Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Zombie Game That's Not Really About Zombies

My brother got me a copy of The Walking Dead, which includes all five of the episodes that were previously released separately.  He said he got it for three reasons: he likes the associated TV show and wanted to borrow it later, it got great reviews, and it advertised a story that is tailored to the choices you make.  This last reason was quite thoughtful, given my interest in games and stories for my thesis!

We started playing right away, and have thus far completed two and a half episodes.  Two interesting observations I've made so far are how much like a game this game isn't, and how it's really not about the zombies.

I say it's not much like a game because there isn't a whole lot of gameplay.  It's said to be a point-and-click adventure game, and it does have many scenes that fit that genre.  But it also has many (many) cut scenes, and any time you have to "fight" a zombie, the buttons sequences demanded of you are pretty amateur compared to most shooter zombie games (which, to be honest, works perfectly well for me!).  There also isn't really any choice outside of the dialog options available to you - everything else is very constrained, right down to the camera angles.  The funny thing is that none of this bothers me at all because the story is so engrossing.

Which brings me to the point about the zombies.  Yes, the premise of the game is that zombies have taken over, making for extreme and dire conditions.  And yes, zombies make appearances, and you even have to fight them off once in a while.  But that isn't really the main point.  It's really about the dynamics of a group trying desperately to survive.  Of the lengths people will go to protect their families. Of the horrors you are suddenly willing to commit given the circumstances.  In other words, it's really about the story.

I think that this game could be a breakthrough.  Although I don't know for sure yet how much the story actually changes according to my choices, it does a great job of making me believe it changes a lot.  This seems to replace my need for gameplay freedom, and makes the many cut scenes interesting instead of boring.   The fact that the game won several awards, including Game of the Year, suggests that even many so-called hard core gamers must agree.  I think this is remarkable, given that The Walking Dead is really more of an interactive cinema experience than a game.

There is hope for the future of interactive storytelling!


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