When I first played Telltale’s “The Walking Dead” I wasn’t fully immersed until I was forced to make a complicated decision at the end of episode two. I faced an atypical moral dilemma – kill this guy or don’t kill this guy?
Without spoiling too much, the guy who had put my group (the characters I was starting to love) through hell was finally pinned down by my character, Lee. The guy continued to call Lee weak, even as Lee held a pitchfork over him, but he wasn’t just calling Lee weak – he was calling me weak. I took it personally and killed that character.
Immediately after I did that, it revealed that the young girl, Clementine, the girl who Lee was watching over, saw me shove the pitchfork through this guy’s chest. She looked at me like I was a monster and that infamous title appeared at the top of the screen – “Clementine will remember this.”
We joke about that quote now, but then it literally haunted me.
Telltale’s “The Walking Dead” was considered the best video game of 2012 by multiple publications. The making decisions/receiving consequences format wasn’t anything new, previously popularized by Bioware’s “Knights of the Old Republic” and “Mass Effect.” But like those two titles, “The Walking Dead” worked on so many levels.
Since the first season of “The Walking Dead” Telltale has gone on to produce other games such as “The Wolf Among Us,” “Game of Thrones,” “Tales from the Borderlands,” and a season 2 of “The Walking Dead.”
I’ve played (or have been playing) 3 of those other franchises, and they’re all great. But the emotional manipulation demonstrated in their first “Walking Dead” season was leaps and bounds above the rest.
“Game of Thrones” has been a strong series, the animation hasn’t been as fluid and the loading times have been a bitch on our Xbox 360s, but we’ve still enjoyed it quite a bit. However, I realized while playing episode 5 that I’m not making the decisions I would personally make – I’m making the decisions that I think would create the best story.
“The Walking Dead” had some of the greatest character development in recent video game history. It’s narrative was ruthless, unforgiving, and it wasn’t afraid to linger. In an age where video games are on a constant sugar high, it was refreshing to see such a strong story that compliments its bleak environment with compelling characters and conflict. It fit Telltale’s format perfectly and pulled the video game company out of a huge slump.
In “The Walking Dead” I was Lee. I played it safe at times and tried to make thoughtful decisions constantly. In “Game of Thrones” I just pick what I think will be more interesting, or what fits the character.
You may say this is because “Game of Thrones” bounces between multiple characters and it’s not as personal, and that may be true. But even in Season 2 of “The Walking Dead” and in “The Wolf Among Us” I just kind of acted as a character-writer as opposed to immersing myself wholly in the actual character.
I want to reiterate that I think Telltale hasn’t made a “bad” game yet, but I think it should be noted how smart their kickoff series was with “The Walking Dead.” Smart story, emotionally manipulative, great development of both lead and side characters, and still the best thing with the “Walking Dead” nomenclature in pop culture today.
I can’t wait to play “Tales from the Borderlands” and the final episode of “Game of Thrones.” I will continue playing Telltale games and examining how and why I become invested in the characters I control. Your thoughts?
**Images property of Telltale Games