'Walking Dead' games feed the need for more of the series

jkegley@herald-leader.comAugust 9, 2012 

Fans of AMC's The Walking Dead get a new set of survivors to root for in Telltale's series.

PHOTO COURTESY GAMES PRESS — Photo courtesy Games Press

  • VIDEO GAME REVIEW

    'The Walking Dead: A Telltale Game Series'

    About: This five-part, episodic game series puts you in the shoes of Lee, a convicted criminal trying to find redemption in a world overrun with zombies.

    Players: Single-player

    Pros: The games follow a new, compelling group of survivors in The Walking Dead setting, and more of that narrative is never a bad thing. The game also features a rewarding choice system, where your decisions have lasting consequences.

    Cons: The voice acting is sometimes sketchy, and episode releases can be sporadic.

    Availability and price: Two episodes of the five-part series are available on PC, Mac, Xbox 360 and PS3. One episode is available on iPhone and iPad. Each costs $4.99 individually, or they can be purchased together for a discount.

    ESRB rating: M

    Manifesto's rating: 8.5/10 (PS3)

    Metacritic rating: 8.4/10 (PS3)

There's something missing in your life, whether you know it or not.

That something is despair — the kind of despair that comes with watching a small group of people struggling to survive in a post- apocalyptic, zombie-filled wasteland from the comfort of your living room.

Admit it, since the end of season two of AMC's The Walking Dead, your days seem a little too relaxed. Cheerful. Optimistic, even.

Season three doesn't start until late October, but a five-part series of video games from developer Telltale Games can help you fill the void.

The Walking Dead: A Telltale Game Series will more than fulfill your need for episodic undead goodness until Rick and his crew are back in action. The series puts you in the shoes of a new group of survivors in the setting of The Walking Dead.

If you love the TV show or the comics created by Kentucky native Robert Kirkman, you'll probably be just as smitten with these clever games. Each episode lasts about three hours, so they can be completed in a single evening. You can download the game on pretty much any Internet-connected device, including the iPad.

Knowledge of video games is not required. Even if you've never played a video game in your life, you'll have no problem picking up the simple mechanics in The Walking Dead.

You play as Lee, a natural leader with a murderous past and a knack for survival.

In the two episodes that have been released, it's still not quite clear what Lee did before the rise of the walkers. But the first episode starts at the tail end of civilization as we know it, with Lee in the back of a patrol car being taken to prison.

That is, until a zombie walks into the road, causing a wreck that sets Lee loose in a world that is much more hostile than he remembers.

He wanders into a suburb looking for help and encounters a little girl named Clementine, who has been hiding in a treehouse for days. Lee convinces her to come with him to find safety.

The cast of colorful characters grows from there. I was skeptical at first about the decision to use all new characters in the game, but by the end of the first episode, I found I cared almost as much about Lee and his group as the familiar faces from the show.

It helps that crossover characters, such as Glenn and Hershel, appear in the first episode. But the real credit goes to Telltale Games' knack for storytelling and characterization; each one of Lee's group is compelling in his or her own right.

In fact, I like some characters in the game better than their closest counterparts on the TV show; Clementine, for example, is much less obnoxious and about 10 times as useful as Carl, Rick's young son.

Gameplay consists of walking around, talking to people and figuring stuff out. The gameplay isn't hard to pick up — just point at what you want to do and click it. The game's difficulty comes from the hefty amount of choice it gives the player.

Do you choose to kill people who deserve it or spare them? Do you choose to be honest with everyone or tell white lies to hide the hopelessness of your situation? There are no easy decisions.

Your choices affect the world around you and the way your group perceives and reacts to you.

Sometimes you'll have to choose whose life to save. Don't expect an easy out; whoever you let die will stay dead through the whole series. Their friends won't soon forget your actions.

The game features some genuinely disturbing settings.

Taking their cue from Hershel's farm in the comic and TV show, Lee and his group spend most of the second episode on a dairy farm. However, the dairy farm holds a much more sinister and satisfying secret than Hershel's barn-full-o'-walkers.

I have very few complaints with the Telltale series, though there are a few gripes. The voice acting is sometimes silly, and people who have never read the comics might run into some confusing scenes because the game is officially based on the books rather than the TV show.

My biggest complaint is the sporadic release of the episodes. The first episode was released in April. Telltale initially said one game would be released per month, but the second episode was delayed until the end of June.

On the iPad, only one episode has been released. However, Telltale has since promised more regular episode releases across all platforms. You can buy each episode individually or pre-order all five at a discount.

Again, you don't need to be a fan of video games to get into the series. The developers have done such a good job capturing the soul of the books and TV show that the only requirement for entry is a love for The Walking Dead.

Josh Kegley: (859) 231-3197. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.

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