Today we’re going to talk about why zombies suck.
I don’t know about you, possibly-swole reader, but I’m kind of a weakling. I’m not completely helpless (I can help move a buddy’s couch like a champ), but I don’t have much in the upper-body strength department, and, when you get right down to it, I’m pretty sure a group of particularly rowdy preschoolers could take me out. In other words, I’m less Zangief, a lot more Dan. Possibly as a result of this, I do live in a vague kind of fear of other humans. I’m not an agoraphobic, and I don’t walk the streets cowering in my coat, but I know that if some random dude decided to pressure me for my precious wallet, I wouldn’t have much in the way of recourse. I’m not going to bust out my amazing kung-fu, I’m not going to start swinging a secret sword around like a mad man; I’m… probably just going to get beat up. I’m done, the end. I fear the walking living.
But I’m not afraid of zombies. Okay, a prime reason to not fear zombies is that, ya know, they’re fictional. But other than that, zombies are… dumb. Yes, if there were some zombie outbreak, I’d be a little concerned about the dead walking and maybe the moon crying blood or something, but after getting over the initial shock, even the magical “running zombie” isn’t much of a big deal. Humans are threatening because they have intelligence, remove that essential trait, and you’ve basically got a big, lumbering Chihuahua. Look out for the teeth! He’s gonna bite! And… get past that, and we’re in the clear. I’m afraid of a human with a club or gun, I’m not afraid of being scratched to death by some shambling dork. Various bits of zombie media have already included the “neutered zombie”: cut off the jaw, and what have you got? … Wait, has anyone ever addressed zombie versions of people with dentures? Is there truly nothing to fear from Zombie Washington?
Though I suppose I’m missing the forest for the trees here, as the real threat of zombies is supposed to be numbers. Zombies have a tendency to herd together, and, while one individual zombie isn’t a big deal, when there’s a whole gang literally knocking down your door, that’s when it’s time to go for the safe room. This is the premise of a healthy amount of zombie media, and allows for fun situations where “there’s nowhere to run”. And, yes, zombie hordes are generally scary… but they’re still basically a problem of poor planning. As I am continually reminded, I am basically a handsomer Batman, and, given enough preparation, I could overcome any problem. Whether it be rampaging throngs of zombies or republicans, I’m still not afraid of crowds, because I am an excellent hider. Give me a general space of about twenty square feet, and I guarantee I could find an area to “hold up” until this whole mob danger has passed. Zombies, even in great numbers, don’t scare me.
And this all might trace itself back to videogames. In a way, every videogame enemy/monster/met is a zombie. They’ve got limited intelligence (AI), can only perform the most basic of functions, and their only goal is your (protagonist’s) death. The end. There is no secret desire of slimes (assuming said slimes are not Rocket), and, like zombies, programmed “intelligence” may be easily tricked by tossing out some bait that would be blatantly obvious to any really thinking individual. Koopa troopas spawn way to close to fire flowers, and zombies have a tendency to follow their noses straight into the threshing machine. Nothing scary about a threat that will walk right into a bullet.
So it’s a minor miracle that The Walking Dead actually makes zombies threatening again.
Come to think of it, there’s a lot that is miraculous about Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead. For one thing, it’s either an “old school” adventure game or a slightly graduated visual novel, and both of those genres have absolutely no business being interesting. Don’t get me wrong, I loved King’s Quest V as much as the next guy, but the whole “adventure game” mold is basically based on making interesting stories with unique ways to interact with the environment before videogames really had the power to do it “right”. And take a look at the number of transitory, wannabe adventure games for examples on the real reason that genre never went anywhere. Oh, and visual novels? Not even going to address why those are terrible. Basically, it’s amazing that The Walking Dead was able to properly synthesize an excellent game out of these basic pieces, left alone the whole zombie problem.
Somehow, I guess two or three wrongs make a right, because, technically, The Walking Dead relies on a phrase that strikes fear into my heart: The Walking Dead is a game-long escort mission. TWD is, at its core, a “dad game”, you’re Lee, who, shortly after the game begins, finds the orphaned Clementine, a little girl that, left to her own devices, will certainly be devoured by the undead inside of five minutes. Actually, that’s probably not accurate, as Clementine generally seems to have her head on straight, but the game certainly treats you, the player, as Clementine’s only hope for salvation. So, dad, it’s time to take care of your daughter for five episodes or so. You’re constantly in danger, Clementine is constantly in danger, and you’re often asked to compromise your own safety for hers. I don’t think I’m even spoiling the ending to note that, yes, at one point you will have to let Clementine “grow up” because maybe
Booker Lee started taking this “dad” thing a little too literally to be healthy.
But the adventure game motif comingling with the escort mission works brilliantly for the undead hordes. Lee is, at best, equipped with a cumbersome axe, and he is never going to be granted a rocket launcher. It’s clear from the first episode that the most “physical” Lee is ever going to get is reeeeeeally reaching for a key, so don’t expect any crazy zombie jump kicks during this adventure. Ultimately, this all adds up to maintaining the zombies as a constant threat, and then ups the ante by giving the player someone to protect. I’m not worried about Lee dying, after all, he’s a videogame protagonist, any of his deaths will be undone by a quick “Press X the restart”; but Clementine? If something happens to her… well… that would be horrible. I’d give my left arm to guarantee Clementine’s safety!
So congratulations to Telltale Games’ Walking Dead for making zombies scary again. In AMC’s The Walking Dead, the eponymous Dead have become little more than shaved (but plentiful) bears, and every other videogame has made zombies useless fodder. But zombies had a brief time to shine in this Walking Dead. The combination of a bunch of gaming tropes that don’t usually work actually coalesced into something fun… and something to fear.
Good job, zombies, you don’t completely suck. Maybe you just bite.
FGC #279 The Walking Dead
- System: This might be faster if I just list which systems don’t host this game. It ain’t on any Nintendo systems. Other than that, it’s all over the place. There’s even a Vita version? Weird.
- Number of players: One player controls Lee, and then a small audience gathers around that player.
- Race Relations: Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if we had a black protagonist that was smart and level-headed, but didn’t have a background of being a violent criminal? I realize Lee’s whole deal allows for some drama with the cast in the early episodes, but, come on, Telltale, did we need further reinforcement of that unfortunate stereotype?
- Favorite Character: She’s completely insane, but I like Lilly. On one hand, she’s absolutely a pain in the butt in many situations (some of them involving exploding heads), but, really, for all my bluster about not being afraid of no zombie, she’s probably an example of how I would actually operate in a zombie apocalypse. Protect your family, assume everyone else is against you, and maybe go steal a vehicle because you’re secretly kind of a jerk. … Hm, I wonder what this says about me.
- Did you know? There is a lot of unused dialogue in this game that seems to indicate that there were different plans for various characters and their backstories. It’s kind of amusing that this is the game that really kicked off Telltale’s “adventure game” renaissance (or at least totally funded it), and it’s clear the writers had no idea what they were doing in the early episodes. Okay, they undoubtedly knew what they were doing, they just didn’t have a firm grasp on the characters and future plot from the start of the first episode. It’s understandable, but I’m the kind of guy that meticulously plans out everything I write and… Great, now I forgot how I was going to end this sentence.
- Would I play again? You know, I enjoyed this game… but I still haven’t played the sequel. The whole franchise seems to dominate this weird no man’s land where it’s not really a videogame (like I wouldn’t sit down to play it like I would a Mega Man title), but it’s certainly more intense than watching a random TV show. I liked my experience playing this game, but I might never do it again.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Super Troll Islands for the SNES! Are… are you trolling me, robot? Is this even a real game? Guess we’ll find out. Please look forward to it!