An Ode To Telltale’s 'The Walking Dead’ - One Of The Greatest Video Game Stories Ever Told
Let me set the scene for you. I am typing this with slightly obscured vision, caused by tears. Yes I cry at games - it’s 2019, boys are allowed to weep.
Especially when it comes to a game like Telltale’s The Walking Dead coming to an end… An ending that perfectly summed up what I’ve loved about this series for nearly seven years.
To write a super short paragraph-long review of this episode, streamlined combat and focussed gameplay melts away into the background - revealing a story that does what this game does best, and that is to tell a story you don’t expect, but one that feels ultimately more satisfying than you could have possibly imagined. It seals the developers’ legacy and wraps it in a bow. Simply put, it’s everything you’d want it to be. A fitting end.
But that’s not what I’m writing about, and if you’ve been around on this blog long enough, you may have noticed I do write about this game series a lot - from my review of season one (episode four and five) and the side story 400 Days.
The award-winning tale of Clementine has been one of many twists and turns and depth that grabs you by the neck, refusing to let go until you’ve felt every single emotion possible.
It’s not perfect, as you will die during many of the poorly explained QTE moments, and you will face plenty of texture pop-ins that will suck you out of it at times. But all of this is forgotten in the face of the strongest element of TWD, which I can sum up in one word.
Every choice. Every moment. Every scene. Every line of dialogue. Every single thing feels like it’s done with purpose.
The sheer linearity of the environments and progression give the developers permission to focus on each story development tool with laser precision. Every element to this compound that we call a game feels deliberate. Nothing feels like filler, like a level that’s purely there for the sake of lengthening the game - each section has a storyline-based reason for being.
Your intentions are tested with every action and decision, which causes a chain reaction that falls out of your control. It does what any good entertainment experience does, it gives you a little training in making tough life decisions. There is no such thing as a right or wrong answer, and that is beautifully reflected by a set of choices that rely on your consciousness, rather then whether you want to be the good guy (or not).
So many games have decision trees, but rarely get them right. Take Red Dead Redemption 2 for example - the choices are simply to be a good guy or bad guy in your story. There is really no incentive to be either and to make things so binary without that emotional investment takes you out of it.
In TWD, however, you see the ripple effect of your decisions, which don’t look so clear cut, throughout your relationships with people, with the world around you and with yourself. To have this level of story-based control felt great and still feels great today. I know this method of storytelling has been done to death by Telltale, but I love it. I’m a sucker for single-player games and love a good interactive plot.
And let’s not forget the real world story around it - the demise of Telltale Games themselves in a sea of non-stop crunch time, toxic management and the creative stagnation surrounding making all the games of this similar ilk. It’s a terrible situation for any employee to find themselves in, and as someone who has found himself in similar unnecessarily pressured/toxic workplaces, I have nothing but the highest sympathy for the hardworking developers there.
But it gave birth to a beautiful conclusion to the story, that demonstrates the power of creativity and how you should always put the art first. Skybound came in at the clutch with an investment to finish this story a passionate fanbase had been following for so long. This passion project was brought to a close and the talented team (as well as players) got the closure they deserved.
The Walking Dead has been a catalyst for change in the industry and it established a new level of storytelling prowess. If you haven’t had a chance to place this timeless series, why are you still reading this? Go play it right now.
Thank you for the memories, Still Not Bitten team.