Right now, it's the early autumn of the year as most of the great shows on television have their end of season break.
Mad Men has already polished off the first half of its final season and Game of Thrones is just about to squeeze the last couple of episodes out like someone popping open a man's head (SPOILER ALERT - someone on that show dies). The Walking Dead will be entering it's fifth season later this year, and it's really starting to catch up with the original comic series, instead of lingering on a farm waiting for the barn to burst open (SPOILER ALERT - someone on that show is a zombie). If, like me, you are getting too fidgety to wait for the next instalment of the shambler drama, AND you're a keen gamer, then the videogame adaption is exactly what you need.
No, I don't mean the lame shooter based on the television series, I mean the lovingly crafted adventure story game created by Telltale Games, who recently made similar game adaptions of Back to the Future and Jurassic Park. The game is based on the source material instead of being a tie-in with the TV show and gives an alternate narrative to the story. The games are split up into episodes that are released one by one over the course of a year. The first game was labelled Season 1 and contains 5 episodes, which were set up a lot like a TV drama with cliff-hangers and "Previously on The Walking Dead" announcements at the start of each one. The second season of this game is currently running this year, with each episode released in 1 to 2 month gaps. The game is already on episode 3 and the emotional momentum from the first season has kept on rolling. But before I get onto this season, let me bring y'all up to speed.
The first season, and second season, takes place in Georgia, the US state featured in the comics and TV show. You played the role of Lee, who was on his way to jail just before the disaster hits in the back of a police car for a crime he (sort of) didn't commit. As luck would have it, his vehicle is tossed off the road in a crash and he finds himself wound up surrounded by undead in a forest. After investigating an empty house, he finds Clementine, a young girl who's missing her parents . The pair stick together as they encounter fellow survivors, armed bandits, a cannibal family, and the occasional appearance from characters from the comic.
The approach and narrative of the game was structured in a very similar way to the comic and TV show. A lot of the game sees you savaging for food, bypassing physical obstacles, and investigating your surroundings to advance the story, as well as talking to people you are with. This gets interspersed with a few random action events chucked in that will occasionally force you to make a life or death choice over the characters. A lot of the time, these choices will involve saving one person by letting another one die, and I have never been able to pass through those moments lightly. Let it be said, this game WILL hit you in the heart, for every action has an emotional consequence.
Even though the core of the story will always meander towards the same conclusion, who lives or dies, who likes you and hates you, and what your character will become at the season's finale will depend entirely on what you do throughout the episodes. As you can imagine, a lot of heated disputes will break out during the quiet parts of the game and you are given the choice to take a side, remain neutral, or just hold your tongue (yes, that's an option). You can play through the game with an entirely different experience each time. These scenes usually end relatively calm, but all too often, whether from an argument kicking off to a group of walkers suddenly entering the scene, you'll be thrown into an intense situation that requires action.
The action events mainly consist of button tapping quick time events (For example: hit the A button as fast as you can to keep the door shut to stop zombies getting in before pressing Y to force the lock) and shooting events. While quick time events are usually frowned upon in the gaming world, these come off really well in the game and envelope you in the panic of the scene. Yes, you will be yelling in panic at the game a lot, but that's just a side effect of a really engaging videogame. That's the introduction the gameplay sorted, now back to the story so far.
At the end of Season 1, Clementine (Clem for short) finds herself cold, alone, and wandering a field by herself almost in tears (Yes, I almost was, too...). At the start of Season 2 she is seen back together with Omid and Christa (who is now heavily pregnant) from the first season. During their journey, they stop off at an abandoned gas station to rest. However, they are not alone. One thing leads to another and Omid is shot dead. Sixteen months later, Christa (who has lost her baby) and Clem are camping in a forest. They are low on food and it isn't before long that a group of scavengers pounce on them, forcing them to run and split up. Clem ends up falling into a river and washes up ashore near a group of new survivors, who aren't exactly in a rush to take on new members to their group.
Usually when such breathtaking bit of storytelling is followed by a sequel, there is a lot of doubt a\s to whether the writers can keep that up. But within 5 minutes of playing the second season, I had a couple of tears rolling down my face and it just kept on going from there. The new groups of survivors all seem to have distinct personalities, including the daughter of the groups doctor who appears to have some form of personality that makes her unable to deal with the situation around her. A lot of secrets are being withheld from the group as to what they are doing and where they're going, but gradually things get revealed. The voice acting is top notch and it isn't long before I heard the familiar grunts of Michael Madsen (Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill) pipe up as the season's token villain.
For those who have already played the first season, the second one has a subtle difference to it when you're now playing the role of a small pre-teen girl, rather than a strong middle-aged man. A lot of the time, your character ill feel helpless, but you will get the option to prove yourself to be just as capable of solving dangerous problems as even the most well armed adult. Already finished episode 3 and Clem has already been mauled by a dog, almost drowned, as well as defending herself against countless zombies. The character development of Clem is fantastic and believable.
So far, this season has not let itself down at all and the urge to finish the damn thing is just too overwhelming. But alas, Episode 4 won't be released until Q3 2014, and the final episode's release date is yet to be announced. However, if the first 3 episodes are anything to go by, they are worth the wait. So if you're a fan of the comics and the show, go out and get this. The first season is already available (possibly for cheap) on PC, XBOX, Playstation, as well as iOS and Android devices. Or if you're not a fan of the show, but still want to experience an exhilaratingly fresh piece of interactive storytelling, buy it anyway. Just have a stiff drink and a box of tissues at the ready.