As the festive periods looms like an iceberg in dark waters, and the thought of buying presents weighs heavy on everyone’s mind, many will turn to glossy gift guides for inspiration. Often supplied by retailers or newspapers, these guides are packed full of ideas, from embroidered aprons to novelty slippers.
This year I noticed a ‘zombie survival experience for 2′ as one of the suggested endowments, offering a day out in Kidderminster braving the zombie apocalypse. The hosts simulating all the attendant discomforts and horrors of the worst kind of end of days.
Somebody obviously still hasn’t discovered Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead, which fulfils a similar function but, crucially, allows you to sit comfortably in the warmth of your own home this Winter – with a hot mug of tea to balance the chill in your spine.
To summarise the story so far, our hero Lee has so far managed to keep himself alive through four episodes, braving hordes of walkers, bandits, cannibals and other crazy leftovers of humanity while journeying through farms, motels, mansions and waterfronts. This final one sees him and his fellow survivors (the party composition depending on decisions you made earlier in the series) desperate to rescue Clementine, their youngest member.
Abducted in the previous instalment, Clementine represents the promise of hope for the group – she is both the moral compass and the possibility of a prospective future for humanity. Adults don’t want to disappoint her, checking their more savage impulses in her presence, and more importantly, refusing to give in to the gnawing worry that there will be no adult society for her to grow up in.
This is why a group of strangers will risk life (and possibly limbs) for someone they barely know. It’s a noble cause, and there’s no doubt that the game keeps the player completely onside by facilitating the choices in conversation and action.
You as the player invest in the events, coveting a safe journey for Lee and crew. Even if upon replaying the game you realise your choices perhaps don’t influence the overall narrative as greatly as Telltale might have us believe.
Like a drunkenly played accordion, the pace swells and contracts in a queasy manner, ratcheting up the tension and pulling no punches as the rescue attempt leads to some horrible realisations. In easily the most harrowing of the series to date, Lee and the survivors find themselves holed up at the mansion once more.
The buoyant promise of escape sliding away in place of a burgeoning sense of dread – knowing the worst is going to happen, but choosing to live through it anyway . Needless to say, there are tough choices to be made at every turn as the series sluices to its end point.
Mechanically, the game remains indebted to point-and-click adventures, spliced with some of the original Resident Evil’s DNA. There’s a simplicity about the control that keeps the story as the main focus, although this means it’s less of a playing game, more of a watching game with occasional interruptions for control.
Having survived through this first season it’s now perhaps possible to critique the series as a whole. While a stand-out piece of storytelling it’s this lack of ultimate control which is perhaps now holding the series back. Hopefully for the next series Telltale will be a bit braver, handing the player more freedom of movement in terms of where they go as well as within the narrative structure.
However, that’s a minor quibble of what is an intense and enjoyable ride, providing excellent value for money. The Walking Dead is a rarity in this gaming climate, and the series as a whole should be cherished both for a refusal to give in to temptation of tooling players up and for its commitment to the emotional experience rather than shock tactics.
That’s not to say there aren’t any surprises, or jump-out-of-seat moments, but they’re enriched by the way they’re embedded in a solid storyline and happen to characters you can actually care about.
So, if you really care about your loved ones, perhaps you could spare them the day freezing to death in Kidderminster and instead of plump for this instead. At least they’ll be warm, even if their spine is chilled…
By Sam Gill
Format: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Price: £20.99 (for 5 episode series)
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games