The Walking Dead won’t ask much from you, technically. There really aren’t any puzzles. The controls are easy to pick up, and any action is limited to quick time events. It won’t ask you to choose between difficulty levels, or offer you a hardcore mode. It’s not hard.
The Walking Dead will ask you for your soul. It’ll ask how much value you place on a human life, and if that value can be ripped away. You’ll be given the powers of life and death, in some cases, and in other encounters that power will be stripped from you without ceremony. You’ll see monsters, and maybe you’ll be one. It’s debilitating.
Split up into episodes, Telltale has produced a powerful piece of sequential storytelling. Taken as a whole? It’s a keystone, a story lodged permanently both in my brain and that of the greater games consciousness.
The Walking Dead’s structure might not offer as many tentacles as a Mass Effect or KOTOR. You’ll see the same dialogue options, that conversation as gameplay (sans those pesky, binary morality systems), but with the heft of a tailored narrative. In a game like Mass Effect, you feel like the center of gravity, like you have the power to influence the arc of every character around you—and the universe itself. But in The Walking Dead, as just one desperate survivor among many, it almost feels like other players are clicking through their own dialogue options behind each character. Systems spin in conjunction with—and often splinter against—your own. The story finds the same major beats each time, but the path is twisted and personal.
One of the reasons these characters feel so much like real people is the superb writing. Voices and delivery are thick with personality, and each one is drawn bold without sliding into archetype. Kenny is a brash, stubborn family man. Lilly, wracked with insecurity, tries to stay strong and keep everyone equal. Clementine is sweet with a spine of steel.
And Lee, the player character, is who you want him to be. He’s defined by his past just enough to give you a framework to which you bolt your own moralities and priorities. There’s plenty of room to see yourself reflected in his words, his actions, and the marks he leaves on what’s left of the world.
The presentation gives the game’s heart a perfect skin. Cel-shaded graphics call back to the comics and offer a bold, vibrant vision of the post-apocalypse. Settings are decorated with little details and given clear boundaries. The voice acting is incredible, and the remaining sound design subtly supports each scene—at its most effective when it empties out the world and leaves you with silence.
Like I said at the start: you won’t be challenged by the mechanics. It plays pretty much like a point-and-click adventure. If this bothers you, try and look past it. Play it for the narrative. This isn’t an experience you should skip.
If you care even slightly about story in games, you should play The Walking Dead. You should think about what it asks of you. And you should take a part of it away when you’re done.