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The Observer

Case Western Reserve University's independent student news source

The Observer

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The Walking Dead: Award-winning and Gut-wrenching

I’ll say right now that The Walking Dead is not a game for everyone. Based on the comic books of the same name by Robert Kirkman, Telltale Studio’s The Walking Dead is one of the most striking video games of this year. Its story is unapologetically adult and harrowing beyond belief. The game comes at you like a punch to the gut and leaves a lasting impression.

Told in a series of five episodes released over the last year, The Walking Dead follows university professor and escaped convict Lee Everett’s struggle to survive the zombie apocalypse.

Although branded as an adventure game, The Walking Dead leaves many of the normal genre conventions behind. The gameplay isn’t about confusing, lateral thinking puzzles where you need to mix a rubber band with a forked stick to create a slingshot to hit the bird perched onto of a lamppost so it falls onto the button on the other side of a wall you can’t get past. The Walking Dead is about nail biting tension. It’s about scrambling for a shotgun round as a zombie claws its way towards you across the ground. It’s about desperately mashing buttons as your try to free your friend’s leg from a bear trap while the undead, smelling blood, come from miles around. The gameplay transforms usual adventure game mechanics into intense challenges rather than tedious filler and although quick time events are common, they are well handled.

The real core of the game, though, is the story.

The Walking Dead creates a great story by placing an emphasis on player choice. While this may not be the first game to do it, the weight of the decisions you have to make feels makes them feel more real than almost any other game. You make decisions about everything, from who gets a smile and who doesn’t to who lives and you dies. Every little decision you make has some impact on the game. Characters remember what you have done and a decisions you make early on can return to haunt you later.

But there isn’t time to stop and consider your options when faced with one of these choices. Rather than being allowed to stare blankly at another character for minutes on end while you make up your mind, the game gives you only seconds to make some heart-wrenching calls. You are forced to make decisions based on your gut reaction. The result is a harsh and realistic story the game is telling and it makes the player feels it, but also more emotionally charged. You walk away from them feeling shaken and mentally battered, questioning whether or not you made the right call for hours afterwards.

The end result is a story that feels real. The decisions are your own, they aren’t perfect, and you have to live with the consequences. There isn’t a good ending and there isn’t a bad ending, not everyone can live and it is up to you to decide who the lucky few that make it will be.

Its a mature and sobering look at video game story telling. Rather than including a bunch of blood, killing and swearing and calling it mature, The Walking Dead feels mature because it forces the player to be an adult and ask themselves what they really value. It’s an experience unlike any other video game out there and one that will haunt you long after it is over.

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