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Sore Thumbs

1/9/2013

sore thumbs walking1‘The Walking Dead: A Telltale Games Series’ (M)

****1/2

Telltale Games

Xbox 360

Adventure games always have to strike a balance between the narrow constraints of a structured narrative and the infinite possibilities afforded by player freedom. We want to experience a great story, but also to feel like we wrote it ourselves. This is no easy task for a game developer, but with its “Walking Dead” episodic series, Telltale Games has managed the feat beautifully. Protagonist Lee Everett feels as though he’s entirely what you make him, and yet in spite of the choices you make, the narrative inevitably deals emotional blows and clever twists that can only come from good writing. You can’t necessarily control the game’s outcome — only what kind of man Lee is by the time he reaches it. It’s a fatalistic experience perfectly at home in the milieu of a zombie apocalypse.

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With pop culture (and video games in particular) supersaturated with the undead of late, another sojourn with flesh-chewing ghouls may sound a tad redundant. But unlike other games in the genre, “The Walking Dead” isn’t about finding innovative ways to splatter reanimated corpses (although a few such ways are featured). Like the comic book and eponymous television show, “The Walking Dead” game is about interpersonal relationships in the wake of a great cataclysm. That may not sound particularly harrowing, but many of the game’s most emotionally effective moments come not in the form of a sudden life or death situation, but in the unexpected turn of a dialogue tree conversation. This retail release contains all five previously downloadable episodes that comprise the first season of what promises to be an ongoing series — a series that is already a high point for zombie games and point-n-click adventures alike.

 

sore thumbs guardiansboxGuardians Of Middle-Earth’ (T)

***

Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

Xbox Live Arcade

The world of J.R.R. Tolkien may be dense and complicated, but the usually dense and complicated world of Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas just got a lot simpler with “Guardians of Middle-Earth,” which streamlines the PC-friendly genre for console controls. Twenty representatives from the diverse populations of Middle-Earth show up to devastate one another with their assorted skills pleasing countless Hobbit-loving fans in the process. Alas, the generic battlefields are not reminiscent of Rohan so much as the local Renaissance festival, and widely reported server issues mean a few disconnects and a lot of lag.

 

sore thumbs oddbox‘Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath HD’ (T)

****

Oddworld Inhabitants

PlayStation Vita

You’ve got to hand it to developer Oddworld Inhabitants for crafting a game in 2005 that feels right at home on Sony’s latest hardware. Even without its slight HD facelift, “Stranger’s Wrath” would feel entirely modern in terms of its hybrid first-person/third-person gameplay and captivating sci-fi/western atmosphere. The fact that you use local critters like spiders and chipmunks for crossbow ammunition remains unassailably cool. I made plenty of “live ammo” jokes when the game came out seven years ago, and it pleases me that I get to keep making them into the foreseeable future. CV

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