Monday, December 31, 2012

Why The Walking Dead is the Game of the Year 2012

I warn you, traveller, before you step any further in. This journey is not one to be undertaken quite lightly. There are spoilers ahead. I know that everybody wants to avoid them when talking about this game, but I have to use them for this take on it. I will try to make them as mild as possible, but I refuse to take any blame for you discovering things here that you really should have discovered there.

Ok? Do we understand each other? I am going to tell you things, and you are NOT going to complain if they are things you would rather not know. By now, there is absolutely no reason at all for you not to have become acquainted with the subject of my discourse, but there are events that transpire which you may have no idea of.

We need to talk about Kenny.

Redneck asshole

Kenny, not to put to fine a point on it, annoyed me. He wound me up. With his insistence that I back him up at all times, with his overtly aggressive position, and with his almost complete uselessness, I frequently hoped to be given choices that would just get this turd out of my face. Like, when we were trying to start that train. Dude just sat there in the driver's seat, but kept on saying "I don't know anything about trains." THEN WHY THE HELL ARE YOU ON IT? For fuck's sake, man, go sort your zombie kid out instead of letting Katjaa carry that can. Why must I do everything? I just fought off that undead bastard in that car to give your kid some sweets, and what do you do? Sit there looking confused by the train controls, despite having manuals and stuff to hand.

I get it, I really do, that Kenny had a bit of a big shock to his system in the third episode. But, you know what? He was getting on my last nerve long before then. His mistrust of the St. Johns turned out to be well founded, but it was originally based on nothing more than "I don't know these guys, so I don't want to like them."

I made the decision early on to not let anybody die if I could help it. Kenny, on the other hand, has some quite serious bloodlust. He actively pushes towards killing members of the group on more than one occassion, even going so far as to pull the brick trigger himself. I simply did not like the character. But I would always have tried to save him if he ever once got into anything resembling trouble. Even though all he could really do was obsess about getting onto a bloody boat, I was determined to keep him alive. I didn't mean to agree with him and leave that girl to the zombies, I actually tried to shoot the zombies around her, not realising that my decision was supposed to be kill her myself. So, I found it particularly aggrevating when he told the group that we only survived because of it.

Kenny is a prick. He is quite unlikeable, and he does some very unlikeable things. And that is what makes him so brilliant. And by extension, what makes The Walking Dead so brilliant.

Should the dead really start reanimating, it is a pretty safe bet that you will be stuck with some people that you would otherwise not choose to be spending time with. Carley knew who I was, and knew my history, but didn't care. Larry knew, and cared enough to use it as a threat. If Kenny knew, I can imagine he would not have let me anywhere near his truck even after I saved his kid's life.

That is what encapsulates the real genius of Telltale Game's masterpiece. It is the quality of the writing that shines through. I DON'T LIKE Kenny. They have created a character who is so well written that I genuinely wanted the chance to hit him, and welcomed it like a long lost friend when it came to me in episode 3. He got under my skin in a way that no other game character has ever managed to. Not even Dominic Santiago, who bought a tear to my eye when he shot his wife instead of HIS STUPID SELF, has managed to bug me to the levels that Kenny did.

I can forgive the bugs and glitches. That Katjaa was sat there for the majority of episode 3 cradling an invisible Duck may have impacted upon the atmosphere if I had allowed it to. I chose to just not notice. That certain characters randomly appeared and relocated a few times was nothing more than an unfortunate thing, and not any kind of gamebreaker. I didn't focus on the mechanical, and left it to the dramatic to carry the story. I was not let down in any way, in fact I was rewarded most handsomely.

Games have long been criticised for the lack of quality in their writing. Generally, it is for a good reason. Writers have tried to do movie and book tricks, which have almost all failed to translate. Telltale have actually managed to write a good game, by only using movie and book style writing where it would fit. The decision mechanic is a pristine example of great game writing. What I mean by game writing is to utilise the medium in a way that plays to its stengths. Like in Heavy Rain, where Jason goes missing. The sense of panic imbued by having Jason constantly on the periphery of your vision, but OH SO MANY PEOPLE getting in the way of you catching up to him. Or in Modern Warfare, where you are struggling to get out of the crashed helicopter. These are feelings that words can't replicate. Having a time limit in which to decide what to say bypasses a major drama-killer, and actually amplifies the drama of the situation.

The Walking Dead got me invested in it more than most games manage. Generally, I find story gets in the way of a good game. The very best games allow me to create my own story, rather than play a substandard Hollywood wannabe's. The Walking Dead walks a very fine line between the story that is told, and the story I get to tell. It does this by using real game writing to give me key moments of control, and then using good standard writing to move the story on. The person of Kenny may not have been entirely to my liking, but the believability of him certainly was. And that, more than anything, is why The Walking Dead is the best game released in 2012.

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