Ep. 1: A New Day - 'Less is More'
Some people bemoan The Walking Dead television series for leaning too far towards a soap opera instead of zombie slaying. While other titles in the genre, such as Dead Rising or Left 4 Dead, use sheer volume of goons to create entertaining experiences, Episode One of Telltale Games' The Walking Dead video game goes in a different direction. Still, don't lose hope. This is only the beginning of the series, but this short-and-sweet introduction proves that the struggle to save one life or take one life can be just as dramatic as surviving an endless tide of people eaters.
Some of you might be expecting The Walking Dead to be another blunder like Telltale's recent Jurassic Park: The Game. This couldn't be farther from the truth. It's not a typical zombie shooter, either. Without spoiling too much, let's just say that main character Lee Everett is (literally) thrown off the road of civilized life and into chaos. It's largely up to the player to decide who Lee is as a person, and his past makes for an interesting canvas for players to color in the lines of their own character.
Telltale developed a branching story that allows players to create a character and progressing story molded by a series of dialogue choices and actions. In the first episode of The Walking Dead video game, titled "A New Day", there are dozens of minor choices and a handful of watershed moments that shape Lee's immediate predicament and will also resurface later in subsequent episodes. Using timed dialogue wheels for conversations, players are forced to quickly chime in with responses. This adds an appreciated element of panic and immersion akin to what a zombie apocalypse might feel like. On the downside, sometimes those choices are made too hastily because of lengthy wording. A few keystone moments are marked by "rock and a hard place" scenarios where the player truly feels the weight on Lee's shoulders. Avoiding spoilers, I'll say that these dramatic scenes will stay with you long after the credits roll and alone are worth the game's modest price tag.
Dialogue choices and other decisions set the table for the other half of The Walking Dead: surviving zombies. In Episode One, players explore rooms and environments to find key resources to solve puzzles and cave skulls. Controls lean towards a point-and-click adventure, and action sequences mix time-sensitive choices and contextual interaction with environmental objects. As someone who prefers first and third person shooters, one of my biggest concerns going into the game was the control scheme. All my control woes were washed away after the first scene. Telltale masterfully builds tension for every close encounter with zombies, and the payoff is huge. A New Day also includes intricate puzzles that perfectly harnesses the dangers of zombies, and rewards players for putting together all the pieces.
The stripped-down controls allow players to focus on quick decisions rather than worrying about cumbersome button sequences. Visual and descriptive aids ranging from dialogue breakdowns to markers for key objects empower players to choose how much help they want - making The Walking Dead accessible to all gamer types. With small-space exploration and contextual interactions being heavy elements of the game's design, motion controls would fit Episode One strikingly well. Everything from opening drawers to wielding a hammer would perfectly fit with Xbox's Kinect or PlayStation's Move, but they are sadly excluded.
Converting Robert Kirkman's comic book series into a gaming adventure is a bold move. Kirkman's unique take on the zombie apocalypse is hard to properly duplicate, and longtime fans of the series will be watching Telltale's every move like a human recently bitten by a walker. But, leaning heavily on canon from the comics, The Walking Dead pays homage to source material and even adds depth to the universe. As the first entry of the series, it will be interesting to see how Telltale builds upon player choices.
Does thinking make brains taste better? If so, Episode One of The Walking Dead is a mouth-watering recipe that will have zombies lined up around the block for a taste of your noodles. Telltale somehow managed to create drama and choices that tug on your heartstrings in an impressively short period of time. Adrenaline, panic, and testosterone might as well be listed as characters in the credits. It took BioWare three games to build insane amounts of tension in its Mass Effect series. It took Telltale three hours. With some minor tweaks and consistency, we could be looking at a series that might become not only a valid addition to The Walking Dead canon, but also a hall-of-fame downloadable game.
Graphics (90) – The comic book style fits perfectly. The close-ups give you all the gore you can hope for.
Sound (85) – The voice acting is solid (zombie groans included). There isn't much of a musical score, which will either add to the overall experience or make things a little bland depending on your tastes.
Gameplay (88) – Though unconventional, the controls feel great. Telltale polished the experience considerably. Kinect and Move support would be perfect, but they're sadly left out.
Play Value (90) – A worthy entry for The Walking Dead fans, zombie fan boys and gamers who generally like a solid play.
Final Score (88) – Clocking in under five hours, this is a short title. However, the price more than makes up for this, plus with a branching story there is high replay value. At the end, you'll be begging for Episode Two.
John loves gaming and loves writing about games. He wants to become a known voice in the gaming community and a game designer one day.
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