The biggest surprise coming out of Spike TV's recent Video Game Awards was the Game of the Year win for "The Walking Dead: The Game." The Telltale Games adventure beat out "Mass Effect 3" and "Assassin's Creed 3," titles that featured impressive feats of technology and multimillion-dollar budgets.

It won on the strength of its writing and episodic nature. Spread out over five parts, the adventure game follows Lee and Clementine, two survivors struggling through the zombie apocalypse. Lee is a convicted murderer who escaped custody while heading to prison. He stumbles upon a youngster named Clementine; together, they have to survive the horrors of the world.

his undated publicity photo provided by  Telltale Games shows a scene from the video game, "The Walking Dead: The Game." A pair of assassins, a
his undated publicity photo provided by Telltale Games shows a scene from the video game, "The Walking Dead: The Game." A pair of assassins, a horde of zombies and an intergalactic commander are facing off against a scarf-clad wanderer at the 2012 Spike Video Game Awards. "Assassin's Creed III," "Dishonored," "The Walking Dead: The Game" and "Mass Effect 3" are competing to become game of the year against "Journey," the artsy downloadable game that leads the 10th annual ceremony's nominees with seven nods. (AP Photo/Telltale Games)

Like other Telltale Games, "The Walking Dead" has elements of the old point-and-click adventure on the PC. It's not a title where quick-twitch shooting is essential, though there are scenes when it helps. It's more about puzzle-solving, grabbing items from the environment and figuring out how they can be used to solve problems.

That can be anything from restarting a broken-down train to escaping the Savannah sewers. The puzzles aren't difficult, but there are tense moments as players have to learn the rules of franchise creator Robert Kirkman's zombified world and abide by them. Players can't make much noise, because it attracts the undead. They should be wary of strangers. And most importantly, everyone who dies becomes a zombie, unless the head gets mangled.

As Lee, players also have to make important decisions when it comes to dialogue and plot. They'll have to handle conflicts in a group, siding with one member or another, as the stress and violence push them to the breaking point. The choices can be minor, like giving a boy a high-five, or they can lead to tweaks in the narrative, like choosing which person lives or dies.

The choices don't alter the story extensively. There are no branching narratives, but the decisions shape the makeup of the group so two players will have a tailored experience.

But is it worthy to be called the game of the year? The fact that it's a downloadable game and episodic sets a new precedent for the honor. "The Walking Dead" straddles the line between game and interactive movie. There are better titles, such as "Far Cry 3" or "Halo 4" that deserve the game of the year honor, but everyone can appreciate "Walking Dead's" enthralling characters, gut-wrenching twists and story-telling finesse.

A NEW CHALLENGER: When you see "PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale," the first thing that comes to mind is that it looks like Nintendo's "Smash Bros." series. That's a blessing and a curse. Both games bring heroes and villains from several franchises and let them duke it out. The two offer a dose of nostalgia and fun multiplayer options.

Unfortunately, "PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale" will always be seen as a game that copies the Nintendo series. And that's a shame. Sony's effort improves on the formula in some ways, with better online play and a more combo-centric fighting system with the addition of super moves. The stages have interesting ideas in characters who destroy platforms and structures that players jump on.

The biggest criticism against it is that it's not "Smash Bros.," and that's a weak argument when "PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale" is just as enjoyable and requires as much technique to be good against human competition. Sony's fighting game is also one of the first releases to offer the Cross Buy feature, which lets players enjoy the game on the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita.

It's good on both systems, but "Battle Royale" needs more variety when it comes to the stage design. I also wish there were a few more weapons than the handful that pop up randomly during the match. But it's a good first effort from Sony and SuperBot studios.

Contact Gieson Cacho at 510-735-7076 or gcacho@bayareanewsgroup.com. Read his blog at http://blogs.mercurynews.com/aei.

'the walking dead: the game'

* * * ½

Platform: PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, iOS, PC
Rating: Mature


'PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale'

H * ½

Platform: PS3. PS Vita
Rating: Teen