I know I'm a little late to the party on this one, considering that Episode 5 came out before Christmas, but I managed to polish off Telltale's The Walking Dead game last night. (I spent the next few hours sobbing into a pillow. Well, it might not have been that bad, but The Walking Dead is an emotionally intense game, so if you haven't finished the last chapter yet, make sure you pick up a box of Kleenex.)
It's weird; I can't remember the last time I felt this connected to a group of characters. Television and film typically have a corner on the characterization market, but The Walking Dead steals a lot of their thunder. In fact, the game is so successful that it blows the doors off of AMC's series. Here are a few of the reasons why:
5. AMC Likes Generic Characters
AMC's rendition of TWD is constantly attempting to shoehorn character-driven subplots into the storyline, but the writers must have all originally written for Saved By The Bell, because that's how it ends up feeling. Rick is Zack Morris, Shane is A.C. Slater, Lori is Kelly, and Screech is the zombies.
In every single episode, the interpersonal conflict is clumsy and unbelievable. We don't care which romances work and which ones don't. All of the characters are too shallow to be realistic, which means that the audience never connects with anyone aside from Rick, and he gets less lovable throughout the series. Plus, I don't know about you, but I'm constantly crossing my fingers that Kelly will eventually get eaten by Screech, but it never actually happens.
In the TWD game, though, the characters have been placed into in a zombie universe, but that’s not really the point. It's a problem that everyone has to deal with, but it's not always the most pressing issue. The characters are attempting to create a life for themselves that's zombie-free, not just looking for the most convenient form of temporary protection.
4. The Cast Isn't Scrambling for Screen Time.
Even though the first season was a runaway hit, AMC famously cut The Walking Dead's budget going into second season. In an attempt to save some cash, producers started filming half of the scenes indoors, and spread the storyline across some of the more affordable actors. The result was the schizophrenic, farmhouse-oriented second season.
The Walking Dead game, however, doesn't have to worry about any of these restrictions. They can let their voice actors come and go based on the direction of the story arc, which makes for a far more organic storyline.
Part of the reason that Telltale's version of The Walking Dead is so compelling has to do with the interactive experience. The way that you treat the other characters is remembered and may come back to bite you. Plus, whenever a character dies, it's partially on your shoulders. So, even if you dislike the character, you have to live with the consequences. You can't offload the blame onto the writers like you can with the AMC series.
Actually, that's kind of the point of the game. In the last chapter, a seemingly innocuous choice that was made in an earlier episode comes back to haunt you. It's a brilliant piece of writing, because it forces players to feel the weight of every decision that they've made throughout the entire season.
AMC paces their show like a schizophrenic would conduct a symphony. There's no build-up to the action, just long sections of solid boredom punctuated with a horde of zombies gnawing on all of your favorite characters. You actually find yourself rooting for a zombie attack, just so the show will get moving.
Every episode in Telltale's version, however, slowly builds to a climax and sets itself up for the next release. In fact, like I’ve already mentioned, the series as a whole culminates with a somber and thought-provoking climax that forces the player to question all of the decisions he's made throughout the entire season.
1. Clementine Is One of the Only Believable Child Characters in the History of Entertainment
Children have been acting awkwardly in television since the television was invented. The problem is accentuated on Disney Channel programs like Hannah Montana and The Suite Life on Deck, but big-budget dramas like The Walking Dead certainly aren't immune
See, most child actors don't have the ability to employ subtlety into their characterization, which means they constantly over-act (side note: most of the other actors on AMC's The Walking Dead have the same problem). Clementine, however, is an extremely believable child. She's not trying to act like a tiny version of the protagonist, like Carl Grimes. She's confused, scared, and often helpless, and the protection that Lee offers is part of the reason that we know he's moving beyond his past.
Date: January 21, 2013