Aaron Dembski-Bowden

Don't worry. None of this blood is mine.

The Walking Dead (Game, not the Series)


I usually couldn’t care less about spoilers, but if anyone ruins this for me, I will hunt them down and slowly spread Marmite over their juicy, squishy eyeballs.

I will then eat their eyeballs, like Marmite-stained, gooey gobstoppers.

The Walking Dead, so far, is breathtaking. I’m just gutted I missed out on the episodic release system, as that seemed like it would’ve added to the anticipation.

My only problem is that it’s really reinforcing the fact that I’ve almost entirely stopped playing single-player games, the last few years. Without a really worthwhile storyline (and I realise that’s relative) I’ve been feeling for a long while that single-player games are something a little like busy work. They eat time, and I have nothing to show for it at the end. I don’t go for unlocking achievements, so that’s meaningless to me. I rarely feel some massive splurge of inspiration after a game, the way I do for a good movie or a great novel.

Curiously, I’ve never enjoyed Halo on my own, but in co-op it was always one of the best ways to spend a weekend with my friend Barney. Similarly, Civ V is an astounding motherfucker of a game, but whereas I can spend 10-hours straight on Skype, playing Civ with Ben – when I load a solo game I just feel like, well, I have other shit to be doing. I’ve clocked up about 400 hours in Civ V, and only about 15 of them were on my own.

Anyone who knows me will be well aware than I’m a fantastically insular creature. I need to spend most of every day alone, or I get distracted, tired, irritable. Even on a 40K weekend with a bunch of my best friends and funnest acquaintances visiting, when it comes to playing card games and watching movies at the end of each night, I usually need to retreat to my office and detox from the press of humanity, while they all have fun downstairs. It’s not about enjoyment, but endurance. I’ll have a great day, but the constant press of “Am I showing the right emotion of my face? How do I reply to what he just said? Why did she say that? What is he thinking?” presses in on me, sucking up the immeasurable fluid from my brain-battery. People tire me very quickly. My involvement in conversations begins high, and trickles down to almost nothing by the day’s end. My head will be too slow to think of anything to say, and I’ll be second-guessing everything that comes to mind. Far easier to stay quiet, and even better to retreat.

So I’d have thought single-player games would be one of my main hobbies (like reading is), but I think at some point over the last few years, it’s mutated into gaming becoming a largely social deal for me. Part of that might be because I live 8,000,000 miles from all my friends, so although I usually hate the phone (if my tinnitus is bad, I can’t read lips over the phone), Skype is something of a lifeline. I mean, I do practically everything alone, and prefer it that way. If I gamed alone as well, I’d never see other humans.

Some of it surely comes down to the fact that some things are better with other people. You laugh more at movies if other people are there, laughing with you. But again, that’s not all of it.

I reckon the core deal is that most single player games aren’t made for me, or people like me. Skyrim was amazing, but so light on interaction and storyline that all I could think about while playing it is how incredible it would be as a co-op game. Heading into dungeons together, one as a mage or a thief; the other as a warrior, and so on. If the game offers you no interaction to fuel the immersion, I tend to need it elsewhere. And despite Skyrim’s beautiful setting, the lore was pretty thin on the ground, and the NPCs were never anything more than cardboard cut-outs with limited scripts. So I needed other “living” characters to make it real.

Like I said, “worthwhile” storylines are relative. I can’t stand military worship games like Call of Duty or Medal of Honour, and their infinite ilk, but Transformers: Fall of Cybertron kicked me in the balls hard enough that my soul felt it. Playing through that was a moving experience: it felt literally like my childhood had come to life, caught up with me, and wanted to know if I could come out and play one last time. Presumably, after waving farewell to me, Fall of Cybertron will then vanish to go play with another kid in need of a secret best friend, or something. The same with War for Cybertron, actually. Here were the same feelings I’d had as a kid – that potency of imagination – brought out before me again. People slated the gameplay of both games. I barely noticed the gameplay of either one. I was hanging out on Cybertron, running alongside the characters as Optimus became the Last Prime; as Megatron attacked the Ark before it could reach Earth.

I literally teared up at the moment you stand on the Iacon Highway, with all that road stretching before you across Cybertron, and Optimus finally, finally tells you to “Transform and roll out.” I don’t give a shit how lame that sounds. That was the sunny days of my youth, right there. I’ve waited my whole life for him to say that to me. The immersion was masterful. High Moon Studios, the guys behind the Transformers games, recreated the emotional intensity of the best novels and movies for me, right there in that moment. Emotion. Immersion. Involvement. Feeling like you’re there. Giving a shit.

Very few other games have appealed to me on that level, or through awesome enough characterisation and storylines, in a long while. The last to do it was Half-Life II, which I still regard as the best game ever made. Before that? Jade Empire (which, in my rush, I shamefully missed off this list originally). Before that? Knights of the Old Republic II. Before that? Republic CommandoKotOR I; Planescape: Torment; Baldur’s Gate I & II.

I love Left 4 Dead; Civ; Portal, and Halo – with other players. Specifically with my friends. And I thought Portal I & II were great fun, approaching the above games in similar intensity without quite reaching it.

But right now, I’m only half an hour or so into The Walking Dead (love the comic book style graphics, by the way) and it took insane effort to log out and get some work done. I keep thinking about saving that little girl, and the decisions I’m making with everyone I meet, and wanting to know Lee’s story, and and and and and–

And that’s a good thing. This game is stellar. It makes me give a shit.

Lee & Clem

January 6, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | 34 Comments