“I’ll see you around… Wolf.”
Those were the final words of the fantastic The Wolf Among Us, which was the first game by Telltale Games that I had ever played. It was unlike anything I had ever played before. If I was to boil it down to its key ingredients then I would be left with excellent writing and quick-time events. Now, I know that QTE’s are the bane of many gamers, because they are a pitiful substitution for real gameplay. In most cases at any rate, a fast-paced shooter with a basic 2-D plot like Halo wouldn’t be able to get away with it. Without the button mashing shooty action, Halo has little else to impress us with. However, The Wolf Among Us had an incredibly strong and powerful narrative that I really didn’t notice the absence of any “real gameplay”. It had completely and utterly absorbed me into the world of Bigby Wolf and with every moral decision I was forced to make I found myself trying to rationalise and justify the decisions I’d made to myself.
Then, mere months later STEAM rolled out a Halloween Sale and I saw that they were very keen to show that they were selling the first two seasons of The Walking Dead games for a very heavily discounted price. I saw a familiar name: “Telltale Games”. The very same geniuses that had given me The Wolf Among Us… how could I resist buying two games from them based on a series of excellent graphic novels? The first season of The Walking Dead had five episodes, if I could play one episode a day then I could finish it in a week. A simple task. I launched the game, selected one of three empty save slots and started my journey. I was placed into the role of Lee Everett: a man arrested for murder who is in the back of a police car on the way to prison. However, providence intervenes and the car veers off the road and crashes. The driver is killed and Lee is given the chance to escape, but freedom is no longer a peachy prospect as walkers are now the dominant populous. After hopping a fence Lee finds himself in a seemingly safe house, where he finds a little girl named Clementine, who is waiting for her parents to return home. At this point I was invested enough in the game to not feel as if I was part of Lee’s story, hell I was Lee… this was my story and I knew Clementine couldn’t survive in this new world all by herself. And so, Clementine and I ventured out into an unpredictable world.
Episode 1 was a standard opening to a series. You’re introduced to a number of the characters that you will be spending a large amount of time with. Fans of the source material will be happy to see Glenn make an appearance for a token cameo. Episode 2 is where things get darker as we are introduced to a family of hick cannibals – these three hillbilly types make the residents of Terminus look like a bunch of cute puppies. Episode 3 is the point where all hell breaks loose and consequences are delivered. It was a tough episode to get through, as Lee I was almost at breaking point after the unrelenting darkness of Episode 2.
However, it was Episodes 4 and 5 where the excellent writers decided that I could probably live without a functioning heart and soul and proceeded to deliver one emotional gut-punch after another until my spirit lay broken and bleeding. Episode 4 had me venture into a walled off town called Crawford that was founded on the shared belief that strict eugenics is the only way to survive. The citizens of Crawford were clearly mistaken, because by the time I got there, there were only walkers, no living people. Episode 4 was where Clementine gets kidnapped and I was bitten by a walker. And so into Episode 5. I elected to have my arm cut off, which slowed the progression of my transformation into a walker long enough for me to confront the man who had kidnapped Clementine, and realise that her abduction had been my fault. Feeling emotionally dead inside I proceeded to take her away from the hotel where she had been held and clear a path through the walkers for her. We made it into a jewellery store and then I was no longer Lee, I was placed into Clem’s shoes. I had no idea what was happening. Then Lee handcuffed himself to a radiator and told me that he was turning and I had to shoot him, leave and meet up with the other remaining members of our group. On screen, Clem and Lee began to cry… on the other side of the screen I burst into tears. It was horrible, it was uncontrollable. My breathing was strangled, my whole face was soaked and red and I couldn’t form words.
I shot Lee.
It wasn’t until my Christmas break that I got the chance to play the second season, which wasn’t as an emotional gut-wrench as the first. I felt it hard to connect with any of the characters and when I wasn’t gasping at how much of a badass Clem had become, wincing at the actions of the antagonist Carver, I was just depressed. Depressed, but free of tears. The finale of the game was harrowing and morally difficult, but it didn’t touch me in the way the finale of the first season had. The first season was something special. I have never cried at something so much, apart from the closing shot of Silent Running.
I thought that there would not be another game that would affect me so profoundly as The Walking Dead Season 1. So, I forgot about Telltale Games for a while until I saw the launch trailer for their latest project: Tales From The Borderlands, which was pitched as a sort of sequel to the events of Borderlands 2. “They’re finished. They’ve bitten off more than they can chew. Borderlands is a story-light shooter, there is no way Telltale can give it a decent narrative” I thought to myself. But, it was on sale and as a fan of Telltale’s output, and an uberfan of the Borderlands franchise I was duty bound to snatch it up.
I played through it and I was surprised and impressed by just how good it was. There was incredible humour and excessive violence and Handsome Jack being a real piece of shit – the sort of things I’ve come to expect from Borderlands. There was something more to it though, there was an excellent script and some truly memorable original characters. I very quickly became invested in the story of Rhys and Vaughn: corporate stooges screwed over by the Hyperion Corporation. I empathised with Fiona and Sasha: a sister team of con artists. Loader-Bot and Gortys: two robots who are adorable and in love. Every character was a joy to be around and their interconnected stories gripped me because they were so captivating. As the story progressed it was incredible to see the relationships and dynamics between the characters change and gradually grow into something more. I was particularly invested in the developing romance between Sasha and Rhys and I found myself “shipping” them. I really hoped they would get together and it seemed certain. Then after an incredible Pacific Rim style fight scene between a giant robot and a giant alien, it seemed that Sasha was dying. She had bravely sacrificed herself to enact a tricky plan to destroy the giant alien. As she lay dying, saying her goodbyes to Rhys and Fiona I found myself once more in tears. Sasha had been my favourite character throughout the series, even though she was an NPC. She was incredibly well-written and had just the right amount of snarky attitude to make her incredibly easy to warm to. The prospect of her dying and the further prospect of the love story between her and Rhys being left unrealised was slightly more than I could bear. My manly coughing was severely unprepared for the flood of sadness that rushed through me.
There was a point, while playing Amnesia: The Dark Decent that I let out an audible squeal of terror and once he’d finished laughing, my dad asked me: “it’s only a video game, how do you get scared by it?” At the time I didn’t know, I couldn’t think of a reason aside from “the spooky monster growled at me”. But upon having very real and visceral emotional reactions to two separate games, I think I have the answer. Video games can scare me, upset me and make me happy in a way that no other medium can, because when they want to they immerse me in a narrative completely. I’m not reading about someone having an adventure, I’m not watching someone battle the forces of evil. I am having an adventure, I am battling the forces of darkness. Not all video games pull this off, some games are dull, narrative-free and have nothing to offer aside from sparkly graphics. However, Telltale Games put so much work into creating the most immersive and compelling narratives, and then they add in the elements of gameplay that make it a distinctly Telltale experience: like the ability to make choices that affect the storyline in surprising ways. I’ll never forget the moment when I (a ten year old girl called Clementine) swallowed my fear and watched my friend and guardian Kenny beat a man to death in a fit of primal rage.
I wasn’t the same after that.
I haven’t played every single game in Telltale’s back catalogue and I have not played some of their more recent releases. I cannot wait to see whether Telltale can create a gripping and emotional narrative in Minecraft: Story Mode. I am extremely excited for them to release their Batman title, can they make a character that is relentlessly brooding and introspective into somebody interesting. Who knows? I know from experience that I can expect the best from them. These are the people that made me cry while playing a Borderlands game.
They are capable of anything...
(This article and my Movie Reviews can be found at: https://narwhalbeach.wordpress.com/)