2012 Game of the Year: The Walking Dead

Telltale's The Walking Dead takes the dystopian world of the original comic books, and turns it into an active experience--evoking the kind of emotion that can only be possible through games.

Serving as a prequel to the ongoing comic book series from Robert Kirkman, The Walking Dead's story begins with a convict named Lee. What he is beyond that opening scene is entirely up to the player. He can be a guy caught in an unfortunate circumstance, a brave leader, an unrepentant jerk, or even a silent protagonist. He's a conduit of player choice.

While the destination may ultimately be the same for everyone, the journey is thoroughly personalized. Its story is powerful enough that it encourages conversations at the water cooler and at the dinner table. Did you save Doug or Carley? Did you have Lee reveal his past to everyone? How did you deal with the farm? It's a game that encourages an introspective look at how one's own sense of morality, how one would react in a time of crisis, and why even the best of intentions don't necessarily lead to good results.

However, the essence of what makes The Walking Dead such an engaging experience can be seen in the game's other main protagonist, Clementine. She grows in a way rarely seen in games. She represents hope in an increasingly hopeless situation. She stands as a constant beacon of innocence, one that is heartbreakingly snuffed out gradually over the course of all five episodes. Yet her presence is a reminder of why humanity carries on in times of crisis--not because we know that a dire situation will end happily ever after, but because hope is stronger than despair, even in the worst of times. That's the essence of the entire Walking Dead franchise, a note that Telltale strikes with the force of a cleaver to a walker's cranium.

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The Walking Dead stands as proof that episodic gaming can work. Telltale skillfully weaves cliffhangers at the end of each episode, followed by a "Next time on The Walking Dead" trailer that's crafted to your individual story. That harrowing desire to see what comes next has us not just awaiting the next episode--but a brand new season that promises to continue Telltale's absolute best work.

The Shacknews Best of 2012 Awards were determined by ballot voting across the entire Shacknews staff. Andrew, Jeff, John, and Ryan voted for The Walking Dead, with Tyler, Ozzie, and Steve picking it as their personal Game of the Year, earning it 500 points and the 1st place position on our list. The Shacknews Community chose the game as Game of the Year as well.