Best Non-Traditional Adventure: The Walking Dead
For an interactive medium, stories in adventure games are typically experienced in a very passive way. You may enjoy the ride, but you're relegated the back seat. Telltale's The Walking Dead doesn't quite put you behind the wheel, but it does let you ride shotgun, both literally and figuratively. The story of Lee Everett and his ragtag team of zombie apocalypse survivors isn't simply told to us, but partially created by us, particularly during split-second decisions with crucial consequences. Many of the choices are far more cosmetic, providing merely an illusion of control, but the weighty moral issues and painful personal ones you'll wrestle with are what make the game so fully engaging and often deeply moving. What kind of character will you attribute to Lee? What example will you set for young Clementine? Will you forgive offenses to keep the group together, or foster grudges to drive out unwanted elements? There are no right and wrong answers – only your answers.
The game also makes liberal use of Quick Time Events for action-packed moments. It's an unusual gameplay mechanic in adventures that can quickly grow tiresome when overdone, but here they feel entirely appropriate. Where the story and dialogue choices build close relationships with your fellow survivors, the QTEs help develop the requisite sense of immediacy and danger that complements – by endangering – these attachments beautifully. You're only ever a careless misstep away from losing one of the characters you’ve become fond of, and each new zombie encounter or hostile human opposition reinforces this sense of constant tension. Sure, you'll do normal adventurey things in between, but its unconventional emphasis on intense character drama and action set pieces (along with its superb production values and memorable characters already acknowledged) are what make The Walking Dead a non-traditional adventure worthy of this year's Aggie Award.
Runners-Up: Botanicula, Journey, The Cat Lady, Kairo
Readers’ Choice: The Walking Dead
The Walking Dead isn't really THAT non-traditional. You still wander around, collect items, talk to people and solve the occasional puzzle, but these elements are understated and even a bit underwhelming. Rather, its heavier-than-normal reliance on QTEs gives the game a more action-oriented bent than classic point-and-click adventures, and most importantly, its prominent focus on player-driven narrative choice and character drama is what really sets it apart, creating a truly memorable experience along the way.
Runners-Up: Botanicula, The Cat Lady, Journey, Miasmata
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Next up: Best Traditional Adventure... the envelope, please!