Is The Walking Dead “Game of the Year” material?
In a world of mindless point-and-shoot video games, could ‘The Walking Dead’ spin a thoughtful gaming experience into contention for Game of the Year?
With the 2012 calendar year drawing closer to its conclusion, it is only natural that we look back and reflect on some of the past year’s highlights. Barring some Mayan prophecy that the world may come to an end in a few weeks, here in the video game industry the end of the year will boil down to the various gaming media outlets scrambling to traditionally award one the year’s releases with the highly coveted “Game of the Year” designation.
The esteemed honor is almost always handed off to the big-budget “AAA” titles that are released at the end of the year to catch the rush of holiday shoppers. With the recent trifecta of highly anticipated holiday releases (Halo 4, Call of Duty: Black Ops II and Assassins Creed III) I can almost guarantee the GOTY mantle may fall to one of them. The only other no-brainer title in contention for GOTY is Bioware’s epic conclusion to their sci-fi action trilogy Mass Effect 3, which came out in March. Now, while I wholeheartedly admit that these games are good candidates for GOTY I have to throw another name into the hat. My nomination goes to the adventure game The Walking Dead, developed by Telltale Games and based on Robert Kirkman’s iconic comic book series of the same name.
The Walking Dead puts players in control of Lee Everett, an African-American history teacher from Georgia who is on his way to jail after an unfortunate crime of passion. Before his lengthy incarceration gets underway, the Zombie Apocalypse hits and all hell breaks loose. Lee, now a free man in a world turned upside down, eventually comes across Clementine, an eight year old girl who lost her parents. Players now assume the role of Clem’s father figure and try to survive along with other refugees of the zombie apocalypse that they come across. It’s the recipe for an amazing game and a deep story. And it delivers.
What makes Telltale’s Walking Dead such an outcast when it comes to traditional GOTY titles is that the title is a point-and-click adventure game — a nearly defunct genre that had been diluted by a video game industry that is saturated with mindless shooters and rehashed action sequels (please note that every top contender for GOTY I listed above has a number at the end of each of their names). Just to give you an idea of the difference between the scale of production behind The Walking Dead and, say, Halo 4 would be like comparing a made-for-TV movie to James Cameron’s Avatar. The Walking Dead is overwhelmingly outmatched when held up to the year’s big titles but it still belongs up there and I’m not alone in my opinion.
Probably The Walking Dead’s most impressive feature of the game was how the story hinged upon choices you made that could greatly affect the outcome of the plot — a stark contrast from the traditional way of game storytelling. One could play the game multiple different ways and have a different experience each time they play. This feature of the game also carries a lot of clout as a GOTY contender by virtue of the game’s expert orchestration of situations that weigh heavily on the player’s moral character with some of the choices and decisions the player is forced to make. One situation that stands out is where your camp has been running low on food and people are starving, you are given four pieces of food to ration out for the day and are forced to choose who to feed … out of ten people. Do you feed the children? The women? The men? Yourself? The amount of heart the player is allowed — and sometimes required — to invest into this game is what makes this title stand out among the rest. It really makes you care.
In an age where “twitch” shooters run rampant and scores of gamers trip over themselves to line up for midnight releases of games where you can literally turn off your brain and shoot at anything that moves (yes, I’m talking about you Call of Duty), an adventure game where I actually had to use my brain, judgment, and morals was actually welcomed enthusiastically.
The Walking Dead may not make GOTY for 2012 in the mainstream media. But it definitely deserves the most honorable of mentions.
**Editor’s note: The Walking Dead did, in fact, win the VGA 2012 Game of the Year award.