"Brutal. Beautiful. Brilliant."
As soldiers, warriors, demigods, superheroes, plumbers, donkeys, and countless other adventurers, many of our video gaming experiences task us with playing the executioner - a sentry in charge of dispatching those deemed as villainous, corrupt, demonic or noobs. Superior officers, damsels in distress, loot, revenge, and townsfolk in need of a hero's aid give cause and purpose to our strength, lighting the way for our path of destruction. It's an awesome formula, really, but once in a while a game comes along that challenges gamers to play judge, jury, and executioner. The Walking Dead: The Game pulls this off flawlessly and makes sure that you are looking into the eyes of not only the damned zombies, but those you've condemned as well.
The Walking Dead toys with our instincts as gamers and humans. Lee, in his fight to retain his humanity and heartbeat, becomes the avatar for our instincts. We've been trained as gamers that if we play through the game, we will survive; we will save the day; we will overcome. The Walking Dead offers nibbles at these rosy tomorrows, but it sweeps the rug from underneath, reminding us that Lee is doomed, no matter how well we play the game. The natural response to this is defiance. After all, it's a video game. Surely, there is a way to "win", right? Fighting against this ominous, gruesome fact that Lee will die creates a tension, a war with the game. We know the outcome in our hearts, but we thrash against this inevitability just as we would if real zombies came stomping at the door. If that doesn't reflect Kirkman's The Walking Dead, I don't know what does.
Some games grade players based on kill / death ratio, coins collected, flawless victories, or other devices. The only measuring stick in The Walking Dead: The Game comes at the end when you see statistical charts, showing where your decisions fell in comparison to other players. There is no true victory; there is only Clementine and survival. The look on Clementine's face was the only pot of gold the game offered, and it was just as powerful as any kill streak perk or unlocked costume that other games might offer.
As far as mechanics go, The Walking Dead: The Game wasn't as tightly crafted as others. It emphasized story and character, not twitch reflexes or button-mashing hack-and-slashing. While the game could have benefited from more polished gameplay, the overall effect makes sense. After all, Lee isn't a trained killer or destined marine. He is a survivor, flailing against the overwhelming fright that millions of zombies might offer. That would make any normal man's hand quiver.
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