And here I am being once again transfixed to a game because of it’s story and emotional experience. A year or even just six months ago I would never have said there wasn’t a game that could compare itself to a book in terms of story elements and deep characters, even comparing games to movies is a stretch as you often don’t feel that emotional invested when your playing which is odd in a way as you are far more apart of the situation then either media. It’s probably because in any game of whatever genre you want to throw a stick at the gameplay and mechanics are nearly always the priority in development with story elements and characters getting a quick treatment mainly just to bind it all together in some sort of mildly comprehensible way.. story, like pvp in an mmo, is the afterthought.
But here in the Walking dead it is woven so well throughout the game you can’t help but marvel at their wonderful imagination and understanding of the human element as well as how well it is crafted to be part of the game. Every part of the story has been well planned and the mechanics present have been made to revolve around the situation and as a way to progress the story and elicit your decisions. As far as adventure game mechanics go The Walking Dead is actually quite light on them, and what’s there is often rather simplistic. It still employs the item find type gameplay you may be used to but it’s not some type of play where your searching through many frames for what you need with the chance to miss them, no, everything is clearly marked. The game doesn’t employ adventure game reasoning, it is straight forward pick up item and use when given the option and most times your companions will spell out what is needed in general conversation and then put you off in the right direction.
Now this is not necessarily a bad thing at all though, maybe in an ordinary adventure game but here the mechanics are in place solely to tell the story better, they are there as a way to get you involved and determining the direction of events. And in a way because of this the reward for these adventure mechanics is the story, to witness results, the conversations, changing personalities and evolution of your group. The complexity of the story’s evolution make up for this though and add a level of mystery to it all, you really don’t know what is going to happen next as it follows no formula you would usually see from this sort of genre.
Without these game mechanics being a priority of gameplay it highlights the importance of choice and the impact your actions have on your surroundings and the people around you. Your input in the game comes down to these choices but these choices are so powerful and so enthralling that they would take away the focus from any game mechanic. Talking it over with others really highlights the effect of these choices, there are great story arcs that pan over all the episodes which depend on your choices during the the first parts of the game. Character personalities and your relationship with them is constantly evolving, characters leaving or even dying, or in that very rare occasion having a complete psychological breakdown or all part of the experience.
Because of your affect on those around you the actions you take feel far more meaningful and interactions with the characters take on a new meaning. They aren’t just a part of the background as usually happens but make the experience and choice involved feel more rewarding. The characters are more then just set pieces, mechanics to utilise and forget they are just as important as your character, sometimes more so when considering the relationships they already have with others. They evolve like yourself throughout the game becoming wildly different then they were based on the events and your choices. This change helps with the construction of these characters as you begin to understand them in a deeper way, you learn far more through their reactions, the way they perform under stress, and how they change or adapt to the situation. They feel more human as a result and thus you actions are that much more important and the events that unfold so much more challenging.
It all becomes very taxing on your nerves as your decisions are impacting people in very real ways. Through the game you start to become very invested in theses characters and form a lasting relationship with them, you don’t wish them any harm and long for them to keep surviving alongside you. Sometimes when playing I think it is a grand psychological experiment that you would never in your life get ethical approval for, it puts you in impossible and terrible positions where you are in charge of abrupt change and you are tasked with guiding progress or definitive action which has an discernible and often brutal result. Because the characters are humanized, from there actions, non verbals, and speech it so deeply tests the deep boundaries of your morality by asking the question “what would you do” and having it mean something to you.. from this time on I will remember the feeling, that terrifying and heart wrenching feeling of having to cut off a mans leg to try and save them, and then failing.
I become so invested in the characters that it becomes unbearable to even watch the events unfold, they are choices you don’t want to make, choices you would never have to make, but here have to be apart of and have a hand in. It was so hard that the many decisions and there results would elicit very a real emotional response: heartache, elation, hope, anger, sympathy, a deep sorrow and many many more. It is a roller coaster of emotions that affects you in a deep way, it is so powerful at times I just had to save and return later.
This isn’t your typical adventure game, it is far more then that and will be a gaming highlight of mine for many years to come. It is a beautiful, poetic, and engaging re-imagining of the adventure game format… and evolution or new path for the genre to take that I am sure will be guiding developers actions to recreate some of it’s brilliance for some time to come. It is a game that has created a legacy.