"The Walking Dead" combines one of the oldest forms of video games with TV serial drama. The resulting sub-genre shows a lot of potential.
"There are no more children and adults, only survivors!" the game says. Image: screenshot: Telltalegames.com
Things aren’t going well for Lee Everett, in the point and click episodic game "The Walking Dead." The condemned convict is being transferred just as the zombie crisis takes its course. After a brief dialogue with the cop at the wheel of the patrol car, the first undead enters the scene – and right in front of the car. When Everett regains consciousness after the accident, the world is a different place. Zombified victims crawl around, first and foremost the sheriff, with whom they just chatted and who now meets his end rudely.
"The Walking Dead" comes from developer Telltale, which has already implemented brands such as "Jurassic Park" or "Back to the Future" as episodic games. The games based on the comic book series by author Robert Kirkman achieved a commercial breakthrough, with the pilot episode selling one million copies in the first three weeks. The company is now expanding, and a second season of the successful series is being planned. Because the combination of serial drama and interaction works. And that’s despite the fact that the comic-like, simple graphic style can’t compete with the glossy graphics of the big gaming blockbusters.
If you start the first episode of the game, you could think that a computer-animated TV series is beginning: Divided into episodes, including opening credits and theme song, the plot leads to the cliffhanger typical of the series, the open ending, at the end of each episode.
The special thing, however, is the way the game is played. Instead of steering the character through a virtual landscape, the player guides a cursor across the screen. Pointing at objects or people with the cursor makes various actions possible by clicking – hence point and click, i.e. "point and press". This genre is the oldest precursor of today’s video games, developed in the early 1980s from text-based, interactive stories on the computer, called interactive fiction.
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Clicking through the zombie apocalypse will present you with tough choices. Am I being honest with strangers? Who do I save the life of, who has to die? All decisions have an impact on the course of the story, the developers promise a "customized experience".
Restless in the living room
For conversations, players choose from preset questions or answers. This is where the script’s biggest weakness becomes apparent. Especially in the last episode, the dialogs flatten out, coming to the point quickly in an effort to give the final chord more pace. Nevertheless, the gameplay skillfully transfers the feeling of restlessness into the living room at home.
Constantly on the run, the player quickly develops an intimate bond with the new protege. Added to this is the bleak, serious basic mood. Transfigured heroism is absent. "There are no more children and adults, only survivors!" is said in a later dialogue.
The great emphasis on plot, characters and their relationships to each other gives new impetus to the genre. Because the stories of many video games are like the stories of effect-laden Hollywood blockbusters: You can get by without them. "The Walking Dead, on the other hand, demands decisions and attentiveness, but offers a largely homemade storyline. This principle of non-linear progression makes the gaming experience more individual. Besides sudden zombie attacks, which can sometimes trigger a screaming frenzy in the players’ living room, this is the great strength of "The Walking Dead".
Episode 5, the season finale, was released last week.