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Decisions instead of Choices - A look at the mechanics
The Walking Dead game is a fantastic emotional story, that using the medium fantastically to draw you in and make you care and really feel the pressure and guilt and uncertainty of the setting. It's completely story focused and character focused. The characters are very real and complex and change believable throughout the game. It showcases a game type about almost purely decisions and dialogue with a few adventure game style puzzles and it's unbeatable at what it aims to do. However the stress, whilst engaging, won't be for everyone and the ending made me well-up with tears, but it pointed a gun at my head to do so and in the end I felt it went too far and misunderstood that although the game had made me fantastically attached to the young girl who you serve as a father substitute to, I also care about the other people. This is in some degree a response to not being the sort of person who can handle stressful media pretty well (like The Road). I believe this is all someone needs to understand the game, the rest of the review will be a more retrospective look and whilst it contains no plot spoilers it contains something that will spoil the game for you much more. Please don't read on if you're new

SPOILERS!

The big secret of the Walking Dead is that your choices will pretty much always * and apart from small bits of dialogue along the way have almost no effect. However this is a deliberate decision, the game manipulates you into believing into the choice so that you really feel what it's like deciding between the lives between two people and that you feel the guilt of the events as if they're a consequence of your own actions. In the back of your mind you always think that if you hadn't done A, B might not have gone wrong and so it services the narrative brilliantly. In some senses it's a legitimate example of the potential of games to be art, where even the mechanics are there just to explore the key theme. But it's a dangerous tool and needs to be used carefully, it only worked because it's a zombie apocalypse and so most of the time you react to events rather than command them and it's understood people are helpless to decide their fate, whilst being a great setting for exploring character. And it relies on not knowing the trick, so it won't work, for example, for season 2. But it's undeniably powerful
However, it can amount to darkness induced audience apathy. I stopped after episode two because of this. I didn't want to buy it if I could just read a summary or watch a Let's Play. That said, I do get the appeal, and it was just me.
comment #17047 fenrisulfur 2nd Dec 12
I have a question for you, at what point did you realise about the problem and can you remember what it was that brought it on? I saw through the veil because of a comment someone had made once about the first episode and by realising that they couldn't possibly have the budget to let the story diverge as much as implied, but you seem to have to have got hold of it earlier on than that
comment #17049 TomWithNoNumbers 3rd Dec 12
I found out about all the different ways the heart attack plays out. Really with Larry's death and Amy's reaction, I was just frustrated (which may have been what the creators intended), but I googled it and found a Let's play from Video Games Awesome. I enjoyed the let's play, and that's how I'm watching the story play out now.
comment #17053 fenrisulfur 3rd Dec 12
So would it be fair to say that where the game failed was giving you a situation that was ultimately too negative for you to accept? I think that's probably always the dangerous side of this. They took the precautions they could, only autosaving, no easy way to backtrack or reload (often had a lot of cutscenes) and the story always moves on pretty quickly. It won't be the same experience for you, passively watching someone elses LP, but since the illusion is broken, there's pretty much noway to get the true experience now. I think the way they could improve would be to encourage/allow roleplaying and then even if it breaks you can still get the fun of playing out Lee as you imagine he should be played. My image of the ending had Clem reflecting the morality you'd displayed to her back to you at the end, which might have done that. What do you think?
comment #17056 TomWithNoNumbers 3rd Dec 12
I think that you hit the nail on the head. I still don't dislike the game. I just kind of felt a game like this wasn't worth playing (for me) if the conclusion is foregone. I think the story is better than what some of the stories on the show and in the comics. I think if we had something that showed us we mattered (even if it was just to Lee himself) I would have gotten further. The Clem suggestion you made works. I think the story is solid, but I think it's worth trying to add more personal elements. Superficial elements would be all I'd need, because you bring up a good point about the "could have/should have."
comment #17057 fenrisulfur 3rd Dec 12
So, you're saying if you read spoilers and Let's Plays that totally ruin the fun of playing any game with a heavy emphasis on story, then this story-based game isn't worth playing?
comment #17128 BioYuGi 7th Dec 12
I was saying that (for me) it was the same experience watching a lets play rather than playing it. If the choices don't matter, then I didn't feel the need to play, as the game play is fairly passive otherwise. The rest was mostly quick time events or brief "shoot zombie" moments. To me it wasn't worth /buying/. The story is great (and better than a good bit of the show), but if you're playing a game, you need interactivity.
comment #17131 fenrisulfur 7th Dec 12
Okay, I need to correct myself: There was one change that actually did have some influence on the game. Carley vs Doug (that's all I can say without spoilers) does actually change a bit of the story. However, that is not enough for me to want to continue. Again, this is just me.
comment #17132 fenrisulfur 7th Dec 12
I also enjoyed the Let's play. It didn't ruin the fun at all, it kinda saved it for me.
comment #17136 fenrisulfur 7th Dec 12
I think that the roleplaying aspect makes it a more personal experience than just watching the story play out, even if you aren't drastically altering the plot, since it creates a feeling of responsibility for the characters and events that you don't get when watching characters make the decisions on their own. It's also fun to compare notes with other people regarding what you did/didn't do and why. However, I don't know that I'd say someone who already watched a Let's Play of the game would have as much fun playing it, since you already know, say, which actions are futile, or which ones the game's going to seriously guilt trip you about.
comment #17148 SomeName 7th Dec 12
That was the issue for me, that there wasn't a lot of roleplaying because the characters reacted in almost the same way if you were a good person or a bad one. Maybe it got better in 3-5, but it didn't work that before that.

comment #17149 fenrisulfur 7th Dec 12
It works before if you haven't noticed the restrictions, then the roleplaying works well (although it's not traditional roleplaying, you don't have the sense of creation of a character like in Fallout, instead you roleplay Lee who is a personality set within certain bounds) and the game is definitely better if it happens, but I'm glad you're enjoying the LP because even without those aspects, it's still a very good story
comment #17150 TomWithNoNumbers 8th Dec 12
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