The Walking Dead: Last Mile is not a game in the traditional sense. I was reminded of this several times during the course of my exclusive preview session with the team behind the upcoming hybrid series. Part Facebook Gaming event, part Facebook Watch streaming series, I came away thinking that Last Mile is, more than anything, an intriguing social experiment that comfortably pairs ahead-of-its-time technology with one of the most beloved comic book series in the world.
When The Walking Dead: Last Mile debuts later this year exclusively on Facebook, you won't need a controller, console, PC, or even a copy of the game to engage with it. To better understand what sort of experience it will be, you need only understand the play on words in its title. The Walking Dead: Last Mile is itself a MILE, or massively interactive live event.
Coming from a team that includes Genvid Technologies, whose underlying cloud-based tech runs the operation, Skybound, which writes the story, and Pipeworks Studios, which is handling the artwork and game development, this next MILE may be familiar to those who have participated in them before, such as Genvid's Survivor-like Rival Peak. In-season, a MILE is like a 24/7 stream, with major and minor moments unfolding at different hours of the day for months at a time, all while AI-assisted characters live out their days whether you're there to influence them or not.
To interact, players simply need a browser that lets them access Facebook. There, they decide how involved they want to be with the season-long story, whether that means simply watching things unfold like it's an ant farm, participating in the interactive elements like a morning routine--a new Wordle, perhaps--or even making it their new favorite dedicated series, like watching a Twitch streamer for a few hours every day. If players miss a period of Last Mile, they can keep up with the drama via a wrap-up show that will air regularly and give them something like a "previously on" segment.
Rival Peak has been Genvid's most successful MILE to date, but Jacob Navok, CEO and co-founder of the company, told me the team is using what it learned from that experience to make The Walking Dead: Last Mile even better, so that all players can feel satisfied no matter their own level of interaction, and maybe more importantly, no matter the time zone in which they live. "If you choose to lean back and watch, it will progress. You do not need to do a thing. The reason you participate in the activities is because you want to have more agency over the outcome."
Though some interactive elements, such as the mechanics behind communal decision-making, are still being finalized, Shawn Kittelsen of Skybound gleefully stressed that Last Mile is being handled like a proper new entry in The Walking Dead comic universe--and all of the narrative prestige that comes with it. He also teased that though the undead are often slower or even frozen stiff in the Alaskan setting, other new threats will be revealed for the first time in the franchise.
Its story arc, most excitingly, is not set in stone. Players will have a lot of influence in the way the story goes, writing new The Walking Dead canon that can't be reloaded, rehashed, or rewritten to better suit the lives of its characters or the preferences of its players. As with anything in The Walking Dead, the stakes are life-or-death, and Facebook users will collectively help decide who lives and who dies.
Think of it like Twitch Plays The Walking Dead, except where all alternate narrative branches are instantly chopped off the moment a decision has been made. Those tangential universes simply cease to exist. Rather than compare endings--"What happened to Kenny in your story?"--players will act as a fractured community trying to come together and help characters make it out alive, all while telling a singular story that will be cemented as canon and referenced in future Walking Dead media.
Will the characters go to war? Steal from each other? Work to mend bonds both figurative and literal? Much of the story can't be spoken to yet, because it's the players who will determine its path over the course of the months-long season. "Do you mean to tell me that people won't always work together amid a pandemic?" I joked. The irony that such an experience will unfold on Facebook of all places is not lost on me.
Though this isn't the sort of experience where players will freely control a character in first- or third-person, everyone will have their own character who accompanies them via an overlay. Engage with Last Mile enough and you'll earn a sort of in-game currency that can be used to bid on different rewards, including a walk-on role in the cinematics of the series. As a zombie genre nerd, the thought of my character appearing in The Walking Dead canon is admittedly tantalizing, but what was even more fascinating to me was learning that one's player character can die.
"In the world of The Walking Dead, we kind of have the opposite of plot armor," Kittelsen told me. "We have, like, plot magnets." It's likely that players will have to make new characters more than once over the course of the long season, like resetting a post-apocalyptic Tamagotchi. This player character doesn't seem to be more than a UI addition, but it may help heighten the drama for players wishing to survive the season with a single character. More importantly, it's a way to give each player their own face and voice in the drama, even as not everyone will be among the diehards who end up in the series itself.
This line of thought opened up a whole new avenue of possibilities for me as a fan. What would I have done if someone like Negan or The Governor came knocking at my community's door? Would I bow down? Fight back? Run into the woods and leave it all behind? Having a character who can die at any moment means players will have to determine not just what the best course may be for everyone, but what the best course will be for themselves. Whether driven by selfishness, charity, pragmatism, or another vice or virtue, crunching those numbers on a scale akin to Rival Peak's many millions of viewers feels right at home in The Walking Dead, a series that loves to chew on sociopolitical brain food through the lens of... well, actual brains as food.
The Walking Dead: Last Mile is set to debut exclusively on Facebook in 2022.
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