Game Review: The Walking Dead DE: Season 1 + 400 days – PS4

Title The Walking Dead: Season 1
Platform: PlayStation 4
Genre:zombies, telltale, story driven, adventure, point and click
Date completed:September 2021
Information on game

Summary review: Season 1 is an absolute masterpiece of a game. A standard all other attempts at story-oriented interactive fiction should strive for.
Graphics: Despite the graphical make over for the PS4 it still has the dark and “muddy” overlay of the PS3/360 era. I wouldn’t call them bad, it just isn’t going to knock anyone’s socks off. And sometimes the shadow texturing doesn’t seem to work so you’re looking at a character surrounded by blackness. Pretty sure that’s a texture thing not a indie movie thing.
Music: The music is just…perfect. Everything about it. It’s intense when it needs to be intense and when it needs to emphasize the dramatic dialogue moments it knows how to be melancholy just enough to not be distracting yet enough to enhance what’s happening. Just perfect in everyway.
Controls: If you’ve played an “adventure” game with a mouse previously, the gamepad may take a while to get used it. If you have never played an adventure game the play mechanics in general may take a while. And sometimes I swear it just doesn’t register my button push. Also, may want to practice left hand on the right analogue stick with the right hand over the buttons. The cursor with the stick just isn’t that great.
Replayability: The branching story lines and different dialogue options are going to make multiple playthroughs worth while. The ending will always be same, though. I would rate this as “high”.
Total score: 86/100

Introduction

Note: This review will not contain spoilers for the story of the game, just some commentary on the story without going into details and some information on the play mechanics.

If it wasn’t clear, this is the “definitive edition” of this game, which is one disc with all the Walking Dead TellTale games in one collection – including “400 Days” DLC and the only somewhat tangentially related (as far as I know) “Michonne”.

Also in case it’s not clear: this is not based on the TV show, it is in the comic book universe. Besides the (I shouldn’t say a number) comic book character(s) cameo, it doesn’t really come up. Also, you will not be lost if you have never read the comic (or even heard of the show). Thought I would mention the comic book thing so it’s not confused with the shit mobile games for the show. No Daryl Dixon in this universe.

I played seasons 1 and 2 of this game when it first came out on PC with a keyboard/mouse. I’ve decided it’s been long enough I should play through them again along with seasons 3 and 4 that I haven’t played. And since it’s already on the disk I’ll play “Michonne” and whatever else there is.

The seasons of TWD are broken up into episodes, some of them quite short while others are quite long. There are some “complete walk through no commentary” videos on youtube of around 10 hours for the whole thing.

The Premise

At least on the face of it this has a very similar plot to that of The Last of Us (part 1): a down on his luck adult guy effectively adopts a little girl – only 8 years old in this case – and ends up on something of a road trip through a zombie apocalypse. That’s about where the similarities end (almost). It takes place as the apocalypse is kicking off, not twenty years later and this main character – Lee – isn’t escorting the girl – Clementine – to any place in particular besides some place safe. The two characters create a bond over time.

Adventure time..game..adventure

Technically I’m old enough I should remember this but my family didn’t have a PC in the 1980s: there was an entire genre of game called “adventure games”. Not like Legend of Zelda “adventures”, but the other kind: point and click with a mouse with semi-animation and maybe some audio clips. Such famous titles as Maniac Mansion, Escape from Monkey Island or…Myst were in this genre.

The genre eventually became outdated lost popularity in the 1990s, although it didn’t disappear entirely.

I think I would call this Walking Dead series something of a modern interpretation of that old genre: there are objects you can “see” (an eyeball icon), objects you can interact with or pickup and people you can talk to. The trick – as it was in the classic games – is finding the right combination of objects to solve the current situation and move on to the next scene. For instance: find the seat cushion, move to the pickup truck, sneak up to zombie and use cushion to suppress the sound of the gunshot. There are some “roaming” parts of the game where you can talk to each party member one by one in seemingly any order. The events are scripted though so it’s pretty much you must talk to everybody to get to the next part the game.

This is changed a little with the transition to a gamepad. This genre and game in particular always seemed to me like it was made with a mouse in mind. It took me at least the length of episode 1 (not that long) to start to get accustomed to the controls.

It might be easy to say this game is a “quick time event” game (I think a term popularized in the 1990s) but there’s a bit much more to it than that.

I ended up having to used my left hand for the right stick to control the cursor while using my right hand to push one of the four buttons. Would they call that the “monkey grip” in DnD? Something like that. The point is the game isn’t really optimized for a gamepad even now. Just expect that to happen.

Decide the thing and make it quick

I mentioned The Last of Us previously and maybe I shouldn’t have. TWD season 1 has branching story lines and quick reaction choices that must be made. Like saving one party member or another. Which then affects that next bit of storyline. Some decisions or dialogue options don’t have a time limit, while others there is a retracting line, forcing you to choose before times up. Hope you can read fast. Sometimes one of the choices is white text on a white background making it difficult to read at all never mind in a short time.

Adoption by narrative

Indeed

It could be because Clementine is so much younger then Ellie (from The Last of Us), but due to the interactions with Clementine and little moments I started to feel like this particular version of her was “my” Clementine. I thought they did an incredibly good job seamlessly blending little moments of “are you doing okay?” with other moments of Clementine obviously watching my character’s every move. Including any lies or questionable decisions or interactions to the point of it seeming like Clementine has been customized into a unique version. I doubt that’s true, obviously. But that the game is able to somehow make that feeling come across is nothing short of amazing.

My second “Doug Run”

I did something I don’t normally do for these game reviews or normally in general: as soon as I finished episode 5 I started the game over again to explore some of the other story branches.

Not really fair to do it that way, of course as I already have an idea head of time which way to go because I know which way the script is going to decide on certain characters.

The main reason I did this run is because I wanted to know what road Doug would take me down. Actually it was kind of interesting. I mean subtle, but still interesting in a narrative sense what the differences were. And since I was having such a great time I played all the through chapter 5 again. That ending still makes me tear up.

400 Days “episode 6”

If I remember correctly, 400 Days was an add-on for season 1 originally. I mean purchased separately well after the initial release. This all-in-one disc just has it as “episode 6” of season 1.

It is a separate story from the main Lee/Clementine story but should definitely be played afterwards. It’s actually a series of vignettes for lack of a better term: you can play as any of 5 characters in any order. Some of them take place mere days out of the zombie outbreak while others are 6 months or more afterwards.

Based on the decisions from the five adventures different people will be at a particular location in season 2.

I liked the vignettes as some of them are follow ups from the events of Lee’s story while others are direct fall out from other vignettes. And yet some how it works.

The whole thing only took me about 90 minutes to get through.

I didn’t play 400 days twice although having played it I’d love to know what other choices would net me narratively.

I think my favorite is what I like to call the “Shaggy from Scooby-Do” adventure. For some reason I just find it enormously entertaining.

Now some negatives…

The main negative I think is the engine itself. I think this was TellTale’s first published game and a very early version of their adventure game engine – and it shows.

Okay, my main gripe being in both runs at about the same place (trying to get the train running) I had some major bugs. The first run it was just a weird auto-save situation and I just had to re-do some dialog options while the second run the cursor would not cooperate and I had to actually close all the way out of the game and re-launch it. I just find it hard to give a game that’s been out for 10+ years – and it’s not exactly new for PS4 – a “perfect” score.

It is a great game. There are good reasons this game got so many Game of the Year awards in the year it came out. I’m just saying I wish the really obvious bugs could have been fixed.

Conclusion

Since I had played through season one before, I didn’t think this would have nearly the impact on me it did before. But between the amount of time since the last time I played and the punch-in-the-gut that is Clementine, it really did affect me and adequately demonstrate why it was given so many awards when it came out.

Why the emotions?

If you have never played a game in the adventure genre and if you can embrace the weird grip of the gamepad to get through it I can’t recommend this game enough. Just remember to be patient, look at everything, talk to everybody and try and make sure and teach Clementine good lessons: it will be fine.

Oh and make sure you have a box of tissues nearby. There will be tears. Many, many tears.


Metadata

Method of control used Regular PS4 gamepad
Controllable via both one analog stick or digital four-way (“HAT”) n/a
Hardware requirements: n/a
Supports 21:9 aspect ratio screens?n/a
Device(s) tried on PS4 (non-pro)
TV2020-era 55″ 4k TV with HDR specialness
Initial setup required Turned on subtitles
Sound setup5.1 surround system/receiver
Total time to completion~10 hours (plus 1.5 hours for 400 days)
difficulty level“Normal” difficulty, turned on some visual click points to be less frustrating.
Random assortment of meta data

4 thoughts on “Game Review: The Walking Dead DE: Season 1 + 400 days – PS4

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