Review: The Walking Dead (Vita)

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The Walking Dead is a force to be reckoned with. A wildly popular comic book series which spawned a TV show with a love it and hate it following, and then, of course, there is the Telltale episodic game. Without rehashing the reviews that Stephen wrote for The Walking Dead: Season One on Steam and its 400 Days DLC bonus episode (the core experience is the same), I spent my Labor Day weekend running my Vita through three battery-draining sessions of the game’s new portable adaptation. I have previously played the first two episodes on PC, but I had also managed to avoid most spoilers for the game and wanted to give the title a full proper go. The question that needs to be answered is simple: Is this version comparable or even superior to what gamers have already enjoyed on PC and consoles?

One clear advantage to playing on the Vita over other devices is the fact that the Sony handheld offers control options for buttons and analog sticks as well as the touchscreen. While firing up the game, the menu explains that touch controls or traditional inputs can be switched in the settings, but doing so does require going all the way out to the main menu and is not something that can be done just by pausing the action. My first reaction to the touch controls were not great. Panning the camera left or right on the screen can be a jumpy, oversensitive interaction. But there are certainly some advantages to just tapping versus using the right stick to move a cursor around the screen.

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I found myself switching back and forth between the touch screen and traditional inputs fairly often as at times the action felt better (or at least easier to target) using a simple tap of the screen. Because let’s face it, the Telltale game engine is not the greatest for processing real-time action and quick reactions. Through trial and error over the last few years, Telltale Games has produced some good and not so good episodic adventure games (Sam and Max, Jurassic Park, Back to the Future), but along the way they have found what works best for each type of puzzle and narrative. Adding touch controls doesn’t change the gameplay from the PC or console, but it does allow for an almost more refined experience. But only from a quick action interactive perspective. There is still a fair amount of moving Lee around on screen (thankfully the touch method allows for the left stick to move Lee around the environment), so allowing a mix of inputs between analog movement and quick fire screen taps offers a best of both worlds type of experience.

The one major drawback to playing The Walking Dead on the Vita is the poor optimization. The game engine chugs along and loads like it is running on a 10-year-old computer and not one of the latest and greatest technical gaming marvels. Sure the game looks nice and sound great, but there are far too many times where the gameplay pauses in the heat of the moment while one section is dropped from memory and a new interaction loads up. I guess one consolation is the fact that typically anywhere the game loads or pauses there isn’t any immediate input required to escape certain doom.

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Poorly optimized performance is a drag, but The Walking Dead is still a great adult adventure experience for folks who own a Vita and haven’t played the game elsewhere. The game not only works nicely in quick sessions, but also offers a deep, dynamic story that definitely tugs at the heartstrings throughout. After completing the first season’s five chapters, 400 Days, included with the Vita version at no additional DLC surcharge, serves as a great palate cleanser, offering a touch of dark humanity and plenty of dark humor. Lazy Trophy hunting fans will also enjoy how the game rewards a Platinum on a single playthrough.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Powerful storytelling in a portable package
+ Nice mix of touch and traditional input
+ Easy Platinum trophy

Cons:
– The game engine is not optimized for the Vita’s processing power
– Slow load times

Game Info:
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Telltale Games
Release Date: 8/20/2013
Genre: Adventure
ESRB Rating: Mature
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.