The Walking Dead video game comes with it a promoted understanding: The choices you make in dialogue and certain action sequences will have a lasting effect as the game progresses. That if you choose to save someone, or if you yell at someone, or if you trust someone, or if you disagree with someone, this will change interactions and outcomes later on. But in reality, the effect of these choices are either negligible, or an outright lie.
I played through the game with two save files (having two months between the release of episodes made this very easy) with the intention to play the first time as if it were me in this situation and the second time as the opposite of whatever I did the first time. By the third (of five) chapters I started to realize that none of my actions, or dialogue choices, actually meant anything. Characters died at the same points, left the group at the same points, got angry with me at the same points, disagreed with me at the same points. And more often than not, different dialogue choices (for each dialogue choice you're given essentially three responses) netted the EXACT same responses from a character.
In fact, other characters' responses would seem like such non-sequitors (probably because the writers were trying to account for three dialogue choices for each situation and eventually the overcompensation just becomes generic mush) that the only way to know what they were thinking was by the alert boxes that pop up in the upper right corner of the screen. "Clementine will remember that" or "Kenny doesn't like that response." These are instructive and seem meaningful at first, but like the other seemingly non-linear aspects of this game, they end up being anything but. Kenny not liking your response means Kenny might be angry with you later, but maybe not. And even if he liked your response he'll still be angry with you later, because that situation called for it. This game is trying to tell a story and to do so it needs certain things to happen, certain characters to behave in definitive ways, and tension to escalate. By trying to pretend backing a character in one situation will put them on your side in another goes against the story they're trying to tell, and by advertising it as a non-linear game where every choice matters, they're essentially saying gamers won't notice this isn't the game they were promised.
Playing through each chapter the first time is a great experience and this game is full of really cool and shocking moments. But the free will here is false. This is a determined fate where maybe a character acts slightly different towards you based on how you treated them in the past. But that character is going to die at the same point, or yell at you for not doing what they want, or act cowardly, no matter what you do. The end result is that the pretense of this game is a sham, making one's retrospective experience fairly meaningless.
My biggest concerns:
*On many occasions I felt like the choices offered for dialogue responses were never close to what I wanted Lee to respond with. This is compounded with a timer that forces you to respond, something that added to the tension and visceral reaction of your choices, except for the times when none of the responses are anything you actually want to say. And the punishment for letting the timer run out (equal to choosing the ellipses response) seems to be a Russian Roulette of game decision - I once got a game over for choosing not to hit a button.
*This game is counter-intuitive to choice. There is actually more choice in a game like Final Fantasy VII, where I can choose to let people join my team or not (in TWD people largely join and leave by no choice of yours). In the Walking Dead I can choose between two people, but either way they carry the same storyline with them. I can choose to let a person stay with my group or not at a certain point, but the game quickly corrects me if I make the choice they don't want me to. I can't abandon someone because I don't like them, or kill people I don't like, or even change the people who survive at the end (it will always be the same characters, no matter what). This is the farthest thing from a sandbox game. Everything in this world is set in stone, and that's a huge problem; it essentially eliminates replayability. In this light, it makes it seem like sports games are the only true sandbox games, since you can eliminate anyone from your team if you so choose, and maybe that's true, but games like TWD at least have to make the effort of giving you selectivity. The great part about this medium versus others is that you SHOULD be able to have an impact. There is so much ground for creativity here that it almost boggles the mind that developers continue to stay in a linear mindset. Video games can't compete with TV or movies, and their mode of storytelling is going to die if they continue to behave like they should. Having an annoying character in a TV show is infuriating, but the conceit is that viewers are powerless to stop them (except for maybe Paolo and Nikki); having an annoying character in a video game is insufferable, because the conceit is that we aren't powerless to stop them. We have control in video games, and that is what draws us to them. To make it so we are powerless, and to wave that powerlessness in our face by planting us in a world where are simultaneously making choices that we feel we would in reality, but refusing to allow us to escape the confines of the people around us, as we would in the same reality, is infuriating. I've always found the must ill-conceived aspect of zombie apocalypse fiction the idea that people would huddle together for some greater need to be in a society. Society is a result of comfort, not necessity. And given the choice, humans are about as sociable as any other animal - meaning they aren't. And the pack mindset is even pushing it too far. This type of fiction correctly adjusts for the human need to normalize, but it underestimates the swiftness at which normalcy would disappear. Fiction obviously needs for characters to interact, but to think that people would stick to groups and that these groups wouldn't disintegrate in a matter of days is just absurd. Society functions because people are comfortable, and as soon as that comfort is gone the society revolutionizes until comfort is reached again. And what is comfort to you? Probably not a lot of crazy, starving, gun-toting strangers around you...
*The storyline ends up making no sense. I know this is a common complaint (because it's a common problem) of media entertainment - especially video games, and I feel like Telltale was trying to account for the fact that they wrote themselves into a corner, but it just fell flat. It always will when you're writing as you go, and they did their best, but it just wasn't thought out enough and by the end you were invested in the characters, but the plot was taking you out of your suspension of disbelief, and before you knew it you were at the final stage of the game and all you could think about was how nine year olds have gotten a lot stronger since you were a kid.
*It is essentially a TV show. You have no control, they don't behave like you want. I often find myself shaking my head at the decisions that characters in TV shows make. Then I wonder what I would do if I was in their shoes. This game invited the possibility that you would have to make those tough choices, and it is really cool feeling when you do. But then you play the game again and realize that even if you choose the exact opposite of that tough choice you made the first time, it leads to the same end. It's like watching the bizarro version of your favorite TV show, where the characters do the exact opposite of what they did the last time, only the plot never changes.
*As someone who doesn't love to have long gaming sessions, the save points were awful for this game. I never knew where I'd start off if I quit the game. Their is an on-screen save icon, but it did little for predicting where the game would start up again.