Note: This review covers the complete Episodes 1–5 of The Walking Dead on PS Vita.
Like the TV show and comic on which it is based, Telltale’s adventure game The Walking Dead is not about zombies. It’s a game about people in a horrible, horrible situation and how they react to it. When your life may be on the line, do you choose to save a child whose parents may (or may not) be grateful, or do you try to save the grown man who you know will be?
Although the game is based in the same world as the TV show, it features its own cast of characters and troubles. You play as a 30-something black history professor named Lee who begins the saga on his way to jail for killing a man. However, within minutes of the opening title card, Lee finds himself free and injured in the initial days of the zombie apocalypse. Quickly thereafter, he finds himself taking charge of an eight year old girl named Clementine, whose parents were out of town when things went bad.
The Walking Dead is an adventure game, but it differs from most of the genre in that many of its “puzzles” come in the form of decisions that must be made quickly, rather than finding the proper items to combine and move forward in one linear path. What you choose to say and do affects how the game progresses, so everyone’s experience playing it is a little different, and that’s what makes it special. The path is still fairly linear, however, and you can’t make a choice that will truly mess you up or kill you somewhere down the line. But you can find yourself surrounded by people who dislike you and don’t trust you, or you can be a trusted leader with companions who look out for each other. The choices are difficult, emotionally as well as practically (“If I give food to that guy, maybe he’ll back me up on something later, but he’s a terrible person, so do I really want him as backup?”), and you’ll definitely find yourself pondering your choices even after you’ve finished playing.
The Walking Dead was originally released as six separate episodes: a five episode season plus one episode that serves as a bridge to season two. But fortunately for those who pick it up on Vita, we get all six episodes at once. No waiting to resolve cliffhangers for us! Unfortunately, the rest of the transition to Vita isn’t all good news.
Two control schemes are included, and although both get the job done, neither is ideal for this game. When using the joysticks and buttons, you get precise control over what you choose to do and how you interact with the objects in the environment, but you sacrifice speed. That’s guaranteed to get you killed a few times when the game throws its versions of quick-time events at you. In episode 5, which is the biggest offender in this area, there are two separate events that killed me three or four times because I didn’t move the right analog stick to the right spot quickly enough. The touch screen controls, on the other hand, let you instantly tap whatever you want, but you can’t choose how you to interact with it. If you see that you can tap a door, for example, you don’t get to decide if that means looking at the door, knocking on it, or opening it. After trying both control schemes, I ended up using the buttons and dealing with the occasional quick-time death.
Loading times are the other issue on the Vita port. I played the downloadable version, and I was always disappointed by how long it took to load when the action moved to a new area. And when the time comes for one of those quick-time events, the game almost always freezes up for several seconds before jumping into something to which you’re expected to react quickly. It wasn’t a big enough problem to make the game unplayable or rob it of emotional impact, but it was definitely frustrating.
Fortunately, the other aspects of the game’s presentation haven’t suffered in the transition. The Walking Dead has a unique, cel-shaded visual style, and it looks good on the small screen just like it did on computers. And thank goodness this game didn’t come out in days of yore, when a portable version of a game meant losing the voice acting. The voice actors truly bring the characters to life.
I’ve highlighted a few of this port’s issues, but The Walking Dead is still a great game worth playing. If, like me, you haven’t played it yet, you should. As of this writing, the price is the same on PC and Vita, so if you’ve got a computer that can handle it, that’s how I’d recommend playing it. But if you don’t, grab this one on Vita and look past its issues to the great game lying underneath.