Best Games of All-Time: Telltale’s The Walking Dead Season 1
Played On: PS4 (Original)
For me, strong storytelling has always been a key component to a great game. From great characters that players can connect with to a an emotionally driven journey/adventure that take players on a ride they’ll never forget. More importantly, I’ve always found “choose your own adventure” games to always offer the most unique kind of storytelling – especially if it came from Telltale Games. What I’ve always appreciated about Telltale’s storytelling is the varying decisions that players can utilize to craft their own stories. With each decision, players can feel the weight of their actions and actually feel as if they are forming their own relationships and making things their own. Not to mention, the way they release their games was always unique to me with the game coming out in episodes, so anticipation and suspense would be built around what was going to happen in the next episode. Personally, where Telltale really at the top of their game in storytelling was with the first season of their version of The Walking Dead.
Rather than focus on the story and characters of Robert Kirkman’s comic or AMC’s hit show, Telltale created their own story within the same world that had players play as Lee Everett (voiced by Dave Fennoy). Although Lee has a troubled past with the law, he finds himself taking care of Clementine (voiced by Melissa Hutchison), a young girl he finds, as the undead begin to roam the Earth. Along the way they meet other survivors and run into problems – both dead and undead. So, Lee must help Clementine survive this new world and teach her things she must do in order to better her odds while they attempt to find her parents.
The true heart and soul of this game is the relationship that develops between Lee and Clem. With Lee showing her how to shoot a gun and defend herself and cut her hair in order to stay better protected from the walkers, you really start to care for them. Even amongst the chaos and death that surrounds them, there’s a sense of hope that’s incredibly comfortable and makes the hardships they face that much harder. The voice performances from Fennoy and Hutchison are great and there’s a lot of great moments that allow Lee and Clem to develop and change throughout their journey together. Not to mention, the end of their journey is probably one of the most heartbreaking ends in gaming history. Whether you have Clem leave Lee to turn or shoot him to put him out of his misery after’s he bit by a walker, it’s hard to hold back tears and is perfectly realistic and meaningful way for their journey together to end.
The characters you meet along the way also have some great arcs and with the ability to mold certain relationships through choices you really become attached to certain characters. For me, there was always something about Ben (Trevor Hoffman) and the way that he always tries to redeem himself, but never does, that made me connect to him. It’s actually crazy how my connection with Ben actually affected my relationships with other characters – mostly Kenny (voiced by Gavin Hammon). Kenny has always been an interesting story for me as I’ve always found myself on opposite ends of his mentality and, even though he’s never been my favorite, his arc leads to some great moments within the story. The moments of him losing his family is incredibly devastating and, even though I didn’t care much for him, his final sacrifice for Ben was definitely surprising in the moment. From trying to appease Larry (voiced by Terry McGovern), a older man who knows of Lee’s trouble with the law, to possibly trying to gain the affection of Carley (voiced by Nicole Vigil), a reporter who also knows about Lee, there’s a lot of choices and situations that let’s players set the tone for their relationships.
One of my favorite moments in the game is when Lee is forced to make a choice to give food to only three people in large group of survivors as it reflects more grounded horrors these characters face on a daily basis. The decision doesn’t cause any deaths or anything like that, but it ultimately affects how other characters view you and it’s decisions like this that are the most interesting. Situations like this somehow feel more personal than deciding whether or not someone lives, and they allow character relationships to develop and for players to feel the weight of their choices. Not to mention, the way that they allow a lot of variation in dialogue and use a simple phrase that would be mirrored throughout the rest of Telltale’s games.
Every time that “They (whoever the character is) will remember that” it always added an immense amount of weight and worry into each dialogue choice. It was great way to let players know that they’ve just made an important choice, but they outwardly give them the outcome of what it exactly meant or if it would mean anything at all. The dialogue choice has had a unique element to them with different emotive options and my favorite option – to say nothing at all. It always surprised me how often I would actually utilize this option in conversation and this addition always made conversations more real since you might not always have something to say in every situation. Telltale even took things to a global level with player choice by showing how your decisions compared to other players around the world and it always made me think of what things would be like if I took a different path.
There was also a sense of maturity and realism the game had in depicting its apocalyptic environment and its greatest horrors were more centered on human behavior rather than the flesh eating undead. Having to make decision about whether or not to steal food from other people, whether or not to save someone when maybe you could’ve, and whether to reminisce about the past or survive in the present are all things that these characters have to face. No one is ever fully safe and with the encountering cannibalism, child death, and loss of innocence, there’s some real horror that almost seem worse than the undead.
One of the most haunting moments in the game where Lee encounters The Stranger (voiced by Anthony Lam), who takes Clem, is a perfect example of this. In some ways it’s hard not to kind of sympathize with The Strangers pain and anger towards Lee after his group rummage through The Stranger’s car earlier in the game and caused his family to starve to death. It’s a motivation that’s incredibly disturbing yet symbolizes the harsh reality they’re in and shows how humanity is no longer the same. It’s this dark sense of the world and conversations between Lee and Clem about needing to mature faster that’s been a prevailing theme throughout all The Walking Dead seasons that I’ve always loved.
I will say that while I still enjoy the overall story and experience, play through the game again did make me realize its age more. The controls are definitely a little rocky and the voice-overs seem a little uneven at times because of how it’s delivered. One second Lee could be talking normal, but then suddenly raise his voice or yell for some reason. It definitely causes some unintentional humor at times that make it feel like an old anime dub. The character design is great, though, and the art-style evokes the look of Kirkman’s comic but brings it to life in its own way. Speaking of Kirkman’s comic, fans will even recognize that Hershel Greene (Chuck Kourouklis) and Glenn Rhee (voiced by Nick Hartman) make appearances in the game.
Although Telltale might be gone and their Walking Dead series has ended, The Walking Dead Season 1 is perfect showing of why the series lasted for so long and why Telltale rose to prominence. Personally, it’s a game that I’ve always looked forward to thinking and Lee and Clem’s relationship is something I still think about from time to time. It contains stories and characters that show the depth of Kirkman’s Walking Dead world and strikes such strong emotion and thought in those that play it that it’s a more than worthy addition to my top games of all-time list.
*All photos, unless otherwise marked, were taken by the author.