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A Sad, Intense Zombie Road Trip

Last weekend I played through episode three of The Walking Dead game and there is not enough superlatives in the dictionary to describe the experience. It is brilliant, tense, intimate, traumatic and offers something different every episode. I’ve recently played episode three and it was a different experience again to episode one and two.

Spoiler Warning: What follows contains major spoilers.

Episode three will haunt me for a while. The group are forced to leave the motel and head out of town. They do this while a conflict exists within the group over stolen supplies. In the process, Carly dies in one of the most shocking, abrupt and callous deaths I’ve seen on any screen, never mind a computer game. An intense, escalating argument that just flows rapidly out of control and then, from nowhere, bang. You also find the group dealing with the slow, inevitable death of a child. During these dramas the group find a train and make their way to Savannah. It’s a story about being able to cope with the horrors that the world presents. It’s a slow character piece that works and was on the borderline of bringing a tear to my eye.

Is the experience diminished slightly once you realise all the characters that die in episode three will always die in episode three? It does ever so slightly, as you realise that it wasn’t your choices that resulted in the deaths. At the same time, you realise the deaths are probably set as few games allow for branching plotting to the degree whole characters can be missing or not missing. Mass Effect does it to a degree, but all dead characters are replaced with an analogue that serves a similar, but slightly different role. It’s like reading a book, which has no choices, of course, but you’re more intimately pulled into the drama. It works differently to a film or book and delivers something…new.

The key to the game, as I’ve no doubt said before, is the strong narrative experience. This episode exemplifies that the most as you’re not dealing with the immediate aftermath of the zombie outbreak, neither are you experiencing a horror story in an isolated location, it is a 100% pure character drama of conflict and harrowing loss. It works. There are few games like this on the market. Mass Effect comes close but it has much more game in the mix, The Walking Dead survives off much less game content and it’s still completely absorbing.

Interestingly the key choices in the episode did not feel as big or as tense as in the last two. This doesn’t mean they weren’t, just that the overall approach to the episode was a constant, overriding feeling of stress and pressure and as a result the ‘big decision moments’ became a natural part of the flow. In the past the choices have been clearly skewed, this episode the stats clearly show a more even distribution between the binary choices with the exception of the shooting of Duck. Duck is a child. I think it says a lot about the strength of the narrative that by this point the overriding number of people have taken on a sense of responsibility and thus opt to be the one to pull the trigger.

I cannot recommend the experience enough. Everyone looking for a great story should play it. Anyone who is a fan of The Walking Dead should play it. You should just play it as it goes down as one of those singular experiences, at a point in time in gaming history, that will no doubt change things moving forward.

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About Ian O'Rourke

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