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Sunday, March 09, 2014

Review: Telltale Games The Walking Dead Season 1 (PS Vita)

I got The Walking Dead as part of my PS Vita package. However, the loading times for the game was so long and the loading frequency was so high that I gave up, only to restart again when The Wolf Among Us persuaded me to give it another shot.

Just as with The Wolf Among Us, The Walking Dead is an old style point and click interactive adventure. It claims that the game adapts to the choices you make, and that your decisions can affect the rest of the game down stream. This is true, but only to a very limited extent. For instance, characters will remember the decisions, speeches, and actions that affected them and talk to you about them later. Sometimes, you might have to choose between rescuing one person or the other, and that decision will carry over to the next episode. However, the combinatorial explosion from providing a fully branching story-line would be too much even for the 2.5GB of storage the game consumes on your memory card, so the game cheats.

The problem with this cheating is that it robs you of the game's promise, and it's particularly obvious during emotionally tense moments of the game. For instance, episode 3 has a mystery that the player solves very quickly by meta-gaming: there's one character you're not allowed to interview or accuse, and of course, that character did it. Well, that's frustrating by itself, since there's a reveal in episode 4 and you're supposed to be surprised. But the worst thing about this set up is that the result is that one of the characters you saved previously is shot and killed instead, and another character is left behind. It's one thing to be not smart enough to solve the mystery, it's another to not be allowed to solve the mystery even when you know what happened and who to accuse.

If this was an isolated event, I'd be inclined to forgive and forget. But something extremely similar happens in the last episode, where despite your pleading to the contrary, the plot moves ahead and removes agency from you. Now, you'll note that I was more than happy to forgive and forget Uncharted 2 or The Last of Us despite both games being essentially linear with zero control over the story, but The Walking Dead kept reminding me at the start of each episode (there are 5 in total, plus a 6th collection of related short stories) that I'm constantly reminded of the failure to fulfill that promise. Furthermore, both those afore-mentioned games are primarily action games which do their jobs really well.

The Walking Dead, however, is full of technical glitches, at least on the Vita. The game frequently stutters, sometimes even loops, and has unsatisfying controls. If you use the touch screen controls, you don't get to selection actions on objects when you touch them, but at least the "action" portion of the games like shooting zombies is easily achievable. If you use the joystick controls and buttons, you have much finer control of the action, but the "action" portion of the games (like in episode 4) are virtually unachievable, taking me upwards of 6 tries. This would be fine if the game allowed you to use both interfaces at once, but no, you have to pick one or the other and can't switch during the episode.

In any case, I cannot recommend this game for anyone other than die-hard fans of the comic books or TV series. The story is decent, and many have reviewed the game as having a better story than the TV series, which saves me the time of having to ever watch the TV series. Even for those die-hard fans, I would suggest either the PS3 version or the PC version, with the PC version preferred for $8.50. If you can wait for a steam sale you can get the games for under $5. The reviews for the game online are nothing short of stellar (and Sony believes those reviews, since it created a bundle for the holidays), but for this reviewer anyway, I felt the premise of the game was not delivered because of the technical problems and the ham-fisted approach to plot. Not recommended.

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