When I got the chance to review Jurassic Park The Game a little while back, I was at first excited, as I was loving what I’d scene of the game, and then I actually got behind the controls and was left wondering what kind of missteps led to the control scheme and bugs I was seeing in the PC version of the game. Between JP and Skyrim I was forced to hook up an Xbox 360 controller to my PC just to be able to play a game at all, let alone with any kind of enjoyment. So I was a little worried when this game came around. Telltale Games doing a Walking Dead game? After Jurassic Park I was a bit skeptical. Law and Order was good, but it was a far cry from the action we’d be seeing in a Walking Dead adventure title. I should not have been worried. The Walking Dead delivers not only on story and tone, but the first episode feels polished, controls perfectly, and offers up more of what I’d come to expect from a Telltale title.
The game story itself, at least in this episode, takes place just after the start of the dead coming back as Walkers, so before Rick in the comics and television show actually wakes up in the hospital. While at least three characters from the comic do show up in this episode, the game chooses to focus instead on a new batch of characters telling the story in a similar style and tone to the comic book. We are introduced to our character, Lee Everett, in the back of a squad car as it leaves Atlanta, bound for a prison that you’ve been sentenced to. You’ve been convicted of murdering a man for sleeping with your wife, in this case a higher-up in the political circles. As you talk with the chatty police officer up front, squad cars, ambulances, and helicopters whiz past you going into Atlanta, and then you end up alongside the road after crashing into a Walker who’d stumbled out on the freeway.
After a harrowing escape from the Walkers that have gathered around the police car, you end up in the suburbs that have already been overrun and meet up with a little girl who’s been waiting for her mother to come home, but you’ve been inside the house and know that she’s going to be waiting for a moment that isn’t coming. You take her with you and end up meeting more people along the way. While overall the story is linear, just like any adventure title really, Telltale has introduced some story-telling elements into this game that fans of Mass Effect should be already familiar with, choice. There are several points, not just in conversations, but in the way you handle things, like who you’re going to try to save, whether you lie about your past, that end up affecting the way the story plays out not only in this episode, but in the upcoming 4 episodes due out in the coming months. The “Next Time on The Walking Dead” teaser was completely tailored to the choices I had made in Episode 1, with the characters who I’d saved showing up there as well as conversation choices playing out in a rather blown up fashion.
This is something totally new from an adventure title. Usually the dialogue is there just to open up puzzles, or help you figure things out in those puzzles. Now that dialogue is setting up how events will play out and who will help you, and who you save. Suddenly that old horror ad spouting, “Who will survive and what will be left of them?”Â really seems to apply here.
Visually, the game is solid. It uses an art style readers of the comic should be more than familiar with and the scribbly lines that surround different objects don’t look out of place at all and instead add to the flavor and feel of the game. People should bear in mind that the game lends itself more to the comic book than the TV show, so Hershel and Glenn, who are both in the TV show, don’t necessarily look like their TV counterparts, but are dead on for their comic book look. Lilly is the same, but we also haven’t met her in the TV show yet. There were no dropped frames, and lighting definitely got taken into consideration for this as well. Zombies look suitably, well, rotten, and blood trails and debris litter what would normally be pristine landscapes. One of the locations does end up feeling little bare bones on the outside, but you only see it in a few quick scenes so it’s not overly detracting from the rest of the game. While it’s not going to wow people who are looking for hyper-realism, fans of the comic book or traced look should love it.
Sound is what you’d expect from a zombie game with the moaning and the tearing and breaking, but the game does a great job of delivering dialogue, which could have been terrible and wasn’t, sound effects, and even music. My ears weren’t bleeding and the voice actors did a great job bringing these characters to life. Usually I detest little kids in games, mainly because they’re portrayal is beyond awful, usually a combination of writing and the voice actor not being able to translate the dialogue well, but Clementine, the little girl you meet up with at the beginning of the game, is actually written really well and the voice actress really makes you care about this little fictional pixel girl and what happens to her, which is a great thing for the story-telling, and even better when it works with the audio and dialogue and not just in the subtitles.
I’d really complained about the Jurassic Park controls in that review, because, well they sucked with the keyboard and mouse. This game though is the opposite of suck, although you can still tell the 360 was the game this version was originally designed for, but not because of the keyboard and mouse controls, which work beautifully, but because when you go into look at the controls, it shows you a 360 controller by default. You can’t actually change to see the keyboard keys by the way. While the 360 controller works well on PC, yes I tried it, the keyboard and mouse work just as well and didn’t leave me hanging. You move around using the WASD set-up, with a cursor on screen to interact with objects using the mouse. You select objects and which action you want to perform using the scroll wheel on the mouse and then left-clicking. You can also select you dialogue choice using the scroll and click method. If you want to use your keyboard for dialogue you can as well, using the arrow keys to move through dialogue choices and then the Enter key to select. I preferred the mouse method myself as it was faster. There are a few quick events in the game, usually involving spam hitting the Q key followed by a quick hit of the E key and usually involving some form of zombie attack. You also may have to aim a little bit with the mouse for intended targets to keep from ending up as zombie chow.
Dialogue that matters is timed. So if you’re going to start a conversation, don’t get distracted, otherwise you’ll end up saying nothing and the conversation will end and you’ll miss the opportunity for the extra actions, unless that how you want to do it. It keeps you quick on your feet, and 5 or 6 seconds is really all the time you’d have to respond in a conversation IRL, so not only does it keep things moving, but it leaves you second-guessing your way through the conversations, wondering if you’re doing the right thing, and if you’re lying, whether you’re keeping those straight as well. Puzzles aren’t as prevalent through this episode. The biggest two being how to get out of your handcuffs and how to break into the pharmacy to get some pills. The pill puzzle is a bit harder as the tools you need are scattered across several locations you’ll end up scouting around which ends up with another side puzzle as to how to distract and dispatch some zombies without using your gun. They all fit with the tone of the game, and really feel less like puzzles until you’re looking back on them, and more like obstacles that someone in a zombie apocalypse would actually be facing. I think the best part about it all is that it’s smooth and the scenes transition extremely well with a minimum of loading for any given scene.
Normally when I talk about replayability in an adventure title, I’m left going, “Ëœyeah, sure if you liked the story,’ but that’s not entirely the case here. By bringing in that element of choice, through the dialogue and siding with different characters to who you save or not save, you’ve got quite a few replay options that look like they’ll pan out farther down the episode line, some even appearing to come to a head in the episode due out next month. In any case, I will have at least three game saves ready to go for episode 2 with varying dialogue options chosen and people saved just to see how this pans out. So there’s 2 replays of this right there. The smooth and polished controls, gameplay and dialogue don’t hurt your replay value here either. Trophy-wise though, if you’re running this through Steam like I am, you only get trophies your first run through and it’s for completing each segment of the episode, so while one run will suffice for those, you might be short-changing yourself on some very different story elements later.
One thing TellTale doesn’t skimp on is delivering a reasonable price. Their titles are always priced well and competitively for a 10 to 12 hour romp, and with some nice replayability this goes up. My one run through on this episode lasted a full two hours, and usually other episodes follow through. You’re looking at about $25 for the whole season, which is a gift. I’d have not been upset for a higher price point, but this is a great price out of the gate. They’ve got it bundled with eight of their other games for 20 bucks more right now off their site, which is a steal. As far as balance in the game, for more traditional adventure players you have a no hints version of the game, and for the rest of us, the hints are pointed out in a subtle way with floating grey dots over stuff you can interact with. The only thing I can see being an issue is the timing you need to escape zombies or attack them being an issue for those who like a more laid back adventure game experience.
While this does borrow a license about zombies, a game subject that has been visited before, Telltale has gone and made up a new story that ties into the comics and gives us some compelling new characters. They’ve also shaken up the adventure game expectations a bit by giving us a branching story where choices you make shape your experience as you play, something we’ve really not seen in an adventure title before this. So while it’s combining elements we’ve seen in other genres, it’s doing it well and telling us a compelling story and giving the same as a gaming experience as well.
My first play through the outside world ceased to exist. I put on my headphones and played the whole way through. I had TeamSpeak on from earlier in the day, my guildmates trying to talk to me and getting mostly ignored while I played, my wife having to practically yell to get my attention. This had me on the edge of my seat through most of it. There was a nice bit of slow down while we chill out at the farm and then it amps back up again as we head back into town. At the end of it I wanted more. Yeah this is easily on par with some of the other addicting titles I’ve played in the past year. Being a great and faithful translation of the comic to the video game world won’t hurt this games chances. It feels polished and plays great. The added time they took pushing this back has paid off in spades and while I think that dinosaur game might still be fresh in some people’s minds, this will wash the taste out, or bite it off. One or the other.
While there were a few story-telling glitches, like you telling people that Clementine isn’t your daughter and the characters then continuing later on to refer to her as such, and the radio not needing batteries and the reporter not being able to figure it out, I can forgive it and chock it up to the situation and stress everyone is under. That and I’ve met people who don’t know that you have to plug a computer in to get it to turn on, so there is that. Overall though, I had no real glitches. The game never crashed. There was no bizarre pathing issues or characters doing some bizarre animations. It was, in a few words, fun and bug free. This is what I want when I start a game, to play it. I don’t want to have to fight it to get it to run or to make characters do what I want. This was fantastic in that regard.
Control and Gameplay: Amazing
Appeal Factor: Very Good
FINAL SCORE: INCREDIBLE GAME
Short Attention Span Summary
The Walking Dead Episode I is not only a shot in the arm for episodic release titles, but for the adventure genre in general. It introduces a story mechanic we’d only really seen in RPGs and runs with it and does it well. The game has the tone from the comics down to a story-telling science, and since it’s not directly tied into the main story, fans of the TV show can enjoy this as well. It plays extremely well, feels polished, and is on my must buy list for horror fans, fans of the comic or show, or people who just want something new in an adventure title. The Walking Dead is a fantastic translation of the themes and characters from the comic book while giving us some fresh faces to experience it through, and I think it should be on everyone’s radar.
What Video Game Release for January 2014 are you most excited for?
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