Published on May 3rd, 2012 | by Ross Kulas
Mechanismo: The Walking Dead Episode 1
It’s as soon as I’ve blasted my escort’s face to bits, leaving but a mandible, that my own mind is elsewhere, wondering what could have been. After a tense moment fumbling over loading and firing a shotgun, I’m ambushed by a growing horde of the undead. Fully prepared to make a desperate escape from their clutches, my hands go limp, my muscles are crippled and all bodily control is snatched away. I have fallen victim to the in-game cut-scene.
Of course the suspense is quickly revived by my character falling over, already for the third time in four minutes. Following “my” escape, I stumble upon a house where I subsequently fall over again and am jumped by another zedhead. A desperate struggle ensues to press the A button a lot, then Y.
It’s difficult to tell what Telltale were going for with The Walking Dead. The entire experience posses hints of other, more competent, examples of its style – a little Heavy Rain here, a little Mass Effect there – but never develops any of them enough to satisfy. All of this is compounded by the constantly shifting levels of interactivity.
Button mashing quick time events are to gaming what falling over is to the horror genre. As such the gameplay would have benefited from a little more development, which is both a missed opportunity and a disappointment.
Surviving my encounter left me thinking of Fight Night Round 3. Not at all odd because FNR3 had a great knock-down mechanic where you would attempt to place two twitching analogue-stick controlled circles into two stationary circles. It really felt like a struggle, as if the game was fighting back. Also important in its system was that after slamming the canvas three times you were presented with the little mini-game, only it was impossible to win. But you try. Every time you try even though you know loss in inevitable, and it was brilliant.
How much more impressive would it have been if instead of those little circles there were an area, in the general direction you were trying to push the assailant, while the little symbols under your control shook and pushed against you. Even a flat out copy of that system would have been better. Adding moments where you were overpowered would have brought just that little bit extra to the experience. If anyone’s played Jurassic Park you saw a similar system, that worked with the mouse, so it seems strange to not see that developed for use here.
You’ve obviously guessed that I played through The Walking Dead using a 360 controller. Attempting to use the mouse is more of a struggle than the actual mechanic; a weird gloopy feeling where the pointer moves itself around as you direct Lee around the stage. Its been created with consoles in mind and I’m not one to shun using a pad, especially not in a game so often slowly paced.
A later section involves a little stealthy manoeuvring to rescue a trapped survivor. While the movement feels a little clumsy, it’s definitely fit for purpose. Taking out zombies is quick and simply pointing and clicking on them feels appropriate, although allowing you to move yourself would have been welcome. It’s when you make it outside the survivor’s room and are faced with two enemies that it feels so out of place. There you are, out in the open, with the shambling corpses coming for your flesh but all you have to do is point and click to activate a cut-scene where your man swiftly chops them up with a fire axe. The whole sequence feels wholly underwhelming. I would have loved to have seen use for the mouse/sticks here in lifting and swinging the axe yourself. Having to complete more complex actions under pressure definitely ramps up the tension.
Interacting with the world is perfectly fine, this is when the game is in adventure mode. It’s when you are faced with combat that The Walking Dead’s problems become apparent. It hints at interactivity and fails to deliver. The point and click mechanics of adventures sap the sense of suspense straight out of it and control is taken away from you far too often. Unfortunately instead of feeling like you’re living the experience, controlling the action, it feels more like you are narrating a film with your hands.
To be fair to Telltale it’s the limitations of their engine, which is designed around adventure games. The problem being they add in more interactive aspects only to snatch them away at the next turn. While The Walking Dead manages to succeed as an entire package it fails at any one specific element. I’m left feeling bewildered and wanting of a fuller and more realised experience.