The Walking Dead is a point-and-click with some free roaming drama that unfolds over 5 installments, each 90 minutes to three hours long. Lee, a convicted felon, is on his way to prison in the back of a police car when the zombie apocalypse hits Georgia. “Well, I reckon you didn’t do it then,” are the opening lines. Four dialogue options appear on the screen and you have a few seconds to select how Lee responds.
In that moment The Walking Dead begins and interactive tale that draws you in like few games do. The story that unfolds over the next 12-15 hours may be largely out of your hands, but the decisions you make for Lee determine what kind of man he is and how he faces the challenges ahead. In a character-driven story, these are the important choices. They will haunt you long after you complete the last chapter. This is what makes The Walking Dead an outstanding and memorable title.
Reasons to play it
Rare opportunity for emotional investment
It is the zombie apocalypse and you can tell right from the start that Lee does not own a bug-out bag. In fact, I’m pretty sure Lee doesn’t even know what a bug-out bag is. Lee meets Clementine, an independent 8-year old girl and you follow their journey through a world where very few humans are still alive. The tone is set by the emotional decisions and moral choices you make. Sometimes, it is up to you to decide who lives and who dies, who deserves saving and who doesn’t. Not everybody can be saved and choices are often mutually exclusive – you don’t have food for everyone, you can’t save everyone, helping one person may alienate another. Most of the time, there isn’t a right or a wrong decision, just a list of people and how important their survival is to you. The Walking Dead isn’t about zombies, but humanity and how far people are willing to go to survive.
Lee walks a tight-rope, performing the biggest balancing act of his life whilst desperately trying to stay alive and protect this little girl nobody else is looking out for. It is an emotional roller coaster with profound intensity. Even when you don’t want to keep playing, you will because you need to know how it ends. Lee’s emotional journey is also your emotional journey.
Room for Improvement
Clumsy old fashioned controls
The point and click controls are clumsy and difficult to use. The clickable hot spots can be arbitrary and sometimes completely misses the mark, appearing next to the object instead of on top of it and quite often on top of something else. For example, the icon is over a set of steps, but clicking on them begins the dialogue with a character standing next to the steps. It is a confusing and frustrating limitation.
The Quick Time Events are thankfully infrequent, but it is unfortunate that they are there at all. Mashing buttons that pop-up on the screen does not add to the tension or involve the player in the action. QTEs are a barrier to accessibility and detract from the action instead of adding to it.
For PC, bizarrely, the mouse and keyboard controls emulate the controller’s analog stick and it makes the mouse sluggish and difficult to control even on full sensitivity.
On-screen commands automatically switch on detection of inputs. If you are playing with a controller, any tiny movement of the desk and mouse can result in the game detecting the mouse and the controls displayed then switch automatically from controller to mouse keys. This is a small irritation most of the time, but if you happen to move your mouse a fraction in the middle of a QTE, it suddenly displays keyboard keys. The QTE buttons are randomized A, X, B, Y buttons, so you don’t know which buttons to push if the display on the screen tells you its Q and E.
A small niggle and common place in all dialogue heavy games that allows you choice in the conversation, but I expected more from a story this well written. The dialogue can be amazing, but occasionally doesn’t work, particularly for more in-depth conversations. The first conversation wheel lets you choose which topic to open with. For example, ask them how they are doing, make small talk or dive in with the serious thing you came to tell them. If you ease into the conversation logically – ask how they are doing, make some small talk, then tell them, it works beautifully, but decide to tell them the big news immediately and it becomes artificial as the same puzzle pieces remain, but now in a jumbled order. You just revealed something very important, but when you ask them how they are doing, they still provide the same answer in the same emotional tone that doesn’t show the impact of what you just said.
Photophobia (Light Sensitivity)
The cel-shading art of The Walking Dead is visually accessible and exquisite. It does not use flash or flicker and in 15 hours of gameplay I never experienced any problematic scenes. It is a beautiful well-drawn world and although there are some day/night light variations, these are never bothersome.
The camera movement is smooth and takes on a third person view when you are in control of the character. The cut-scenes are easy to watch and I did not experience any motion sickness.
Low Vision and Visual Field Defects
The user interface is minimal and when present easy too see with large white icons indicating interactive elements. The contrast is occasionally not high enough and the white icon over a light coloured object is harder to spot, but this is rare. It can be played with low vision or visual field defects as the action rarely relies on visual elements and when it does, indicators are large and clear.
Colour Blindness (Colour Vision Deficiency)
The game mechanics do not rely on the use of colour alone. The only obvious use of colour are for subtitles and the read hue of death. Each character’s dialogue is in a different colour. A red hue saturates the screen when Lee’s life is in danger and it increases when he is injured until it finally fades to black if he dies. The use of colour is not particularly pertinent and there are no health bars or any other colour-based elements.
- Graphics Options include “low, medium, high” settings for graphics quality, shadow quality and texture quality.
- An On/off option is available for Aftereffects and Anti-aliasing.
- Brightness can be adjusted on a 1 – 10 scale.
- It can be played on Full screen or Windowed Mode.
- Resolution can be set through a drop down menu with a list of options.
Subtitles & Closed captioning
The Walking Dead is fully subtitled with each character’s lines in a different colour, but the action is not closed captioned.
Reliance on auditory cues
The Walking Dead can be played without sound with little reliance on audio-only cues, but some of the atmosphere is lost due to the lack of closed captions. Zombies are audible when close by and the sound grows louder as they approach. In a title where the emotional intensity is one of the major attractions of the game, it does make it a little less intense when that audio build-up is absent. It is not a very big detractor as the visual impact is still primary and most of the action, drama and emotions are conveyed through the art and dialogue that is completely accessible.
The audio for the game can be adjusted through three independent sliders controlling Voice, Music and Sound.
All the controls of The Walking Dead, even the dialogue wheel, is timed. If you miss the timer, the decision is made for you, which removes some of your control of the game, but missing the cues does not prevent you from continuing to play.
Life-and-death situations are often depicted in Quick Time Events and this creates a significant barrier for anyone who lacks the ability to react quick enough. There is no way around the QTEs, if you fail, you usually die and have to repeat the sequence until you succeed.
Precision (Manual Dexterity)
Some precision is required to play The Walking Dead. Quick Time Events include moving a sluggish and swerving reticule to the appropriate spot on the screen. Although the mouse sensitivity can be adjusted in the options menu, it remains soupy and difficult to control. The punishment for failing is minimal, you die and reload at the start of the event, which helps, but you have to eventually succeed in order to progress. The precision requirement will be particularly obvious for anyone who lack precise muscular control as aresult of partial paralysis, tremors, spasms or involuntary movement.
The story takes place in five episodes each taking 90 minutes to three hours to complete. You can pause at any time, but you cannot stop at any point. The save system is antiquated, making use of check-point only saving that can be few and far between. As a result, you can loose a lot of progress if the game crashes or if you have to quit before reaching a save point.
Complexity of Controls
The controls are simple and easy to use. Movement is with the WASD keys or left analog stick on the controller. Actions are chosen either with the ABXY buttons, mouse scroll and click or numerical keyboard hot keys, numbers 1 – 4. The QTE events will ask you to mash Q on the keyboard then hit E once to complete or randomly select ABXY on the controller to mash and then a different key to complete. There is no requirement to hold down more than one key at a time, nor are there any complicated sequences to master.
The Quick Time Events are uncommon, but unavoidable. If you struggle to mash keys, you can use a macro to do it for you, so that you only have to press Q once to start and then press Q again to stop, making it more accessible.
- No key mapping is available in-game.
- Full screen and windowed mode supported.
- Mouse sensitivity can be adjusted in the Gameplay Settings Menu on a scale of 1 – 10, however, as the mouse emulates the analog stick, even ramping it up to 10 still leaves you with a sluggish mouse.
The Walking Dead is a story driven action horror that rests heavily on extensive dialogue. The vocabulary used is not particularly difficult, but there is a time limit to responses that introduce a requirement for a certain reading speed level. It is very accessible for anyone who struggles to process spoken language thanks to the subtitles, but less accessible if you struggle with written language.
There are no audio for dialogue options and it is on a timer. The visual representation of the dialogue choices are in an unnumbered drop-down list form, whilst the controller options are in a radial pattern (see pictures below).
The only memory requirement is remembering the story arc and which decisions you have made. Personal relationships develop and some decisions you make will either cause other characters to hold a grudge or feel a sense of loyalty and as there is often the opportunity to smooth things over later on, it is important to remember when you offend someone.
The five installments were released weeks to months apart and comes with a “Previously on…” and “Next time on…” segments that really help to jog your memory.
Calculations and Currency
There are no calculations, math or currency in The Walking Dead. It is completely accessible to anyone with discalculia or math-related problems or aversions.
Complexity and Support
The story is not particularly difficult to follow, but keeping track of your relationships with various characters does make it more complicated.
The controls and game mechanics are simplistic and easy to master.
At the start of the game, an option pop-ups that allows you to choose the display style. Play on Standard and receive “more help from UI and feedback when you make important choices” or play on minimal which “Turn off hints, help and choice notification.”
Navigating your way around the usually small areas can be a little confusing. Options open up based on triggers and it is not always clear how to continue. I was stuck in the pharmacy in Episode One for quite a while trying to find a way out. I was suppose to talk to one of the characters to trigger a cut scene that would automatically transport Lee outside, instead I was looking for a weapon to break the lock off the door.
It is a single player only title, but the whole game revolves around the relationships you have and build with other characters. Help is available if you struggle to negotiate the emotional minefield characters create. The other characters in your party often give you hints about what to do next, i.e. “I think you should talk to Lilly” or “Come see me when you have a minute”. If a decision you make affects a relationship and you are playing on the “standard” display style, a message will appear letting you know that the character will remember your decision. If you made the wrong decision, you can reload an earlier save for a do-over if you want to, but continuing without trying to be perfect created an awkward but well-meaning Lee for me that I liked a whole lot more than the perfectionist I wanted him to be.
Although the plot revolves around characterization, there is not any right or wrong choices that can be made. There is not the punishment of a dreary ending if you play it “wrong” or the reward of a happy ending if you get it right. Lee can side with one side or another, he can to defuse volatile situations or he can stand by quietly and not get involved. Whichever choices you make, you are guaranteed a heart-wrenching tale of love and loss.
Two display styles are available:
- Standard: “More help from UI and feedback when you make important choices.”
- Minimal: “Turn off UI hints, help and choice notification.”
The Walking Dead is best played alone in a dark room with a headset that pipes the shuffling of dead feet right into your ears. It is not what you expect it to be. It is not a horror story with made-me-jump moments, it is not an action-based shooter where you can’t reload fast enough, it doesn’t have many puzzles and the two or three that there is makes you wish that there wasn’t any. It is a story about a man who doesn’t have any useful survival skills trying to save a little girl from the end of the world. The controls are clumsy, the free-roaming pockets boxed in by invisible walls makes it feel constrained, but none of its flaws are able to take away the emotional impact of the story and its characters. You feel for Lee and little Clementine who had to grow up awfully fast. The Walking Dead may stumble, but the fantastic storytelling set in a beautiful comic-style world with very human characters, make up for its flaws.
[stars rating=”4″ type=”Game”]