‘Walking Dead’ game will break your heart

Austin American-Statesman - - LIFE & ARTS - By Omar L. Gal­laga ogal­laga@states­man.com “THE WALKING DEAD”

Back in July, we took a look at the first two episodes of “The Walking Dead,” an episodic video game based on the Robert Kirk­man comic, which has also spawned a wildly suc­cess­ful TV show on AMC.

At the time, we said it was a fas­ci­nat­ing workin-progress, a grue­some, taut thriller about trust and no-win de­ci­sions in the face of a zom­bie apoc­a­lypse. Now, a few weeks af­ter the last of five down­load­able episodes re­leased to a stunned video game com­mu­nity, “Walking Dead” is be­ing un­leashed to re­tail as a boxed disc for Xbox 360 and PlayS­ta­tion 3 game con­soles.

Now that we’ve played the en­tire first sea­son of the game and seen how Tell­tale Games’ am­bi­tious story played out, it’s clear that they were go­ing for some­thing much greater than a kill-the­un­dead gorefest or even a master course on choice­and-con­se­quences game de­sign.

Nope, they were out to break our hearts with one of the most wrench­ing, mov­ing nar­ra­tives ever to be told in the medium of video games.

As with the tele­vi­sion show, the story got $30-$70 for Stan­dard or Col­lec­tor’s Edi­tions Rated M for Ma­ture For Xbox 360 and PlayS­ta­tion 3 (also avail­able as dig­i­tal down­loads for PC, Mac and iOS de­vices) bet­ter as it went along, in­creas­ing in power and de­tail as you got to know the main characters and fol­lowed them through ever-grim­mer cir­cum­stances. The TV show has sped up the pace and fi­nally has found the right mix of ac­tion and drama in its third sea­son. The video game, mean­while, draws you in with mem­o­rable characters, tough life-and-death de­ci­sions that af­fect the di­a­logue and ac­tion in the rest of the episodes, and great pro­duc­tion val­ues. It will stand for some time to come as one of the best ex­am­ples of voice act­ing and writ­ing in any re­cent video game.

The char­ac­ter you play, Lee Everett, is a good man with a dark past who makes it his mis­sion to pro­tect Clementine, a young aban­doned girl who’s been hid­ing in a house fight­ing off in­vad­ing zom­bies.

It be­comes clear over time that Lee will do any­thing to save Clementine and re­move any ob­sta­cle to her safety, be it hu­man or zom­bie. Lee’s de­ci­sions on who to trust, where to seek shel­ter and how best to keep Clementine out of dan­ger be­come the heart of the story. By the last episode, Lee and Clementine must make hor­ri­ble choices lead­ing to a heart­break­ing, com­pletely earned con­clu­sion, one un­like any­thing ever pulled off in a video game. Tell­tale’s sto­ry­telling pa­tience and its trust that play­ers would care and come to love Lee and Clementine pays off. To say the game is har­row­ing and that it will likely leave you in tears doesn’t quite com­mu­ni­cate what Tell­tale has been able to do here. They’ve nailed a kind of emo­tional sto­ry­telling that typ­i­cally doesn’t res­onate in games. Some­how, through very smart de­sign, tech­ni­cal artistry and com­mit­ment to the characters (even the mi­nor ones, many of whom end up as zom­bie chow) Tell­tale has cre­ated some­thing truly re­mark­able.

This is a game not just for zom­bie fans, but for any­one who wants to see a great, dra­matic story un­fold. Iron­i­cally, the dig­i­tal game ver­sion of “The Walking Dead” turns out to be the most hu­man­is­tic take on Kirk­man’s zom­bie apoc­a­lypse yet.

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