shooting the man who has become her surrogate father. I couldn’t. Lee deserved better, and in the end, so did Clementine. They both needed to say goodbye, and keep Clementine’s last image of Lee from being him as a walker.
Telltale’s The Walking Dead is an incredible experience and a prime example of how video games can not only craft incredible stories, but get the audience involved in those stories to an extent that no other medium can. I high recommend everyone pick this game up, because it’s a journey that you’ll never regret taking.