The Walking Dead Game Questions My Moral Compass [Review - Episode One]

By Rich Shivener in Reviews
Monday, May 7, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Think back to the second episode of season two of AMC's TV series The Walking Dead. There's a scene in which Shane saves his skin - and ultimately the life of a boy - by shooting his ill-fitted partner and leaving him to a mass of undead walkers. He feels awful about his action, yet he feels it is justified in a country overrun by zombies. It just comes with an intangible cost.

What would you do, knowing zombies were seconds from gnawing on you? I wish I had the right answer. I don't have it for Shane's scenario, and I don't have it for the scenarios of Telltale Game's newest game, The Walking Dead. Like the TV series and the eponymous comic book created by Robert Kirkman and company, it presents a blood-stained world, namely the towns of Georgia, which are ravaged by a zombie infestation.  The events therein give rise to split-second survival instincts, catalysts for what might otherwise be known as immoral, illogical behavior. But unlike the show and comic, the game gives us control over those instincts, asking us to navigate a never before seen character and his group to promising futures - really, solutions to an apocalypse. Plus, it's a departure from Telltale's time-honored line of puzzle-heavy games, most of which lack violence and expletive-laden dialogue. This contains both.  

And that's why one of several reasons why it's unforgettable.
Episode 1, "A New Day," of The Walking Dead game centers on an alleged murderer named Lee Everett, originally en route to a life sentence. From the first scene, you, as Lee, make choices and watch the implications for the survivors with which he interacts. And no matter what choices you make, one implication is clear: Lee is a bad person.

Or is he?

I ask this because The Walking Dead, when distilled to its core, is a narrative fleshed out by explicit and implicit questions, answered by your snap judgements and critical thinking. How you answer them affects the supporting characters as well as the narrative, a malleable experience with replay value (if you start over or separate saves). It adapts with each answer. It's unnerving and exciting, and it's designed to instill some panic, regret and confusion in the player, reflecting how we might act in a harsh environment like this.

Think about it: As Lee, will I save the gun-toting girl or the geek who helped me distract the zombies? Will I give an energy bar to a young girl or a young boy? Should I save a child or a resourceful, young adult? Will I tell anyone that I killed my undead brother? Should I lie about my past and keep lying? These are not easy questions - at least not to me. Maybe that's because the game, at times, gives the player less than 10 seconds to answer a serious question. It's a challenging time frame but one that reflects reality.

Though it's not reality, The Walking Dead is a game that questions the accuracy of my moral compass. Which is a good thing. The interactive narrative challenges the lead character's morals, and it reflects on my own because I guide that very character. That device can yield a profound statement about oneself.

I'm just not sure what that statement is. Is it that I, as Lee, deserve to die a slow, rotten death because I let a woman commit suicide after knowing she was infected? Is it? My questions are piling up like hordes, and for me, they are inspiring hours of quiet introspection, or musings about what might have been. That is, the game reminds me that I've faced some serious dilemmas in my life, and I've not felt comfortable with every answer to them. Yes, I sympathize with Lee's crooked moral compass, because I know mine has looked the same at times. Except I've never dealt with zombies. I have dealt with relationships and death, though. (And you can eat my brains if you want to learn more.)

Overall, The Walking Dead game presents an interesting yet disturbing narrative that raises more questions than answers. Its enduring questions are enhanced by calculated voice acting, fluid cutscenes and animations that take cues from the comic book series and nod to AMC. (Hint: Listen to Glenn.) Really, it's adding new blood to The Walking Dead universe, something I'll keep questioning until I arrive at some concrete answers.

The Official Verdict: 4.5 out of 5

This review is based on a Steam copy of the game provided by the publisher.

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