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One Year Later: Telltale’s The Walking Dead Still a Masterpiece

It’s been over a year since Telltale wrapped up season one of The Walking Dead and we are just a few weeks away from the much-anticipated second season of The Walking Dead, so it felt prudent for me to go back and replay the first season again. In truth, it was sparked by me finally caving in to purchasing The Wolf Among Us through a Steam sale, unable to wait for more episodes to be released yet. Telltale’s recent mastery of the modern adventure game is just more and more apparent with The Wolf Among Us and I had to see how The Walking Dead held up after being blown away by The Wolf Among Us.

What I found just floored me. Yes, there will absolutely be spoilers ahead.

I was apprehensive about The Walking Dead at first because, well, I have never read the comic (nor do I really care about it) and the show is just dreadful on so many levels. Then take into account that I really have a strong dislike for the overuse of zombies in entertainment over the past few years and you have a perfect storm of making me not want to play an amazing game. During Microsoft’s Christmas sale last year I bit the bullet and bought all five episodes of The Walking Dead and sat on them for a while, because, really, I didn’t need more zombies in my life and Telltale hasn’t always been known for quality in their games.

When I finally sat down and played the damned thing I found myself completely rapt with attention. Sure, this still had a lot of the problems that past Telltale games had and in some places a few things felt kind of jerky (including the framerate in a few places), but it was uncanny how they were really learning with every episode and making the game that much better. After a while those binary decisions from the first episode or two felt like a distant memory and everything got a bit more complicated and felt like it really mattered that much more. Most importantly, the writing really hit its stride and the emotional impact left at the end of each episode was just staggering.

At least that was how I remembered it. Most of the time when you go back and replay or rewatch something it doesn’t have the same emotional impact that it had the first time around, as you know what is going to happen, even if you are making tiny decisions that influence the game along the way. I really wasn’t expecting the game to hold up as well a second time through, in fact, I was afraid that I’d find myself less enamored with the entire experience and feeling like it wasn’t as good as I remembered. Those fears proved to be completely unfounded as the second time through I found myself just as emotionally bound to the game as I was the first time through, maybe even more so this time, trying to make slightly different decisions to see how the game could be different.

We all know that the story doesn’t change that much due to your decisions, but they still feel like they have this weight to them, a weight that you don’t feel in other games. I mean, I know how Lee dies ahead of time, I know when Lee dies and I know how awful it felt to go through that whole sequence at the end of Episode Five, which meant that on my second time through I was dreading it that much more than I was the first time, when I held out hope that he’d pull through. Yet the impact of the final few sequences was still absolutely devastating, even if I knew how it would all play out and the decisions that had to be made.

Telltale will always have their detractors, those that feel that they aren’t really “games” but just interactive stories, but that line of thinking just completely misses the point. Telltale has been honing their craft for years now and The Walking Dead is the mangled masterpiece that came from all of those years of hard work and dedication Even on a second playthrough, even after playing what felt like a more polished first episode of The Wolf Among Us the Walking Dead stands that fickle test of time and has me more excited than ever for the second season.

What’s even better is that Telltale is going to have a full plate of games over the span of the next year, with the second episode of The Wolf Among Us due out after the holidays and the second season of The Walking Dead starting up on December 17th. Then add in the fact that they’ve announced two new series which are to follow in the way of Tales from the Borderlands and Game of Thrones.

My only hope is that they aren’t over-extending themselves here.

 

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