Why The Walking Dead is My Game of The Year

It’s that time of year again, where anyone and everyone is hitting the blog space  to announce their picks for game of the year.

Sure, it’s largely an arbitrary discussion, but it’s still fun to discuss what everyone’s picks are between the litany of titles that released throughout 2012.

Now, I’ve talked before about how down I was on 2012 originally. All of the games I was really looking forward to (except for a handful of exceptions) were delayed into 2013, and I felt left with a bunch of sequels and IPs I had no interest in checking out. Thankfully, I was proven wrong and had the chance to play a host of fantastic games throughout the year:

Kingdoms of Amalur: Great combat, fun RPG, interesting story. Tragic news for the studio, however.

Mass Effect 3: Fantastic. Builds well on the story, re-vamped combat, and marked a successful return to one of my all-time favorite game universes.

Torchlight II: I’m a recently converted PC gamer, and this one was one of the first Diablo-style clickfests I’ve ever had the chance to play. It’s super fun and addicting.

Sleeping Dogs: Was a completely unexpected surprise…I hadn’t thought anything of it before its release, and once it did, I was blown away at the world it created, the story it told, and the great mechanics found in its gameplay.

Borderlands 2: A hell of a lot of fun. I love everything about the game, and keep going back for more whenever I get the chance to play.

Dishonored: A fantastic stealth game that really does a great job of making you feel like a supernatural badass.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown: Great turn-based game with a lot of depth and an easy-to-learn, difficult-to-master mechanics and ideas. Highly addictive and well developed.

Assassin’s Creed III: Besides its overall average vibe and awful story pacing, it had a neat setting and some super fun combat.

Call of Duty: Black Ops II: Yes, the story campaign was frustratingly linear, but it was still a well-designed shooter with a heck of a lot of content for you to chew on for the next few months.

But there was one game that completely hit me from out of nowhere, only to become one of the most engrossing and emotionally engaging experiences I’ve ever had with a game. That game, my friends, is Telltale’s adventure game series The Walking Dead.

It should be noted that before playing this, I was never a Walking Dead fan. I’d heard of it and saw my friends posting about it constantly on Facebook and Twitter, but being a Dish subscriber (and more of a Netflix fan, personally), I hadn’t taken the time to see what the fuss was all about.

So when we got codes for the first episode of The Walking Dead, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it, or even what to expect. I knew it was about a zombie apocalypse, but so are so many other games. How different could this possibly be?

I was captivated by the game from its very start. The story it told was so personal, so real, it connected with me on a level that I hadn’t expected. I finished the episode and found myself thinking about it for days after, considering what I’d done and seen through the eyes of Lee Everett.

I bought every episode in the season after that on day one, sitting down to play it as soon as I  had time. While they all have their own purpose and vibe to them, I found each of them to be just as engaging as the last, leaving me hungry for more at the end. I couldn’t get enough of The Walking Dead. And even now, at the end of the first season, I still can’t.

The choices you are forced to make in that game are incredible. It’s not just a simple Good Guy/Bad Guy decision; they’re Good Guy in a Bad Situation decisions, and left me questioning my own morality and humanity more than a video game ever has before.

But the most amazing part of the game itself was the fact that it connected me so well to its characters. I’m a big fan of story-driven games and had very distinct feelings about each and every one of them, some good and some bad. But thanks to fantastic writing and fair amount of depth attributed to each of the characters, even the ones I didn’t care for I still understood. It was impossible for me to completely hate anyone without thinking of why they were the way they were.

Now, it’s not a perfect game by any means; the gameplay has some wonky moments, bugs run rampant throughout the entire series, and there are some funky story elements and pacing issues I had with it throughout the first season.

But what it manages to do is so impressive that it successfully counters its flaws. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever experienced in a game before, and few games had me as engaged in a story as The Walking Dead did. It’s because of its revolutionary take on the genre and the incredible narrative it created that I gladly call Telltale’s The Walking Dead my game of the year.

(For a spoiler-free review of The Walking Dead, click here)