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


  1. Skyrim was an empty paper bag 😦 Really enjoyed New Vegas (All the Fallouts were GREAT except #3) though but only on hardcore mode. Very immersive with a great background. I’ll have to give this one a shot. The guy who writes the Walking Dead show/comics is freaking amazing. I love that damn show. KotOR was awesome all the way around. I cant play a compy/console game for more than an hour anymore though. Just too boring nowadays :\

    Comment by ChonkE | January 6, 2013 | Reply

  2. ADB, could I just ask you one thing about Betrayer – why was Angron so ridiculously pathetic? What would have been wrong with giving the psychotic bastard his moment to shine – kicking loyalist tail and ascending triumphantly, roaring his victory over the broken corpses of his enemies? Instead, he never even learns who Khorne is, and Lorgar arranges for his ascension out of pity, and with sorcery of all things. Pity and sorcery are about the least Khornate things there are. And then Lorgar just casually overpowers him and locks him in the basement. What would have been wrong with Angron being strong, like every other Primarch in the series?

    Comment by Vyros | January 6, 2013 | Reply

    • You keep asking that. My answer, I guess, is to check out… pretty much every single other review in existence. Good luck!

      Incidentally, why would he know who Khorne is right now? Luke didn’t care about the Emperor during the Trench Run. That’s about where we are in the Heresy. Perspective, dude.

      Comment by Aaron Dembski-Bowden | January 6, 2013 | Reply

      • Angron didn’t come across as pathetic, really. And the slow, gradual degeneration into Khorne-worship is something that I find preferable to him having one particularly bloody engagement and suddenly coming out with Bunny Ears and a new outlook on life.

        Even Graham in Fulgrim had a hard time charting the degeneration over the course of one novel–and, given his recent writings, he didn’t finish the story all the way even then. I’d argue that Angron slipping slowly towards Khorne actually makes more sense, and should be treated over a span of time.

        As for being “strong”…most of the primarchs have had moments of weakness across the series. Roboute had serious moments of darkness and self-doubt in KNF, Dorn’s been beating himself up repeatedly throughout the Heresy thus far, Fulgrim literally got co-opted and locked away in a painting for a while, Lorgar and Magnus have both encountered tremendous setbacks and upheavals…the list goes on. At this point, the only primarch I can think of that hasn’t had to deal with a moment of weakness is Russ, and even he had a moment where he expressed regret and misgivings about the course leading him and Magnus into conflict at Prospero.

        I actually think Angron should take more time than most, because heretofore, we’ve always had a two-dimensional image of the guy, and in order to have his fall have significance, that lack of depth needs to be rectified, so that the choices and results of his choices are held up in stark relief to what he was and could have been.

        My two cents.

        Comment by Frostclaw | January 6, 2013 | Reply

      • Because he was with Lorgar the whole time (who definitely knew who Khorne is, judging from the whole “Blood for the Blood God” thing). Also, he’s a Daemon Prince of Khorne now. At least Fulgrim and Magnus new who their respective patrons were when earning ascension. I wouldn’t complain about it except for the fact that you had him become a daemon of Khorne before learning who Khorne is.

        Comment by Vyros | January 6, 2013 | Reply

      • He obviously doesn’t need to know, does he? Maybe Chaos isn’t as simple as you figured.

        I’m finding it slightly odd you even thought he would need to “know who Khorne is”, but given this is the kind of thing I was locked in IP meetings over and I’m trying to politely find a way to say the setting doesn’t work that way, I hope you can forgive me not bowing to your perspective of what “should” happen, and how the license functions.

        Comment by Aaron Dembski-Bowden | January 6, 2013 | Reply

      • *shrugs* Fine. Just thought I’d ask.

        Comment by Vyros | January 6, 2013 | Reply

    • you are a madman

      Comment by Daniel | January 6, 2013 | Reply

      • Yes, being unsatisfied with a Character’s portrayal is clearly a sign of my insanity.

        Comment by Vyros | January 6, 2013 | Reply

      • Thanks for the fucking spoiler dickhead.

        Comment by Nazaradine | January 6, 2013 | Reply

  3. Try doing lets plays, or streaming, your guaranteed audience would bring that multi player feeling. I started doing the youtube thing and its really helped me get into more variety in my gaming.

    Also you should play Bastion, everything about Bastion is epic, narration is so cool and the story is amazing.

    Comment by Benjamin Crowther (@makahli) | January 6, 2013 | Reply

  4. I felt the same about Fall of Cybertron, shame it lacked a co-op option for the story, usually burn through solo then wait till friends want to play. Did enjoy the 2 trailers though!

    Comment by roguetent | January 6, 2013 | Reply

  5. You should really try spec ops: the line … It’s like anti-CoD and quite unique.

    Comment by alvias | January 6, 2013 | Reply

  6. Vyvros, too bad you didn’t get the essence of betrayer.

    I suggest you read the book again and keep in mind Angron is not like every other Primarch.
    Let’s talk again after.

    Ontopic: the walking dead is one of the better TV series out there, regarding storylines within pc games, I suggest giving Far Cry 3 a try.

    Comment by Cromvolt | January 6, 2013 | Reply

  7. Kenny kills Dumbledore.

    Comment by Graeme Knott | January 6, 2013 | Reply

  8. I know that all those “You should play/see/read X, it’s awesome” comments from strangers are mostly worthless, but I will try anyway.

    You should really play “Witcher 2” enchanced edition (on PC preferably, if You have the rig to run it). As far as fantasy games go, its really something head and shoulders above competition. Not just the story itself, which is more immpressive, the more You re-play it to see all the strands and intricacies of it, but the level of writing, dialogue and characters is just above anything else in modern RPG’s, these days. If there was ever an RPG made in the last decade, that made You give a shit about its plot and characters, its this one.

    Comment by Adam N | January 6, 2013 | Reply

  9. Have you tried Mass Effect 1-2-3 Aaron? My favourite games of all times. Storywise, Bioware is the top of the line – they’ve won the Best RPG of the year for so many years in a row now. Definitely worth to try, especially if you like hard sci-fi.
    Ps. Thank you for Kargos.

    Comment by Jan S | January 6, 2013 | Reply

    • I wasn’t much of a fan, ME-wise. The writing all felt a little like the poor man’s KotOR, and the setting never gripped me much. I played 1, never finished 2, and gave up during 3. Dragon Age is similarly kinda… mediocre, to me.

      I don’t think BioWare excels in their own settings. They do better work in established licenses.

      Comment by Aaron Dembski-Bowden | January 6, 2013 | Reply

      • To each his own I guess.
        What was your favourite game story-wise? If you’ve like Skyrim then another good Sandbox type game is Farcry 3. Nice story for a sandbox shooter. Other than that, I don’t know what to recommend besides the Assassin’s Creed series. Halo 4 was a huge disappointment for me (both single – extremely short, and multi) and I’ve loved Halo since the Combat Evolved.

        Comment by Jan S | January 6, 2013 | Reply

      • Poor man’s KotOR, eh? I’m no writer, but I gotta say, that hurts just a tiny bit. While I see your point, I might question whether it was working within established IPs that made those games better or other factors; lots of things changed in the time from BG1 to ME3: available technology, audiences, studio staff/leadership/ownership

        None of the later games have given the player quite as much latitude alignment-wise as KotOR did, which makes me a little sad. I really wish I could say I was jazzed about future stuff, but honestly, if I hear “MTX” one more time, I may kill something. Seriously. Not a fan.

        And be glad — very glad — that you never had to play through those damnable endings.

        Incidentally, read Aurelian last weekend. Really, Aaron?

        Comment by Not some Texan cunt. | January 7, 2013 | Reply

      • Dearest NSTC,

        For that link alone, you deserve nothing but exaltation.

        I take it you’re a Mass Effect fan, right? Most of my friends are – they either totally disagree with me, or reluctantly agree, in about a 50/50 split. So I can relate.

        But in all seriousness, a couple of sentences isn’t going to sum up my long, long and rocky relationship with Mass Effect, and I can only comment on the final deal, not the company’s details behind said final deal. In every way bar the writing, I think ME was a superior piece to KotOR. I couldn’t unbiasedly say whether the writing felt like a poor man’s KotOR because it was intended to have such a derivative main character, but the tough guy space jock is always a hard sell to me, unless it’s got an adorably original slant, like say… being in unacknowledged love with your hologram AI. I enjoyed the gameplay much more than KotOR, but very few of the characters as much as other RPGs. Dragon Age was the same.

        And it’s weird, because if you’d asked me 10 years ago, I’d have taken a bullet for BioWare. They were everything I wanted a game company to be – it was stupid of me to miss Jade Empire off the above list, which is one of the best 5, let alone best 10, games I’ve ever played – for storlyine, characters, setting… So much so I have to add it in now, in a chiding panic. It still has the best storyline climax I’ve ever seen.

        I went into both DA and ME with no real expectations beyond the fact I love deep, long (…wait) RPGs. No one was more gutted than me when I wasn’t gripped. Something as major as ME deserves a little more than a 2-sentence dismissal in terms of a review, though. For really reals. Not least of all because most of my friends will read this and another round of arguments will start.

        Comment by Aaron Dembski-Bowden | January 7, 2013 | Reply

  10. Big. Stompy. Robots. With guns.

    Comment by Matt H | January 6, 2013 | Reply

  11. Hello mate, just like to pick up on something you mentioned in your post – tinnitus. I’ve just developed it and so far I have to say um not a fan. In fact, it sucks arse. How long you had it for and, if you’ll indulge me, have you found anything that helps? Cheers dude.

    Comment by Nazaradine | January 6, 2013 | Reply

  12. did you ever play bioshock 1?

    Comment by matt weston | January 6, 2013 | Reply

  13. Pretty much the same for me, TWD pulled on my heart strings and I’m currently at a point when I had to turn off the game for fear of ot playing with ny head too much.

    The thing I love about it is it isn’t some bullshit morality railroad like Mass Effect or Fable. In ME despite what you do, the game will curve you no matter what through the sea of npcs who dont matter until you are forced to be a good guy. Fables morality was based entirely on whether you wanted wings or horns. No consequences.

    TWD makes you realise that your choices do affect others lives and will get people mutilated, killed or even worse. It made me feel human again, which is something a game hasn’t done since Abes Odyssey.

    Comment by scumdrop | January 6, 2013 | Reply

  14. Dude, that thing about the eyeballs is pretty gross. You’d eat marmite?

    Comment by Mike Cripps | January 6, 2013 | Reply

  15. I felt exactly the same after finishing Fall of Cybertron just the other day. It was just so much fun – and the final level was a beautiful pay-off. A fan’s dream. Both inspired to look around Cybertron again and looking forward to where I’m guessing the third game is going.

    Comment by projectshadowlondon | January 6, 2013 | Reply

  16. I don’t know if you get the same feeling, but I really feel like I am partaking in the TV series as a participant. It represents an ultimate choose your own adventure. I’d recommend treating it episodically even though you have access to all of the ‘shows’. That way the ‘last week on TWD’ synopsis segments that air before the the game starts are more fun to watch.

    Comment by John Stiening | January 7, 2013 | Reply

  17. Not a spoiler per se, but there was a part near the end that was damn near cinematic (if felt like it, at least). The music track chosen for that scene had absolutely nothing to do with the Walking Dead in terms of genre or even the style used by the series… but it was perfect. I hope you get the same reaction!

    Comment by greekojtac | January 7, 2013 | Reply

  18. You asking about The walking dead game the other week,prodded me into getting it with the itunes giftcard I got.
    All I have to say it thanks,this game rocks Im up to ep 3 and I already cannot wait to start again this time as a pacifist(this time around I am playing as if it were real anyone who is a danger to me gets off’d at the first chance.
    After the crap Larry pulls in ep1 if that happened to me he would never of made ep2

    Comment by Will W. | January 8, 2013 | Reply

  19. “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.”

    Good god. It’s like holding up a mirror to my soul. I don’t think I’ve ever put it together like this, but that’s exactly the same way I get. I need to remember some of those lines as a handy explanation for loved ones.

    Comment by DamonD | January 9, 2013 | Reply

  20. TWD peaks around Ep3, then it feels like a rush to the finish line.

    Comment by Bobo | January 13, 2013 | Reply

  21. I really admire your work, and I was hoping I’d be able to share the life-size Night Lords helmet I made with you; I left this on your Facebook too, so just smile and nod at me being a creepy stalker, lol. http://i81.photobucket.com/albums/j208/CuteLucca/nl1-1.jpg If you’d like to see more photos you can go here: http://mercs.firespray.net/forum/index.php?topic=59131.0 Again, thanks so much, all your stories are wonderful.

    Comment by Abby Lusk | January 15, 2013 | Reply

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