Game Review: The Walking Dead: Episode One – A New Day
Genre: Action / Adventure, Horror
Developer: Telltale Games
Available Platforms: PC, XBLA, PSN, Mac, iOS
MSRP: $25 (Season Pass, which will contain 5 episodes), $5/400 MSP (Single episode)
ESRB Rating: M
The Walking Dead, long before it became known as a TV series on AMC, was a comic book series by Robert Kirkman. I mention this because the game is based on said comic book series, so those people who go into this game thinking they’re getting some sort of continuation of the TV series will be in for a shock, but fortunately no prior understanding of either the show or the comic is necessary to play the game. This review will be spoiler free, because a game like this needs to be experienced by the player first, not read in some review. The first episode in this 5 chapter season sets the stage wonderfully, as you take part in the early stages of the zombie infestation that has begun to plague Atlanta and the outlying suburbs. You’ll meet up with all sorts of characters, all of whom have their own motives and methods of surviving (with various degrees of success). Your goal through this episode is to establish what’s going on, find help, try to locate your family, and, of course, survive.
How you go about accomplishing those goals is what this game is all about. Telltale Games has done an excellent job with how you interact with the world. Rather than having just point and click environments, or just having you move the character around exploring, The Walking Dead mixes them both in. At times, you’ll be free to explore an area (often a fairly limited space) using either the control pad or WASD keys, depending on your input method. Other times, you may be crawling along the ground using those same controls, scrambling to get away from a zombie. And there are instances where it is point and click: you can’t move at all, and must look around at what is nearby to determine what you must do next, such as escaping a vehicle, or distracting a zombie horde. It’s the fusion of these different types of interfaces that help keep The Walking Dead from feeling repetitive while serving a specific purpose; for example, most point and click scenes are used in claustrophobic environments where you need to act quickly.
And acting quickly is a common theme in this game. Almost from the start, you’re on a timer any time an interaction is required of you. Everything from conversation responses to actions to chases are timed, and your reaction will dictate life or death, be it yours or someone else’s. Conversations in particular require constant attention, as your input is often needed to steer things in one direction or another. Silence (either no response, or selecting the “…” response) is an option, and sometimes can be the prudent move, but more often than not, you’ll want to say something. Building relationships in this game is critical, and you will often need to decide between telling people the truth, and telling them what they want to hear. You’ll have to remember all the stories you tell, too, because characters will either test you on what you previously said, or be listening when you tell your story to others, and if things don’t mesh up, you’ll damage your credibility. This might not seem like a big deal, until you try to convince them to help you and they blow you off. Every choice you make will change the story you experience, and in fairly drastic ways. Telltale Games has stated that the episodes will build off of the choices you make (and this is made evident in the closing preview to the next chapter, in which cutscenes are tailored to the choices you made in the game), so choose wisely (but quickly!).
The Walking Dead does a great job of immersing you in its world quickly, and you learn about your character from the interactions you have with other characters (including the lies you tell). This character interaction is one of the real strengths of the game, and is driven by excellent dialog and voice acting. The emotions that people feel are real, and with the cel-shaded cartoon style of graphical representation, solid dialog was critical in order to keep the game’s fairly serious tone plausible. The game does not shy away from forcing tough decisions on your character with real ramifications, and you will quickly learn that slow response time or poor decision making will cost people their lives. The game takes this all in stride and moves on, but you may find yourself dwelling on whether you could have handled a situation better. Fortunately, there are 3 save slots, so if you want to try it again on another playthrough, you can do so without overwriting anything. Another strength is the frantic feeling you get in close combat situations, in which you must quickly find the spot on an attacking zombie to hit before it makes you its lunch. It’s also worth noting that once you do beat the episode, you’ll want to go back through and just spend time dying at various points. I played through the episode the first time without dying (though I can’t say the same for my companions), and realized there were some pretty insane (and humorous) death scenes I was missing. The episode is short enough (~2 hours) that you can play through it a few times to see everything the game has to offer, as it will be impossible to do so in a single run.
My gripes are minor: the animations, particularly with a character’s eyes, can be a little off. Characters can do scowls, glares and other facial expressions that involve eye squints very well, but when a character is surprised, shocked or using an expression that involves their eyes going wide, it looks awful, and pulls you out of the experience a bit. Controls on the keyboard for movement feel very awkward; if you can use a gamepad, do so. There are points in the conversations where there is an out of place silence, or characters will say things that don’t seem in line with how the conversation was going, almost as if the game was choosing the wrong dialog response to the previous statement. The game is also very linear, with fairly obvious solutions to the various puzzles. The only real challenge is trying to balance everyone’s emotions towards you, until you realize that you can’t please everyone. Then it just turns into focusing your efforts on the characters you care about, and letting the others fend for themselves.
Tym’s Take: The Walking Dead is an excellent start to this 5 episode game series. You quickly become invested both in your character and the characters you meet, and for a game that’s as short as this is, that’s an impressive feat. You will have genuine moments of terror as you watch companions die while you’re trying to save them, and the mature tone of the game is appreciated. I truly got the feeling that the way characters behaved in this game is pretty much how real people would behave, and what shocked me most was realizing that how I was interacting with the game is probably a fair representation of how I’d handle myself in that situation in life. The Walking Dead is as much litmus test of your real-life handling of pressure situations as it is a horror game, and is probably why this game does such a good job of pulling you in, and keeping you engaged. I strongly recommend this game to anyone.
+ Excellent dialog and voice acting
+ Decisions have real consequences
+ Decisions must be made quickly
– Animations and certain dialog sequences are a little off
– Game is pretty much on rails, relying on character interactions to provide the variety of outcomes
Final Score: 9/10