It’s the fourth of July holiday week and if you aren’t out at a barbecue scarfing some delicious animal flesh (you are? hit me up, I’ll be right over) then get inside and chow down on the latest “Play Responsibly” Beer Pairing. This week, Telltale games released a new episode in their critically acclaimed Walking Dead series. If you haven’t read the comics, seen the show or played the previous “Season One” episodes of the game then you are either a very talented recluse or living under a metric-ton of rocks.
The Walking Dead is an ongoing and totally boss comic (go read it) written by Robert Kirkman and published by Image Comics. After much success in print, AMC got their hands on the rights to adapt it into a wildly popular TV show. Telltale Games got their hands on this shooting star IP in short order and produced what was one of the best games of 2012. It won just about every GOTY award in the business, and rightfully deserved all of them. The game-play focuses on some hard choices that affect the plot, a lot of compelling story, and stellar character development. Let me just add that when I say “hard choices” this essentially means taking the player to task. Envision a morally ambiguous rock and a murderous hard place and try to pick the more appropriate of two evils.
I got on board with the The Walking Dead universe when the news broke about AMC’s pre-production on the TV show had begun. This being a few years ago, at the height of the zombie-madness in pop culture (it’s still here, just a bit tired) I was all about it. I tracked down as many of the hardback compendiums that I could find and started devouring the graphic novels with relish. I’ve since kept up with the comic’s story this way and as a fan of the show, its entertaining to see how they compare. The great success of Kirkman’s twisted universe is the character study of the human race trying to endure in post-zombie-outbreak America (read: Georgia). The idea that the surviving members of the desolate world are more dangerous to themselves than the ravenous “Walkers” are, is a theme that most zombie stories only seem to lightly touch on. This particular focus adds a gravitas that not only makes you care about the characters, it lets you root for their otherwise questionable actions. Check out the launch trailer below…
The Walking Dead: 400 Days is a stand alone installment that includes five playable “short-stories” as levels. All of the stories star different characters that very loosely link themselves together at different periods over the course of 400 days around a Georgia truck-stop. The episode itself lasts for roughly 90 minutes, which is measurably shorter than the previous “Season One” installments. Telltale seems to be sating their fans thirst for the second season with this little ditty that may have ties to the upcoming season. The game works on most levels (a few glaring graphical glitches aside), but I almost hesitate to call it a game in the traditional sense. 400 Days plays more like an interactive comic book with the occasional button-mash and dialogue option. In fact, the delivery is so nicely presented that I asked myself after my play-through why more studios don’t present their games in an episodic fashion. In so many words, its a great interactive experience to gobble up while enjoying a tasty beverage.
After some hilarious debate with my wife regarding some of the decisions I was forced to make in the game, I decided a summer-y (its been exceptionally warm in Pacific Northwest this week) yet hoppy ale would help wash down my bitter, panicked hesitation while choosing between the “no-win” scenarios. I’d been an enthusiast of Firestone Walker since relocating to the West Coast (their “Double Jack” double IPA is AMAZING) but had yet to try this particular entry in their repertoire. Pale 31 is part of their “pale” series of ales and is brewed in loving honor of Firestone’s home state of California. Its a dry-hopped pale ale that drinks like a pilsner but has enough hops to give it a mild peppery bite. To edify the burgeoning beer connoisseurs out there, dry-hopping is the process of adding hops to the fermenting beer a bit later in the brewing cycle for a period of 10+ days. Timing is crucial (it compliments 400 Day’s dialogue-choice “countdown”) and when executed correctly, can add a plethora of hop aroma and flavor. Being the experienced, successful brewers that they are, Firestone Walker pulls this off in spades. What would normally drink like an American-style “yellow” beer becomes delightfully complicated yet smooth and satisfying.
THE WALKING DEAD: 400 DAYS — A nice, tight addition to the franchise and game series. A big thanks to Telltale for keeping us fans satisfied while we anticipate the new season. The five short stories link lightly to each other and depending on the players choice of order, can play out in a Pulp Fiction-ish sort of way. Great art style, true to its predecessor, and it sets the stage nicely as a bridge for upcoming episodes.
FIRESTONE WALKER PALE 31 — A lovely, smooth and flavorful member of an already stellar collection from Firestone Walker. Perfect for barbecues and moral judgement calls. Easy drinking, great as a session beer and very satisfying. Put the ‘Dudweiser’ down, and graduate to a “bridge” beer that will be a great intro for the un-initiated to the world of American craft brewing. Pale 31’s crystal clear, golden hued form is a nice juxtaposition to the weighty consequences of the game.
Be prepared to make some hard decisions but temper your bitter indignation with a clean, hoppy ale. My recommendation is to enjoy the game as you would a comic book or long-form TV show. Enjoy the story, be amazed how quickly you emotionally invest in shady characters and above all, keep an eye out for “Walkers” while admiring your Firestone Walker (I couldn’t resist).
Keep your beer cold and your controllers non-sweaty! As always, cheers and play responsibly.
– J. Erskine, July 2013