Well, here we are then. Sixteen months after Episode 1: A New Day hit the consoles and PC, thirteen months after it hit iOS and about nine weeks since you’ve been able to play it on your toaster and Telltale’s The Walking Dead has finally launched on the PlayStation Vita. To be fair to Telltale you still can’t play the game on the Ouya yet, but they do plan to launch it on microwaves fairly soon. We jest. Maybe.
If you’re a gamer and you haven’t been living under a rock for the last year and a bit you’ll likely be fully clued up on The Walking Dead, but on the off chance you had a stint as a bit of a hermit we’ll fill you in on the basic premise here. The Walking Dead is Telltale’s latest episodic game, consisting of five main story episodes and a sixth DLC episode which supposedly prepares us for Season 2, due later this year. The game is an adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s comic series of the same name, recounting events that take place in Georgia after a zombie apocalypse hits. Over the course of the five main episodes you’ll play as Lee Everett as he escorts the eight-year old Clementine through this dangerous new world. Each one of these episodes is exactly the same as they were when previously released, so our individual reviews of A New Day, Starved for Help, Long Road Ahead, Around Every Corner, No Time Left and 400 Days should give you any specifics you need, although beware of reading them all if you haven’t played through the whole series yet.
Now that’s out of the way, let’s get the elephant out of the room before we move on. The Vita edition of The Walking Dead is neither cross-buy nor cross-play. This is a massive disappointment - with the evident ease of porting the title to everything electronic in sight you would be forgiven for hoping that Telltale Games would have at the very least let you ping your saves between the PS3 and Vita. Alas, it’s not to be, and with Season 2 due for later this year make sure you lock yourself and your save into your console of choice so that you can easily move your save over to the sequel.
Some attention has been paid to the Vita’s capabilities however, and the game comes with the choice of either a physical or touch based interface. Both work well enough, mirroring either the console or iOS controls, but you need to select one independently of the other with no way to merge the controls. As Vita fans will well know the best control systems on the platform manage to combine the use of the physical buttons with optional touch to enhance the overall experience, and while you wouldn’t want fingers dancing over the OLED obscuring the view all of the time, the odd prod in a quiet period while using buttons as your standard input really wouldn’t have gone amiss. And, to steal an internet colloquialism, dat OLED. The comic book stylings of The Walking Dead are a great fit for the Vita’s screen, the game’s aesthetic suiting the portable console perfectly. The nature of the screen though doesn’t leave low resolution textures many places to hide however, and the odd offender galls the senses. Thankfully the worst of this bunch is the Atlanta cityscape that you’ll only see shortly during the beginning of A New Day, with the rest of the game proving serviceable enough.
All of this however is impacted horrifically by the most painfully timed loading hangs that appear throughout the game. Every time Lee is faced with a significant event, or action is required – hang. Once you regain control players who have had experience of the console versions of this game will find they have a couple of seconds less to react to whatever is coming; no big deal with a conversation, utterly frustrating with a zombie attack. With a longish pause welcoming you if you manage to die, these hangs can quickly test your patience in a way the game never intended. Even worse, these pauses drag you out of the immersion of the game, shattering the narrative by telegraphing upcoming ‘surprises’ and ultimately breaking the connection you hold with Lee. Unfortunately these issues seem universal, and Telltale have already stated that there are no plans for a patch at this time. At the very least cross your fingers and hope that the experience porting the game to the Vita will help future Telltale games avoid this kind of lacklustre implementation.
The Walking Dead on the Vita is still the same fantastic game it was before; the story still resonates, you still form emotional connections with the characters and you still have the same pangs of horrific doubt over each and every choice the game puts in front of you. These hanging issues however dispel so much of the tension and remove so much of the heart-pumping panic in the quick sections, that you can’t help but be disappointed in the implementation throughout. When the zombie apocalypse hits the last thing you’d want to be fighting is extra loading screens and juddering entries to action sections, yet that’s what you get here. The Vita version is a welcome addition to its stable, but if you want to experience this game at its best then you’ll be best off playing it on nearly anything else.