The Walking Dead: Episode One Ė A New Day |
Based on the Eisner award-winning comic book series with an AMC television adaptation of the same name, The Walking Dead is an episodic horror action adventure game by Telltale Games of Sam & Max fame, taking place at the onset of the zombie apocalypse preceding the events of the comics and TV show. Given that Telltale is best known for its graphic adventure games, itís not surprising that The Walking Dead isnít your traditional zombie apocalypse shooter.
Thatís not to say that The Walking Dead isnít full of zombie-stomping goodness. Youíll still get plenty of action: the game certainly doesnít shy away from having the player graphically take a hammer to a teenaged walkerís face, for instance, and slow reflexes can still get you eaten alive. What sets The Walking Dead apart, though, is that itís not all about the violence. The Walking Dead sets out to flesh out the events immediately preceding the comic and TV series and does a fantastic job of creating emotional impact and a sense of responsibility for your in-game choices.
The cast of new characters, with a few cameos by characters from the comics and TV show, are generally both believable and sympathetic, thanks to solid writing and voice acting. As Lee Everett, a convict who is unexpectedly given a second chance when zombies attack Atlanta, Georgia, the player has numerous chances to define the kind of man Lee turns out to be. Conversation replies and plot choices are timed, cleverly creating realistic tension by allowing only a few seconds to make critical decisionsósuch as whether Lee tells someone the truth about his past, who he sides with in an argument, or whose life he savesóand Telltale promises us that these choices will have an impact on how the other four upcoming episodes play out.
Where other adventure games may have players hunting for random gewgaws to solve outlandish puzzles, The Walking Dead keeps it relatively straightforward and practical. Youíll find Lee looking for batteries for a dead radio, figuring out how to dispatch a gaggle of walkers without causing too much noise, or hunting down keys to unlock an office door. If youíre used to playing adventure games, youíll find this one pretty easy.
The lack of challenging puzzles, however, is balanced with a genuinely creepy ambiance, top-notch storytelling, and some honest-to-goodness combat scenes that require faster thinking to move, aim that reticle, and make judicious use of the axe or screwdriver you picked up earlier before Lee becomes zombie food. This is sometimes easier said than done, as the interface, while generally decent for ordinary exploration, is less helpful for taking decisive action.
Not only is it sometimes difficult to see during these critical moments because theyíre often dark and laced with a blurring effect, itís just a tad awkward to both aim with the right thumb stick and activate the A button with the same hand on a moving target. Itís manageable once you get the hang of it, but Iíd have far preferred using the right trigger instead for those faster-paced segments.
The art, sound, and overall presentation are outstanding, however. While rendered in 3D, the graphics achieve a gritty, hand-drawn look with ink-lined and painted textures that fit really well with the gameís comic-book roots, and the lifelike animations, desaturated colors, and detail-packed post-apocalyptic rural and small-town environments really bring The Walking Deadís Southern setting to life.
Episode One goes for 400 Microsoft Points ($5.00 US dollars) and a single play-through took me about three hours. With all the branching in-game choices and three save slots, though, thereís significant incentive to replay the game. For the price of a large espresso beverage, itís not a bad deal for the enjoyment I got from this game. You may wonder if itís important to have read the comics or watched the TV show, but Iíll be honest with you: though The Walking Dead is on my Netflix instant queue and the comics on my endless to-read list, other than having an interest in the series, I hadnít actually had any experience with either one before taking on this review. Even so though, any cameo characters were as new to me as the rest, I didnít feel at all lost, left out, or spoiled for being new to the series. As far as I can tell, the game is as good a starting point as any for introducing players to the story and setting.
In closing, The Walking Dead: Episode One Ė A New Day is a surprisingly fun and unusual take on a zombie/horror survival game, and I enjoyed it immensely. I was unexpectedly attached to my version of Lee Everett by the end of that first installment, and it was fun to see how my choices compared to those of all other players at the end of the episode. Iíd highly recommend this one if youíve got a free evening to spare. Hereís looking forward to Episode Two!