Video Game DLC Review: The Walking Dead: 400 Days [Xbox 360]

The Walking Dead: 400 Days

The Walking Dead: 400 Days
System: Xbox 360 [also on PS3, PC, i0S and Vita (soon)]
Genre: Point-and-click adventure
Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Telltale Games
Release Date: July-August, 2013

Meant to bridge the gap between seasons one and two of Telltale’s The Walking Dead (my pick for 2012 game of the year), 400 Days is a much-welcomed expansion that plays out like a short story anthology. Rather than focus on a couple of characters like Lee and Clementine from season one, here we are introduced to five completely different people who are all brought together in the end.

The game gives you the option of playing through their stories (all of which take place at varying points of the zombie outbreak) as you see fit, and each segment lasts about 15-20 minutes. This gives just enough time to start caring for these characters while also craving more time with them.

Each story offers up a unique situation. One involves a prison bus being attacked by zombies en route; another revolves around a car accident. The characters are a diverse group, and all of them are well-written even though their appearances are brief.

The Walking Dead: 400 Days [Xbox 360, 2013]

There is a lot crammed into these little segments, and as expected, there are a number of difficult choices to make. Once again, your stats will appear at the end of the episode, allowing you to compare your decisions with the rest of the gaming public. In fact, in terms of gameplay, there are little differences between the mechanics of this and the first season. Telltale added a couple of missable achievements, but other than that, the gameplay is pretty much the same. That’s not a bad thing.

If there are faults to 400 Days, they are stemmed in it being almost *too* short. The episode can be finished in under two hours, even when exploring every dialogue option. The epilogue feels a bit rushed as well, though it will be interesting to see how/if it ties into season two. Still, I’m happy to get any bits of The Walking Dead experience that I can, and 400 Days is a satisfying appetizer until season two arrives in the fall.

8/10

Video Game Review: The Walking Dead [Xbox 360]

The Walking Dead: The Game

The Walking Dead
System: Xbox 360 (also on PS3, PC, Mac OS X, iOS)
Genre: Point-and-click adventure
Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Telltale Games
Release Date: Throughout 2012

The last time I cried was at my father’s funeral five years ago.

There have been times since then where I would get choked up, particularly after some painstakingly depressing films (i.e. Grave of the Fireflies), but nothing has made the tears really start flowing. I don’t like crying, and I have a tendency to fight it even when it feels like a natural reaction. After completing The Walking Dead, once again I found myself holding back tears, albeit less successfully this time. No video game has ever come close to evoking this type of emotion in me.

It’s funny, I shouldn’t even like The Walking Dead. I tried watching the AMC TV show of the same name, and found it embarrassingly amateur. I gave up after the first season. I’m also burnt out on the whole “zombie” fad, as it reached the point of over-saturation long ago. Yet I found myself drawn to Telltale’s episodic video game series. It grabbed a hold of me and refused to let go.

The Walking Dead [Xbox 360]

My initial plan was to review each of The Walking Dead‘s five episodes individually — I wrote about numbers one and two last year — but it began to grow tedious. How could I possibly write about each episode without using spoilers? There are groundbreaking revelations within each episode, with characters coming and going at a breakneck pace.

At its core, however, two characters remain constant: Lee and Clementine.

Lee is the player-controlled protagonist who essentially “adopts” Clementine, the eight-year-old he finds alone in a treehouse during the first episode. With her parents missing, Lee becomes something of a father figure to the young girl (later episodes even give the option of introducing her as his daughter). The relationship between these two grows with every moment, and I found myself doing everything I could to protect her.

Every episode forces Lee to make crucial decisions, most of which offer two choices that essentially equate to “bad” and “worse.” After my playing sessions, I found myself questioning some of my choices. Should I have saved a different character’s life? Should I have really stolen food from that car? I tried to do everything in the interest of Clementine — in a world that has gone to hell, the only important thing was to help this little girl survive.

The Walking Dead [Xbox 360]

In reality, that’s what The Walking Dead is about: survival. It’s near impossible to trust anyone else because that is ultimately their goal as well. Everyone is looking out for their own interests, as well as their families. Relationships are often forged but remain shaky as tensions flare up.

I was emotionally drained by the end of the game. This series really puts you through the ringer, never letting up at all. It’s fantastic storytelling, and it’s unlike any other found in a video game so far. The writing is excellent, the voice acting top notch, and the characters unforgettable.

I had never felt the way I did upon completing The Walking Dead. I wasn’t sure that video games as a medium could evoke that type of reaction out of me — hell, very few movies have, and I have seen a lot of ’em. For this alone, The Walking Dead is one of the most important games to come out in 2012, and I have absolutely no reservations about calling this the Game of the Year.

10/10

Video Game Review: Red Johnson’s Chronicles: Episode One [Playstation 3, 2011]

Red Johnson's Chronicles: Episode One [Playstation 3, 2011]

Red Johnson’s Chronicles: Episode One
System: Playstation 3
Publisher: Lexis Numérique
Developer: Lexis Numérique
Release Date: May 3, 2011

No, this title is not innuendo for something else.

The unfortunately named Red Johnson’s Chronicles: Episode One is a point-and-click adventure game that is essentially a mashup of Professor Layton and Heavy Rain. You play as Red Johnson, a private investigator who has just been hired to solve the murder of one of the most hated men in town. During the investigation, Red meets an interesting array of characters, nearly all of whom seem to have something to hide. The gameplay is a mix of solving puzzles, questioning suspects, and surviving occasional quick time events. While the game is rated M for Mature due to language/violence, the subject matter is all very much tongue-in-cheek with some lighthearted humor thrown in. This balance is very much appreciated.

RJC’s puzzles, the main focus of the game, are typically challenging and many require some serious thought. Thankfully, there is a hint system in place that can be used if necessary. There is also a good amount of variety in the puzzles, which helps keep things fresh. This is definitely a strong suit of the game.

The addition of quick time events, while initially intriguing, is more of a nuisance than anything else. The QTEs are all too brief, and one wrong button press means you fail the entire event. Since you are only given a very quick look at each icon, it is incredibly easy to miss the signal in time. There aren’t too many of these events in the game, but they still could have been tweaked to make them fit in better.

Red Johnson's Chronicles: Episode One [Playstation 3, 2011]

Aesthetically, Red Johnson’s Chronicles succeeds in creating a dark, grimy world, and it has the feel of a solid crime noir. The voice acting could use some work (especially the over-the-top Sal stereotype), but it does give the game a more personalized feel.

Red Johnson’s Chronicles will last between 6-8 hours overall, which is a good length for a PSN adventure title. It is great to see a new console point-and-click game, and hopefully Lexis Numérique is encouraged to continue the saga. With some modifications here and there (such as adding more locations and fixing the QTEs), this could rise near the top of the genre. As it stands, RJC is a solid effort that is worth a look for fans of the genre.

7/10

Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, Episode One [PS3, 2008]

Penny Arcade Adventures: Episode 1 [PS3]

Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness Episode One
System: Playstation 3
Developer: Hothead Games
Release Date: October 23, 2008

I am a casual fan of the Penny Arcade web comic, not an avid reader but I still take the time to peruse the site every now and then. I like their brand of video game humor — I will never forget their hilarious God of War comic — so when I saw that the Playstation Network was offering their two video game titles together for a total of $3 I had to pick them up. The first episode of Penny Arcade Adventures, titled On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, is a mashup of old school point-and-click adventure games and modern day RPGs.

After creating your own character, the game begins with a giant freakin’ robot destroying your house. Naturally, this is a total surprise and your character has no clue what is going on. After heading down the street in pursuit of the robot, you encounter Gabe and Tycho (from the web comics) who join you on your adventure to figure out what the hell is going on. Along the way, you meet a number of bizarre characters including “Fruit Fucker” robots, urine-soaked hobos, and devil-worshiping mimes. The sarcastic Penny Arcade humor is always prevalent which is what sets this game apart from other like-minded ventures.

The general gameplay consists of basic point-and-click fare as you wander throughout a mere four locales. Clicking on random objects generally produces a humorous response, and some reward you with bonus items. It is worth taking the time to see what every click-able item has to offer. Every now and then the characters will encounter an enemy (Fruit Fuckers, hobos and the like) that will bring about a turn-based RPG battle.

These RPG battles are where the game drags a bit. Each character has a timer that must get filled up before they are able to perform a standard attack, team attack or use an item. While you plan out your next move, enemies are constantly attacking you, which requires you to conveniently hit R2 at opportune times to either dodge or block their attacks. This element keeps you on your toes during combat and makes sure there is always something going on. The problem with the battle system is that switching between your characters manually is a bit of a chore and can cause some serious issues, such as when you happen to miss hitting the block button during an enemy attack. Also, blocking can be incredibly difficult. Some of the enemy attacks are hard to judge, and I found myself missing blocks by just a split second and not getting any credit for them. Couple all of this in with the fact that battles are often quite lengthy and it is clear that some improvements could be made here.

Still, even with its problematic combat system, Penny Arcade is able to ride its comedic roots to respectability. This is a game that is built on humor, and without it, Episode 1 would be mediocre at best. Hardcore fans of the comic will assuredly grade this game higher than everyone else, and I don’t have a problem with that. I just can’t help but feel that a more polished combat system would have made this game a lot more enjoyable. At a meager $3, I wholeheartedly recommend getting this, but I would never advise picking it up at its original $20 price tag unless you are a diehard fan of the comic.

6.5/10