PC Gamer

This article contains spoilers for The Walking Dead and Wolf Among Us, which you really should play if you haven t already. You might want to skip the second-last footnote if you haven t played Spec Ops: The Line too.

Telltale s games each begin with a warning: This game series adapts to the choices you make. The story is tailored by how you play. That sets up an expectation plenty of players have been disappointed by—an expectation they ll be able to radically alter the plot, twisting it into something like one of those pictures of a cobweb made by a spider on caffeine. In reality, Telltale s The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us, and more recently Game Of Thrones and Tales From The Borderlands1 funnel players back to a baseline every couple of episodes. Then they branch, and then they funnel again. It s not The Stanley Parable Adventure Line, but it s a close relative.

There s a moment in the third episode of The Walking Dead when the character you chose to save in the first episode—either Carley or Doug, though for the 75% of us who prefer competent gun-wielding survivors it was Carley—gets unceremoniously killed off. In the moment, it was shocking. Later, when I realized it happens no matter who you save and the decision was at least partially motivated by the cost of writing and recording different dialogue for future episodes (the character in question plays a noticeably reduced role in episode two for the same reason), I felt like I d seen behind the curtain. Some of the impact was reduced.

The choices you make in Telltale games have limited consequences for the plot, it s true. But they have massive consequences for the characterization and theme, which is something few other games offer. There s more to stories than plot, after all.

The comic book The Walking Dead is based on is overt about its theme. At the end of issue 24 Rick Grimes delivers a speech making it very plain, saying we already are savages and then, shouting over a two-page spread, WE ARE THE WALKING DEAD. It s classic Man Is The Real Monster stuff, fitting for a grim series where survivors betray each other constantly. Telltale s game gives you the option of choosing a different interpretation. Lee doesn t have to become hardened by being forced to make hard decisions; he can maintain his belief in human nature and then pass that on to Clem. He dies no matter what, but whether he dies with words of warning or compassion on his lips whether this is a story about hope or fear—is up to you.

Like a lot of zombie fiction the comic takes a cynical view of humanity, suggesting civilization is a thin veneer and we ll fall into savagery as soon as catastrophe strips it away. That s not what happens after disasters in the real world, however. After Hurricane Sandy hit New York, the Gothamist reported that crime rates dropped by 31%. We expect the opposite, sometimes with dangerous consequences. Reports of looting and violence in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina were exaggerated by politicians and the media to such an extent that a bipartisan committee later wrote, The hyped media coverage of violence and lawlessness, legitimized by New Orleans authorities, served to delay relief efforts by scaring away truck and bus drivers, increasing the anxiety of those in shelters, and generally increasing the resources needed for security. 2

Maybe a plague of actual zombies would be enough to turn us into lawless beasts, and if you believe that Telltale will let you tell that story. When the survivors decide to steal from the car at the end of episode two you re welcome to join in. But you can also tell a different story, one about a man who refuses to steal because he wants to set a better example for a child. The endpoint of both those stories is the same if you reduce them to their barest plot points, sure, but why would you?

You don't have to be the Bigby of the comics.

Similarly, The Wolf Among Us lets you subvert Fables, the comic it s based on. Bigby Wolf is feared because he was once the Big Bad Wolf of legend, but it s on you whether he lives up to that reputation or not. After a bar fight with Grendel you have the option to tear his arm off, Beowulf-style, to ensure he doesn t try it again, or you can simply walk away. The comics often portrayed Bigby as ruthless and apparently Bill Willingham, the writer of Fables, removed Gren s arm when he played the game3. But The Wolf Among Us doesn t have to be another hardened hard man story. Your Bigby doesn t have to be the monster everyone thinks he is, and can take actions that would never happen in the comic it s based on.

Big Choices have become part of the shared toolkit of modern video games—take, for example, retro RPG Wasteland 2. Early on you re forced to decide between saving a settlement or a laboratory, with the obvious implication that the other will be destroyed before you can get to it. The repercussions seem large different areas to explore, different characters to talk to, different missions to complete but while the meat-and-potatoes of the game changes, the theme remains the same either way.

You ll be berated for letting one place be destroyed no matter which you save, but you ll never be asked why you made the choice. Maybe you saved the settlement because there were children there, maybe you saved the lab because trained scientists are more valuable than ordinary folk, maybe your decision was informed by the fact that one provides food and the other water. It doesn t matter. Wasteland 2 doesn t care why bad things happen, it just knows they need to because that s how post-apocalyptic fiction works4.

Forcing us to focus on why we make characters do things brings us closer to them.

Letting players pick their own morals is something Telltale s games have in common with Edgar Allan Poe s stories. The author of The Tell-Tale Heart disliked the idea of writers forcing a single reading of their work, or bending all their stories to an overarching morality. While the murderer who narrates The Tell-Tale Heart is wracked with guilt and eventually confesses, the murderer who narrates The Cask Of Amontillado feels no guilt and suffers no consequence. Poe thought it was better for writers to focus on creating effect (if he was writing today he d probably have said feels ), and that s what Telltale s games achieve 5. Forcing us to focus on why we make characters do things brings us closer to them. It s why the endings of both seasons of The Walking Dead are such tearjerkers, and why we share Bigby s shock at the end of The Wolf Among Us.

The choices in Telltale games aren t just meaningful because they foster this connection with the characters, however. By giving players control not over the plot but over the context that plot happens in, the choices become meaningful in the most literal sense—they let you alter the meaning of the story. That s a rare thing in video games, and worth recognizing.


1 I m focusing on The Wolf Among Us and the two seasons of The Walking Dead in this article because those are complete at the time of writing, though Game Of Thrones seems to be following the formula so far. Three episodes in, Tales From The Borderlands feels like the odd one out given how light-hearted it is. If its final episodes are as good as the first three it might just be Telltale s masterpiece, though.

2 Sociologists have tried to debunk the myth that theft follows disasters, which they call elite panic , but it s a pervasive part of our culture. Even a game like This War Of Mine, which is based loosely on the 1992 1996 siege of Sarajevo, falls prey to it. In This War Of Mine you have to keep guard at night to keep out raiders because your neighbors are as much of a threat as the snipers and bombs. Its initial inspiration was One Year In Hell, the account of a survivor of Sarajevo s siege known only as Selco, who wrote that, In these situations, it all changes. Men become monsters. But accounts from other survivors differ from Selco s, depicting communities coming together, sharing rather than stealing. Selco is the one who got famous, however, and now sells his expertise through online courses for survivalists.

3 That info comes from an interview with the writers of The Wolf Among Us comic (yes, there s a comic based on the game that s based on a comic). The series is still ongoing, but so far it s been weird seeing which Bigby is the Official Canon Bigby. As well as ripping Gren s arm off he burns down Aunty Greenleaf s tree. I like my Bigby better.

4 To pick another example of a game that does things closer to the Telltale way, Spec Ops: The Line forces you to commit an atrocity but allows you to choose how the protagonist feels when confronted by his crime at the game s conclusion. It was just as divisive there s no way to keep playing without killing innocent people but like Telltale s games it lets you determine how the main character feels and whether he s capable of being redeemed or not. It makes for a powerful ending that s like nothing else in modern military shooters.

5 Closer to the hardboiled crime genre The Wolf Among Us was inspired by, Raymond Chandler had similar ideas. Mystery stories are famously dependent on tight plotting, but while writing to one of his editors Chandler explained why he believed his audience cared less about that than was usually assumed: My theory was they just thought they cared nothing about anything but the action; that really, although they didn t know it, they cared very little about the action. The things they really cared about, and that I cared about, were the creation of emotion through dialogue and description... Read that back, the creation of emotion through dialogue and description is such a perfect summary of what Telltale do it should be on their business cards.

PC Gamer

Telltale is returning to The Walking Dead with a new three-episode mini-series, called The Walking Dead: Michonne. Unsurprisingly, it stars The Walking Dead comic's Michonne, and is set between issues #126 and #139. According to Telltale's announcement, Michonne starts the mini-series "haunted by her past and coping with unimaginable loss and regret." So expect it to be as cheery as any other Walking Dead game.

Like Season One's 400 Days DLC, the mini-series will require players to own at least the first episode of Season Two. As to why Telltale are basing the mini-series around this character, The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman had this to say:

"In many ways, Michonne herself is a reflection of the world of The Walking Dead. She is brutal and cold on the outside, but deep beneath what is broken, she remains hopeful, trying to claw her way out of the darkness that surrounds her. In our effort to bring the world of the comic and the world of the Telltale series closer together, there is no greater character than Michonne to help bridge that gap."

The Walking Dead: Michonne will be available this autumn.

PC Gamer

Overkill's take on the Walking Dead has been formally confirmed for a 2016 release on PC by the studio's parent company Starbreeze.

The team behind Payday 2 is handling the comic book tie-in, and the co-operative first-person shooter will - quite obviously - take a fair few pointers from the creation (and success) of Payday 2. Just with more zombies, I'd guess.

Based on the comics, Overkill's version of the Walking Dead is also going to avoid the pitfalls of certain other tie-ins by running with its own set of characters and stories, with creator Robert Kirkman in tow to help out.

PC Gamer

When you think of Walking Dead videogames, odds are you think of Telltale's outstanding adventure series. But Overkill Software announced last year that it's getting in on the action too, with a cooperative FPS that will feature elements of action, stealth, survival horror, and role-playing. Speaking at a SXSW panel over the weekend, Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman said the experience will be much like Payday, but bigger, and won't slavishly follow the plot or characters of the television show.

"I can say that it will be Payday-esque because [Overkill and parent company Starbreeze] are currently doing Payday," Kirkman said, via Polygon. "But I'm told it will be in a bigger world than Payday currently encompasses. They are going to be learning a lot of stuff from Payday that they will be incorporating into The Walking Dead game."

Overkill hopes to avoid the pitfalls that trip up most licensed videogames by doing its own thing with the property, rather than trying to pander to the existing anbase. "The key I think, which is very important, is that we're not doing, 'Hey, it's Daryl Dixon running around shooting zombies, because you like Daryl Dixon.' Or, 'It's Rick Grimes doing this because you like Rick Grimes'," Kirman continued, possibly alluding to Activision's The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct, which holds a deathly Metacritic rating of 38. "We're telling our own stories and doing our own things almost as if they are original games."

He also confirmed that, much like Payday, the Walking Dead game will feature online cooperative gameplay. "It will follow a similar approach. That's good news," he said. A release date hasn't been announced, but it's currently slated to be out sometime in 2016.

PC Gamer

Telltale Games has built a solid reputation adapting existing franchises into adventure games, but according to the studio's new CEO it has an "upcoming original IP" in the works. The news comes as part of an announcement earlier today that the company's president and co-founder, Kevin Bruner, is now CEO. He replaces Dan Connors, who will stay on as an executive advisor.

While corporate musical chairs is interesting to some people, the promise of an original Telltale game inspires hope, as does "unannounced partnerships". Could this mean our long-hoped-for Seinfeld game is happening? Probably not, to be honest.

Here's Bruner's full statement, via GamesIndustry.biz.

"We're thrilled to continue our growth and bring our unique style of scripted entertainment to the next generation of digital media, and do that across thousands of different devices. Our top priority is to continue fostering an environment where the most talented and creative storytellers in the industry are working side by side with the world's biggest creative partners. We're already working on some of the biggest franchises in entertainment, and when you add our unannounced partnerships and upcoming original IP, it's clear the most exciting time to be at Telltale is now, and there will continue to be more and more opportunity to innovate ahead of us."

Following its success with The Walking Dead, Telltale has embarked on serialised adventure games based on The Wolf Among UsBorderlands and Game of Thrones. Here's what we think they should do next.

PC Gamer
Firewatch


Firewatch was announced by Campo Santo earlier this year, but the details were left unknown until we got our first look during PAX 2014. During today s panel in Seattle, the development team talked about their goals for the game and played it live for the first time. Firewatch, it turns out, is a mystery story set in the 1980s Wyoming wilderness.



Firewatch s main character is a chubby man named Henry. His life hits a rough patch, so Henry decides to get away from everything and everyone by taking a job as a lookout in a fire tower. Completely alone except for a walkie talkie connection to his supervisor, Delilah, Henry is surrounded by a hundred miles of forest to watch, some books to read, and a typewriter.

On his first day of work, Henry responds to a routine call: some drunk idiots are shooting off fireworks in the middle of the summer-scorched forest. During the live gameplay demo, we got a look at the game s storytelling mechanics, which have a lot in common with Telltale s The Walking Dead and Wolf Among Us series: a few dialog options vary in terms of humor, harshness, and earnestness, and letting the timer run out and the radio fall silent is always an option. Henry hikes out to confront the drunk campers at the urging of Delilah. Henry finds empty beer cans and bottle rockets, and the player chooses whether and how to talk about these things with Delilah.



On returning to the watchtower, Henry discovers that his new home has been broken into and all of his things have been ransacked, which kicks off the mystery: How alone is Henry, really? Who else might be out here? Are there more dangerous things in the woods than bears and forest fires?

Even though Firewatch is set in an open forest that can be explored in any direction, Campo Santo was clear that it will not be a traditional open-world setting. This is not an open-world game in the vein of Skyrim, developer Chris Remo said during the Q&A session. This is a narrative game, and we want players to experience this narrative in a certain way, but with a degree of freedom. You can go wherever you want and you won t find invisible walls, in other words, but you will find empty forest until its time for the mystery to unfold naturally. Co-founder of Campo Santo, Jake Rodkin, elaborated: I think Sean framing it as a mystery is a good way to do it. At a certain point you re not going to be able to advance in the story until you ve found a key piece of information, but we want to give you the freedom to be wrong, to make mistakes, he said.

A huge part of the story will be your interaction with Delila: how you respond, when you respond, pausing before responding, talking too much, and talking about nothing will all change the way she views you and interacts with you, especially as tensions start to mount.



Henry will be an unarmed protagonist exploring a wilderness mystery, a synopsis more at home to modern literature than modern gaming. A firewatcher s safety, of course, comes from their tower, not from guns. When that sanctuary is violated, Henry realizes that he is completely unarmed and alone, and someone nearby doesn t have his best interests at heart. It looks like it could shake out to be a tense, dark mystery told in an exciting new way.

Campo Santo is aiming for a 2015 release for Firewatch. Look to the team s development blog for more details. You can check out all of our PAX 2014 coverage here.
PC Gamer
walkingdead-s2e5-2


Warning: there are unmarked spoilers for all of Season 2 of The Walking Dead, including episode 5, below. Going forward, PC Gamer will review episodic games like TV episodes: critiquing and discussing the story of each episode as the season progresses, before assigning a score at the end of the season (season 2 review coming soon). Read more about how we review games in the PC Gamer reviews policy.

I cheated in episode five of The Walking Dead Season 2. Not with a code or a hack that lets Clementine and all of her friends live happily ever after. But I did cheat, or do something that feels like cheating, to me: after finishing episode five, I went back to two moments and did things differently. I sacrificed the purity of the story, the agony of making blind decisions, to see if things would play out differently. I didn t expect the story to change so dramatically, or that replaying those decisions would completely change how I felt about the episode, but it did.

Until this episode of The Walking Dead, I was convinced that Telltale s narrative power came from the illusion of choice. If you ve ever replayed any of the Walking Dead s dramatic decisions, you know what I mean. In most cases, different dialogue choices lead to the same reactions. Saving one survivor over another may affect the short term, but every path, be it bloody or guilty or stoic, intersects eventually. But the story works, because unless you replay those moments, you never know for sure. Maybe I could ve saved Kenny from a beating. Maybe Luke didn t have to die.

But replaying those moments robs them of their power, right? That s what I ve always thought, which is why I rarely replay sections of Telltale s games. I would be robbing myself of the impact of a death or emotional confrontation. It feels like cheating in the same way that save-scumming a game with permadeath feels like cheating.



Season 2 s finale No Going Back left me with a different feeling. The climax left me so dissatisfied and more importantly, seemed to so dramatically affect the outcome of the story that I decided to retread my decisions. The first time, I played Clementine logically, making the choices that seemed smart, necessary for survival. The second time I played from the heart, and I got a radically different ending. This was not the illusion of choice. This was real.

The first half of the episode is an exercise in inevitability. The overall story arc plays out predictably, following the same framework of a TV drama finale. The characters drag on towards an unhappy ending; Clem, Luke, Kenny, Becky, Mike and Jane have a brief moment of happiness around a campfire before tragedy whittles down their numbers. Clem, like any good protagonist, is injured, but soldiers on. Jane and Kenny, the ultimate survivors, see their character arcs come to a head. The episode is actually more about Kenny than it is about Clementine; it not-so-subtly builds towards the realization that Kenny is a monster, sadness and loss twisting his insides until only rage comes out. Jane, meanwhile, is desperate to be the big sister to Clementine she couldn t be to her real sister.

The first hour was so predictable I mostly felt bored, like both I and the game were going through the motions. Of course Kenny was going to angrily yell at everyone and be overly protective of Rebecca s baby. That was all foreshadowed last episode. Of course the group s moment of happiness is just a lull between bad times and worse. Even the final showdown was predictable, but my appreciation for it flipped completely when I replayed my choices.



In the climax, Clementine has to choose who to trust: the sane-but-cynical Jane, or the unhinged-but-fiercely-loyal Kenny? I just couldn t bring myself to trust Kenny after two full episodes of him yelling, beating people, and insisting he get his way. I shot him, but his death felt empty. Wasted. Jane forced the fight, and helping her fulfills her character arc. But it also cheats Kenny of a natural conclusion to his. Would he have become a monster on his own, without Jane intentionally pushing him over the edge?

Replaying the ending answered that question, and the answer is no. If Kenny lives, his ending is amazing. Cathartic, tragic, and whole. He completely recognizes what he s become but keeps fighting against it to be better, and his sacrifice at the end, based on another Clementine choice, gives meaning to all his struggles. It s not exactly a happy ending, but it s a powerful one.

Playing the endings in the order I did actually made Kenny s ending more moving; it felt like I d discovered the real ending the second time around, the one that offered the greatest sense of closure. It also impressed upon me how many branching paths Telltale has to establish, and then wrangle together, over the course of an episodic season. And I was surprised by how much more I cared about the ending when I knew I had controlled how it played out. That behind-the-scenes knowledge enhanced, rather than sabotaged, my experience of the story.

I suspect that I got to make those choices because season two s ending won t lead directly into season three. In fact, each one seemed like a fitting open-ended sendoff to Clementine s story. She becomes a fearless loner, or a finds peace in a new society, or strikes out to survive with a reformed Kenny or trustworthy Jane by her side. Perhaps this is it for Clementine. If so, she could ve had a better final episode like much of season two, episode five barely offered opportunities to talk to characters during downtime or explore but those endings will stick with me.

In my mind, Kenny s still out there somewhere, mending the pieces of himself that broke along the way. I d be happy if season three let me keep that image and moved on to something new.
PC Gamer
Walking Dead


I'm about to put a lot of trust in Telltale Games. You see, normally it's good form to watch the game trailer that you're posting to a major gaming website. But this one, for Episode 5 of The Walking Dead: Season 2, contains "major" spoilers for the preceding parts. And while yes, I should really have played those episodes by now, there are 125 other games in my "to play" list. Geeze, people, cut me some slack.

I apologise in advance it this is just five minutes and thirty-six seconds of wall-to-wall dongs.



The Walking Dead: Season 2, Episode 5 "No Going Back" will be released next Tuesday, August 26.
PC Gamer
The Walking Dead


PayDay 2 studio Overkill has revealed a few morsels of information regarding its forthcoming take on The Walking Dead series. During a Reddit AMA, producer Almir Listo addressed some questions regarding the project, which will be the third The Walking Dead video game adaptation in as many years, joining Telltale's serialised adventure drama and Activision's FPS stinker.

On the topic of what it will be, Listo confirmed what many of us have suspected: it's built on the foundation established by the PayDay series.

"Here's our elevator pitch to you," Listo wrote, "Overkill s The Walking Dead is a co-op first person shooter with elements of action, role-playing, survival horror and stealth, that invites players to explore the hugely popular The Walking Dead universe, where they will play the role of survivors fending for themselves in a post-apocalyptic world dominated by flesh-eating walkers.

"In 2016 Washington will fall - what will you do?"

As for the setting of The Walking Dead, Listo confirms that the game will be set in the same universe as the comics, but will feature brand new characters. "We're working with Robert himself. Seeing as he writes the comics, it's only natural that we'll focus on that. Personally, I love the focus on horror in the comics. We'll focus on new characters and new storylines, same universe."

Listo also addressed the topic of Storm, a co-op science fiction first-person shooter previously described as "PayDay in space". Is it still happening? Will development on The Walking Dead affect its progress?

"Storm is still on our road map," he replied. "More information will come when it's available."

 
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