This year has been one heck of a year for Telltale Games, a developer unknown to many players until the release of its Walking Dead series this year. The game has defied conventional wisdom in almost every way, topping it all off with a Game Of The Year award at the 2012 VGA’s (among others). An award that was well deserved I might add. The game was originally released as a download only title, but this Tuesday all 5 episodes will be released to retail and will no doubt enchant another wave of fans.
Telltale’s The Walking Dead was not perfect, the early episodes were marred by delays and lack of communication and then there was the save bug. What the game did do is prove that even though huge budget blockbusters still dominate today’s gaming landscape, there is room for something different. It proved that even though we all love innovative gameplay systems and over the top action, there is still no substitution for a simple yet effective gamplay mechanic and an exceptional story. The Walking Dead’s simple yet effective gameplay mechanism made the game approachable for causual gamers and its action and heartwrenching drama made it a favorite of even the most hardcore gamer. Ultimately, it says quite a lot that in a year that we saw blockbuster followups and conclusions to franchises like Halo, Call Of Duty, Mass Effect and Assassin’s Creed just to name a few, a brand new IP could beat all them out for the VGA’s GOTY award. I know that a lot of people are skeptical about the gaming press, with many thinking that we are nothing more than complicit players in the pockets of big publishers and developers, but the overwhelming success of The Walking Dead should tell you that is not as true as some might think.
There was no huge budget or million dollar advertising campaign behind Telltale’s The Walking Dead, no good old fashion word of mouth shot the game to heights normally not seen by games of its humble origins. Telltale’s The Walking Dead was brilliant, the right amount of action and drama, it stayed true to the core franchise, and pulled players in and refused to let go. There can’t be a single person that played the entire 5 episode series and didn’t absolutely love it, that didn’t find themselves being sympathetic for someone at one moment and then wondering if they were a monster the next. The game forced players to make some absolutely brutal decision and then it made you live with those decisions through out the entirety of the game. I’m no huge fan of the zombie apocalypse genre, but ultimately the decisions in this game forced players to look inside and think what they would do to survive if the world all of a sudden went to hell in a handbag. Some people tried to make all the “right” decisions and some players played the rogue, but many of us just tried to draw from our own internal morals and beliefs. Personally, I’m not one of those people that thinks the world is black and white, I think that its much more a shade of gray than anything else. I think if I looked back at all my choices in The Walking Dead, I would say that I made the choices that I thought were best, there weren’t always “good” but that didn’t necessarily make them bad either, in a lot of instances they just…were.
When I found out that each episode of The Walking Dead would have a different writer I was concerned but ultimately it all came together. Telltale Games has already confirmed that they will be doing a Season 2 of The Walking Dead but I’m not necessarily thrilled at the thought of that. I know that smaller developers rarely get huge this like this and they have to capitalize while they can but Season 1 of The Walking Dead was lightning in a bottle and I’m just not sure you can catch that twice. Players are going to have HUGE expectations, so large in fact I’m not sure Telltale Games could meet them no matter how great the second season is. They’ll always compare it to beautifully depressing first season. I’m mean, we cared about Lee and Clementine because it was this isolated adventure happening, you didn’t feel forced to care you were just compelled. If they start stamping these out like clockwork, I think there is a risk that you lose the magic. I suppose though there is an opportunity to do it like a TV show, one great season a year and then its gone.
Regardless to how any additional games in the franchise turn out, this first season was something special and I am happy to have had an opportunity to experience it. If you haven’t played the game, take my advice and pick it up, you won’t be sorry.