Since their first appearance in the European classic Zombie Zombie, videogames featuring the undead have explored the same basic premise: you, the survivor, have to kill the zombies before they kill you and turn you into one of them. It is obviously a popular motif. Since the release of Zombie Zombie back in 1984, dozens of zombie games have been added to the world of gaming — and more with each passing year. Even games that have no apparent zombie theme to the main story, such as the Halo or Call of Duty series, have adopted zombie variations and mini-games. But in addition to the flesh-eating corpses, the main overarching similarity of these zombie games is their lack of narrative complexity.
This is Telltale Games‘ clear point of distinction. In their interactive recreation of The Walking Dead universe, the story is not primarily about your ability to dispatch the living dead — it’s about the interactions of the survivors in the face of this horrific backdrop. “Long Road Ahead” is the third episode in this five-part series, following the journey of protagonist Lee Everett and his band of survivors through zombie-infested Georgia, and like the first two episodes, the focus in this episode is Lee’s relationships with the rest of his group.
Like Episodes 1 and 2, the cartoonish, cell-shaded graphics are reminiscent of the original graphic novel series. Though potentially disappointing to diehard fans of photorealism, this bit of abstraction is simultaneously powerful in sustaining the suspension of disbelief and providing a demarcation between the game universe and real life.
The emotional weight of the plot has made this demarcation useful in the previous episodes, but in “Long Road Ahead,” the intensity of the story is taken to a new level of grisly circumstances as the dwindling crew grow more and more desperate for safety, sustenance, and supplies. After several months of scavenging and trying to protect themselves in their modest fortress, tensions are running high among Lee Everett’s group. The stress is higher among fellow survivors Kenny and Lilly as their power struggle continues and they argue over whether to stay in their current hideout or set out into the unknown in hopes of finding a better place. Throughout this turmoil, we see a deepening relationship between Lee and his young companion, Clementine.
The true beauty of The Walking Dead game is the interactive plot. Unlike other recent zombie games like Left 4 Dead, the story is far from linear. Instead of being shown a cutscene and then dropped into the middle of an action sequence, most of the gameplay involves your choices as you branch conversation paths with your comrades. Telltale skillfully captures the complexity of human interaction as seemingly innocent statements result in unexpected responses and dire consequences.
The magnitude of your conversational choices is amplified by the limited response time you are given for your choices. With only a few seconds to read and decide which option to choose, it feels like you are constantly putting your foot in your mouth. In the zombie apocalypse, this is no minor faux pas — choosing the wrong option could result in a weakened relationship with another survivor, distrust towards your character, or potentially the unintended death of someone close to you.
The ingenuity of Telltale’s implementation of interactive features in their rendition of The Walking Dead continues to create a compelling gaming experience in Episode 3 “Long Road Ahead.” Despite some lackluster action sequences, the episode as a whole is the best one yet in what is sure to be one of the most successful zombie franchises ever made.
The Walking Dead is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Strong Language, Blood and Gore, Intense Violence. This game can also be found on: Xbox 360, PS3 and iOS.