When the zombie apocalypse breaks out, you portray a guy named Lee, a convicted murderer (and University of Georgia professor). He is in a cop car, being transported to prison.
Lee’s unlucky break: Zombies are everywhere, and they have a zest for his death.Fortunately for Lee, a zombie jumps in front of the cop car, causing it to wreck. That frees Lee. What a lucky break.
Lee’s predicament is standard for zombie games — escape, look for refuge, meet allies, kill zombies.
But this excellent and filmic game, “The Walking Dead,” is not a standard operating experience for gamers.
Instead of making us stupidly shoot zombies by the dozens every minute, we must pay attention to all the film scenes, listen intently to each character and answer them — with emotion!
This game is more like a playable movie. It’s not a shooter. It’s a point-and-click adventure. You watch the film scenes then click dialogue options.
Should you tell fellow survivors you’re a convict?
Main storyline: You befriend little girl Clementine, and you protect her. So, should you lie to her or tell her the truth about your life?
Choices matter. Each time you make a talking or action choice, this changes all sorts of storyline outcomes.
When you are holed up at one farm, you must choose to save the life of one of two sons. Which son do you let die? There is no great answer. There are only gut-wrenching options during the zombie apocalypse.
“Walking Dead” sets us up for a psychological powder keg. Many reviewers have said they cried playing this game. Crying is truly unique in gaming.
The relationship you develop with the little girl — oh, my goodness, what a tearjerker.
As for your run-ins with zombies, you merely point your cursor at a zombie’s head and click a button to kick them, hit them or shoot them (quick-time events).
Those zombie-kill moments are infrequent. Because they are infrequent, they are startling. Adults die. Children die. In other zombie games, when characters perish, you merely save yourself and move forward.
In this game, when characters die, it’s sad, because death is sad. And there are so few characters, you get to know them and care for them.
“The Walking Dead” is based on the comic series, not the popular TV show.
Great credit here goes to writer Sean Vanaman; co-directors Vanaman, Jake Rodkin and Sean Ainsworth; comic-styled artists and game play architects; and all the actors, especially Lee (Dave Fennoy) and Clementine (Melissa Hutchison).
Those creators give us this quiet, subtle, indie-film-gaming experience that presents a more realistic, intimate portrait of a group of people trying to survive a horrific catastrophe.
Characters argue. They scrape. They weep. Some die terribly. Some survive terribly.
For that depth, I’m grateful. Zombie games are usually all shooting-blam-blam, and running, and “baaahh, brains!”
This game is an indictment of those games. It is a tenderhearted gem of earnest sadness. Bravo.
(“The Walking Dead” by Telltale Games retails for $30 for Xbox 360 and PS 3; $25 for PC — Plays like a good interactive movie. Looks very good. Moderately easy. Rated “M” for blood, gore, intense violence, sexual themes. Four out of four stars.)
Doug Elfman is an award-winning entertainment columnist who lives in Las Vegas. He also blogs here. Twitter at @VegasAnonymous.