The Walking Dead is a game by Telltale that prides itself on its dishonesty. It prides itself on getting the player to imagine consequences that never come to fruition, and the choices it claims to force you to make end up not mattering, and is essentially one long episode of Whose Line Is It Anyways, only missing the part where Drew Carey opens with the classic line, “Where the points don’t matter.”
Last night I finished The Walking Dead: Episode 2 by Telltale. I was telling people it was something worth experiencing and certainly GOTY. I felt like I’d had a meaningful experience, and that at the end of the day, was well worth the ten dollars I had invested.
My mistake was talking to other people that had completed this game, and watching the curtain pulled back before me. Where I thought I had made a meaningful choice at the end of Episode 1 by saving one character for their ability with a gun over someone who had an affinity for technological wizardry was suddenly revealed to be irrelevant. This problem appeared to me several times over the course of the two episodes released thus far. The choices of The Walking Dead boil down to which 3d model and set of .MP3s would you like to do the same linear actions, instead of facing different scenarios and/or challenges.
The Walking Dead is so focused on putting you through tense situations, that it never seems to calculate the possibility of a player doing well, or poorly - which is part of the appeal of games.
This is essentially a highly condensed version of the Mass Effect 3 problem, with wanting to give players choices, but not knowing how to figure out any sort of consequence for those choices. Choices are not nihilist, choices are not all equal. There are good and bad choices, and people make them based on facts, beliefs, morals, danger, or any combination of the above.
Sometimes people fail under pressure, and make bad choices, and get people killed for them. If you’re a game that advertises itself as allowing the player to make meaningful choices, then you need to make actual fucking choices for the player to have to live with.
When those choices are instantly proven to be pointless by the simple act of discussing the game with others, or a second playthrough - then they aren’t choices at all. If player ability becomes irrelevant beyond how quickly they can mash A in a quick time event, then what the hell is the point of it even being interactive in the first place?
At the end of the day, The Walking Dead relies upon the player’s lack of knowledge to sell itself. From having them imagining consequences that never come to fruition, to insisting upon forcing the player down a linear pipeline of events, with the only differences being which characters are alongside you, why even bother?
The Walking Dead thinks very little of the player, and relies upon selling them a poorly disguised illusion, wrapped in quick time events than an actual game.