The Walking Dead: Episode 1 A New Day
Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Telltale Games
Release Date: 04/25/2012
For those unfamiliar with the license this game is based on, a little while back, AMC picked up the rights to broadcast a TV adaptation of the popular zombie comic The Walking Dead. The comic has been in publication for nearly ten years at this point, with ninety six issues and fifteen trade paperbacks produced as of now, chronicling a group of people who are attempting to survive after the dead refuse to stay that way. While the bleak tale of trying to keep alive against all odds has had crossover success, from comics to a television series, it was uncertain if The Walking Dead could pull a hat trick and crossover to video games as well. Zombies have been a successful enemy to use in video games over the last few years, of course; the question was whether a developer would be able to translate the desperate struggle and dark tone of the comics to an interactive adventure.
Telltale Games, known for their work in point and click adventure games, won the rights to develop a game based on the series, and now that I’ve played Episode One, I’m very glad that they were the ones who were chosen to do so.
The Walking Dead: Episode One takes place during a similar time frame as the show and comics, only with a different group of survivors. You might see a familiar face, as the game acts as sort of a prequel for a characters from the comics, but otherwise we are dealing with new characters. The game starts with the main character, Lee, in the back of a squad car being driven to prison.
The art style stands out right away. The graphics and details are decent, but the game uses bold lines and specific color palettes to give the impression of a moving comic, sort of like the PS2 game XIII if you remember that. I’m hesitant to use the term ‘cel-shading’ since it makes people think of a cartoonish style with vibrant colors, and here the colors are subdued. If you’ve read the comics at all, the art style should be familiar to you right away. It has the effect of looking like a sketch done in colored pencils and watercolors. Some of the backgrounds and objects do not have a large amount of texture to them, but this works with the art style instead of looking cheap or out of place.
While in the squad car, Lee and the officer start having a conversation, and during the conversation there are places where you get to dictate Lee’s responses. The choices range from ambivalence to angry to friendly, or at least as friendly as a talk between a police officer and a prisoner can be. Interestingly, according to the game different, characters will remember how you respond to different conversations, like how honest you were, who you sided with in an argument, and so on. There are some odd lines of dialogue, but otherwise the voice acting and music are great and really help add tension to difference scenes.
Things go to hell in the game shortly after that. The rest of the game involves meeting other survivors and trying to make the most of terrible situations. The game plays out mostly like a point and click adventures game. You can move the main character around and use an onscreen cursor to point out different things. Depending on what options you choose, you can turn on a visual aid to see what objects you can interact with, or leave it off so you can figure this out on your own. There’s no real bad option between the two, as the visual aids aren’t distracting and don’t break the immersion of the story. I left this on because I did not want to get stuck trying to click over everything in the game, but those who like adventure or hidden object games might prefer to leave this off.
There are some puzzles to solve, but most are extremely simple affairs with straight forward solutions. Unlike some adventure games, in this first episode, you will not be carrying a large number of items trying to figure out what they do. There are some moments of brutal action, but do not mistake this game for a Left 4 Dead or Dead Rising type of game. If you are looking to kill zombies, this isn’t that kind of game, as it is more about exploring the horror and helplessness of such a situation. The game does a good job of varying different situations. You will never spend too long doing a puzzle or interacting with characters before you have to deal with zombies and vice versa. There’s a good flow to the game that keeps it from getting too bogged down, but then again, it’s about two hours long, so it would be difficult to do that anyway. It all controls really well, with a simple control interface. Some might not enjoy how simple the control scheme is, but it works perfectly for the setting that this game is aiming for.
It is hard to judge a game when you are only playing a very specific part of it. I can say that I really love what I’ve seen so far. The game, I think, captures the tone and spirit of the comics better than what I’ve seen of the TV show, and it does something that the comic or show cannot do: it puts the player into similar situations, only it leaves some of the major decision making to the player. Sure, some of these choices are just an illusion, and there are areas where, no matter what you choose, things will still happen. There are some big decisions though, and even when a something bad does happen no matter what you do, the choice you made will be remembered by the characters around you. There are times during the comic where I’ve become angry with choices characters made or how they react to those choices, and The Walking Dead game gives you control over that. Instead of wondering why the author chose to save one character over another, I’ll have only myself to blame. Often, video games based on existing Intellectual Properties feel somewhat disconnected from the story they’re telling, while The Walking Dead actually made me feel more immersed in the world they’ve created than either the comic or TV show, which is the biggest compliment I can give to the developers of the game.
There are some slight issues. While the idea of characters remembering choices and major decisions having an effect in the game sound like good ideas, it is hard to judge, based off of this first episode, how much that will actually play a role later on. I think it’s a great idea, and has lead to a lot of discussion between players on what choices they’ve made, and also adds a lot of replayability to the game in the future. Of course, if it ends up not making a difference, then it will have the kind of backlash that the end of Mass Effect 3 had. That is why, for me, it is hard to really rate The Walking Dead: Episode One. I enjoyed it, it shows a lot of promise for future episodes, and had an arc to it like an episode of a TV show or comic book trade. I guess the best thing I can say is it is a great start and I want to play more.
Appeal Factor: Very Good
FINAL SCORE: GREAT GAME
Short Attention Span Summary: The Walking Dead: Episode One is a great beginning, and does an amazing job of immersing the player into the bleak world of the comics. It will be interesting to see how some of the ideas pan out in the future episodes, but if they are all as good as the first episode than Telltale might have developed the best game adaptation ever made.