(This review contains spoilers)
I faced a fate worse than death in The Walking Dead (TWD), Episodes 3 and 4. I faced it over and over
again: the horrific decisions you have to make, the violation of your emotions
because of the situations you have to endure and then the final blow - the inexorable
approach of your own zombification and Clems kidnapping. These hammer through
your soul as you navigate through the hell that is The Walking Dead.
The Walking Dead series
adapts to your choices and the resulting story is tailored to your gameplay. Rather
than giving a straight forward review, I will allow you to peek into my soul by
explaining the effect the game had on me.
One of the more significant aspects of video gaming is
the ability of a game to tap into a player’s inner dialogue. As with other art
forms, a game possesses the quality to direct our thoughts, capture our
imagination and take us on unexplored pathways. The Walking Dead masterfully and macabrely explores this potential.
The game tapped into my inner dialogue by tearing out my
heart and forcing me to re-examine my innermost thoughts on many things
including mercy killing, friendship, suicide, love, survival, parenting and violence:
the list is almost endless. The Walking
Dead grabs you by the throat from the get go and it doesn’t let up right
until the end.
In TWD episodes 3 and 4, you face the most bizarre and
emotionally draining situations as you try to navigate your dwindling group of
survivors to the coast of Savannah. There you hope to find a boat and sail off
into the sunset. Hope before you and loss
behind you… or at least, that is what you say to convince yourself. The longer
TWD’s drama unfolds, the more I feel the only constant in the game is the loss
of my humanity and innocence. This and the increasing silent accusation I am
incapable of leading this group of people. Yes, you read that correct, I am not
even referring to the main protagonist of the series, Lee Everett anymore. I am
talking about myself, Han Cilliers and the decisions I make.
Somewhere between Lilly shooting and murdering the wrong
person, my most trusted survivor and me having to shoot little Duck because he becomes
infected, I get rid of Lee and play the game as myself. I’ve been gaming for
decades and this is the first time a game affected me this way.
In all my video games I have played, I have always been able
to distance myself from the character I’m playing. I always make decisions
solely based on what is practical, logical and best suited to advance my own
agenda. The Walking Dead strips the
cold logic mechanisms turning the wheel of my mind and instead claws deep down
into my soul. It draws out and lays bare the insecurities you face when confronted with so much
emotional turmoil and loss.
In episodes 3 and 4 the situations you encounter and the
decisions required desperately calls for the cold, rational mind, but I found
myself time and again in conflict with feeling and emotion. The dilemma the
game so vehemently throws in your face is, when it comes to survival there is no
right or wrong. There is only life. As Chuck (a new character from episode 3) puts
it to Lee, “You aint a girl or a boy, young or old anymore. You are only alive.”
I finally have the
justification and opportunity to get rid of Ben, drop or save?
How you choose to preserve life is the challenge of episodes 3
and 4. The voice acting, animation, music and story are done so masterfully it
is easy to fall into character. I remember feeling proud when I, an escaped
convict and murderer, earned the achievement “handle it”. I had talked Kenny
into stopping the train, so we could face the situation with Duck. Taking care
of Clem became my second chance at life, my atonement for past sins. Every
conversation with her was an unconscious reminder I wanted to be a good parent,
that I needed her to admire and trust me. With our closing dialogue in episode 4,
I therefore chose the option not to lie about the search for her parents. But did
this cost her kidnapping and cause my infection to happen? This is a dilemma
the game frequently creates - it makes you question yourself.
The inhuman decisions you sometimes have to make start to
take a toll on you. The tension can be felt throughout the group - everyone is
becoming unhinged, and you have to somehow keep it all from falling apart. In
the midst of this chaos, the game portrays each character’s loss in such a way
that you cannot help but share in their pain. As I said in my review of
episodes 1 and 2, “A lesson in empathy from the Walking Dead”, the series relies heavily on its
ability to elicit empathy. What you learn in episodes 3 and 4, however, is your empathy can come at a great cost.
My empathy for Lilly led to her being able to steal our only means of
transport. This in turn led to an unhealthy suspicion setting like a dark cloud
over the already sombre group. The message was clear, trust no one. In the
words of Christa, a new addition to the group in episode 4, “At least the dead
don’t play games with you.”
In the midst of all this darkness the game mercifully allows
moments of profound beauty. These moments mostly feature in conversations with
Clementine. Her acceptance of me when she found out I murdered someone; when
she allowed me to cut her hair and the joy of a loving look or hug. These moments
mean so much more because of their rarity.
When we finally reached Savannah, the game took us down a
road of such madness and despair, to the point where it almost became too much
to continue playing. I came face to face with the darkest side of human nature
when confronted with the Crawford solution to the infection. I almost lost the
last bit of my humanity when I shot the toddler zombie boy. In Savannah we all
lost… so much.
The Walking Dead
series sweeps you away on a tidal wave of emotions. Moment to moment
experiences influenced by your decisions change this game from being just entertainment
to a profound inner journey. The game leaves you with an almost delirious sense
of anticipation to see how your accumulated choices from the first four games
will come to a conclusion in the final, fifth, episode.
Will I have enough time to save Clem? Will the group be able
to eliminate me before I turn into a zombie? God forbid I hurt anyone.
TellTale, what have you done to us? See you in episode 5.
"Molly" fan art by Odobenus
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