Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Walking Dead, "No Time Left"

Developed and published by Telltale Games

            We should’ve known from the start that The Walking Dead would not end well.  The ending of the 4th episode pretty much confirmed that, as bad as things had been up to this point, no matter how many deaths, how many zombie attacks, how many tough decisions you’ve had to make up to this point, there’s always something worse coming.
            In the final episode of the first season (the second has already been confirmed), Lee (Dave Fennoy) has one chance left in Savannah, Georgia.  With whoever’s left, whoever still trusts him, he has to rescue Clementine (Melissa Hutchison) from a mysterious kidnapper and get out of the city if he can.
            Very rarely does a game work on such an emotional level as this series has, and it has just been building to this point.  Telltale knows everything they’re doing.  They know how to set things up, give you information on the characters, make you like them, make you despise them.  They make you want these characters to survive.  They’ll give you the tough choices that make the difference as to whether these characters will survive.  Ultimately, the game has followed a rather linear structure, with things going to happen eventually so the plot will go as it goes.  This hasn’t really made things any different.  This hasn’t made any choice easier.  It hasn’t made tragic moments shortly followed by thoughts of “What if I could have done something different?”
            The game also masterfully controls its tone.  Zombies are at their biggest here, but ultimately it’s the human moments that make up the game.  The finest moment is a swarm of zombies that Lee has to slaughter his way through, a huge action climax…which is immediately followed by an eerily quiet setting that leads up to the confrontation with the kidnapper.  Where the two sit down and talk.  And what a talk it is.  Suddenly pieces come together and your past decisions are thrown in your face.  You can defend or you can accept, but you probably already know how you’re going to act.  Lee is the reflection of us, and we had to make every decision. 
Simply by removing the karma meter that games tend to latch on to, The Walking Dead simply told us to do what we thought was right.  And maybe we did and maybe we didn’t.  But ultimately, we end up feeling like we had a hand in the tragedy.  Like we wouldn’t do the same thing twice, like we know more now and we know what we’d do if we could do it again and were just given one more chance.  While most games with multiple paths I want to replay, here I feel like the story I’ve made is what should stay in my memory.  I created Lee, I created his responses and his emotions and his surrogate fatherhood of Clementine.  You hit the end and fully realize why Clementine has become the starring character of the game, why her presence ended up being missed and there’s so much you want to do in the final moments.  But as the title says, there’s no time left.
There’s a reason why a licensed game by what was previously a fairly cult developer is what everybody’s talking about.  The Walking Dead is the true evolution of narrative form in video games.  It’s not just that it asks you to make every decision, it’s that it connects you to the characters and the world.  This is video game storytelling at its finest.

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