You steady your gun, aiming down the sights at the screaming girl’s head. Zombies swarm the street, clawing at her writhing body. You know she’ll die, but how long will it take? Your friend screams in your ear, telling you that every one of those things will be coming your way as soon as you fire. But there she is, screaming for mercy. Your finger hesitates on the trigger.
Gamers play as Lee Everett, a black college professor on his way to prison when the cop car he was riding is smashed and he is freed. Within those first hours of chaos, you meet a young girl named Clementine, who quickly becomes the focus of your struggles as you fight to keep her safe in a world gone to hell.
“The Walking Dead” is not fun. Fun is mowing down aliens from the back of a jeep. Fun is throwing turtle shells at other go-kart. This game is a whole different animal. It will ask you questions you never dared ponder, force you into situations you never dreamed of, and seriously smear the lines between right and wrong.
You feel bad when people die. Those people are your friends, sometimes your enemies, plus hoardes and hoardes of zombies. Your actions dictate who lives and who died. You play in a mix of “Mass Effect” style dialogue options, short action prompts, and point-and-click exploration-based puzzles, which come together surprisingly smoothly under the sharp writing, dynamic character design, and stylish cinematography.
The game is set within the comic book universe of “The Walking Dead,” and in doing so, they emulate the darker tone and washed out, cartoonish art design. Though the graphics are far from photorealistic, the animation of the characters is incredibly convincing, particularly the many overlooked or underdone aspects that make facial animation usually just creepy. When Clementine looks up at you with disappointed eyes, the tips of her eyebrows just barely arching upward, you do feel guilt.
Granted, none of these aesthetics would mean anything without the heart-shredding story, delicately paced across the game’s five episodes. Since the game reacts to your decisions, every play-through will be dramatically different. It didn’t truly dawn on me how massive this game is until I spoke to other players and heard their own stories. Though it only takes 10 to 12 hours to beat every episode, there are a ludicrous amount of variables within the story, all revealing a little more of the dense narrative in their own subtle ways.
Another thing the game creators nailed, which embarrassingly few games have ever done correctly, is a realistic black protagonist. Lee Everett doesn’t shout faux-gangster phrases at zombies, he doesn’t reminisce on Sunday church or Momma’s soul food, nor is he a decidedly white character with a politically correct paint job. The writers wrote Lee as a black man, and the characters all feel aware of it, if in their own delicate ways: assumptions are made of his incarceration; someone mistakenly presumes that he can pick locks; and one character gingerly refers to him as “urban.” Nonetheless, Lee is entirely his own character, a Civil War buff with a rough family history and a wry sense of humor.
Do not be fooled though, “The Walking Dead” does have flaws, though they are easy to overlook. At times, the smoke and mirrors fade away and you realize the restrictions of your choices, or the choices you would like don’t exist. Luckily, every dialogue option you have is phrased just right, so at least Lee’s decisions never feel forced. My biggest issue altogether would be with the glitches (I played on the PC version). Some of the transition animations happen in bizarre ways, and at its very worst, the game may delete its own saved data, a crushing defeat in a game based around personal moral decisions. I advise backing up your data between episodes and turning off the cloud syncing option.