Episode two of The Walking Dead, titled The Walking Dead: Starved For Help, is set to be released later this month. In light of that, I decided to pick up the first title in the episodic series by Telltale Games and run through it. As a relatively new fan of the franchise, I quickly fell for the television show after many recommendations. After recently becoming acquainted with the comic series as well, I feel I understand the themes and feel of the series and what a Walking Dead game would have to be to fit within the previously established work.
But in a market saturated with zombie games and even more people crying out about being sick of them, as well as the failure that was Jurassic Park, I walked into the Telltale Game more cautious than optimistic. Was Telltale able to avoid their mistakes in Jurassic Park while spinning a different yarn, all while staying faithful to the source material?
The Walking Dead: A New Day
Systems: PS3, Xbox 360, PC, Mac (reviewed)
Developers: Telltale Games
Publishers: Telltale Games
Release Date: April 25th, 2012
MSRP: $24.99 (full season access)
Choosing to part ways from the story told in both the television show and comic series, The Walking Dead: A New Day follows Lee Everett, a man on the way to prison after being convicted of murder. In handcuffs in the back seat of a police car, a conversation with the police officer reveals small details about Lee’s life and demonstrates the simple conversation tree, which, interestingly, is timed in most of its appearances, making silence a completely viable option to a question. Things take a turn for the worst when the police officer gets into a collision with a zombie, sending the car off the road. Lee is left appropriately injured and breaks out of the car, only to find the police officer has become one of the walking dead. A quick shot to the head by a conveniently but believably placed shotgun is delivered in all its goriness, although it still pales to the gory nature of the show. Lee soon learns that the dead are attracted to gunshots as he limps his way to safety to find some help.
The game stands as one of Telltale’s more visually impressive, and it’s clear that the game has pushed the engine to its absolute limits to the point where visual stutters can be expected, at least more so at the beginning of the game. This results in a game that looks fantastic; the style is very reminiscent of the comic series, but in turn, some of the animations can be quite jerky. Other reviews also have noted the audio pops and missing lines, although I never ran into either issue in my two playthroughs.
The games follows that of a traditional point-and-click adventure title and perfectly serves the slower, more methodical pace that The Walking Dead has come to be known for. Action sequences do pop up quite often, taking the form of simple QTEs that do a better job than I initially thought they would, even though they still have a tendency to distance players from the action. This is simply an unavoidable truth of QTEs, but Telltale does well within the limitations of the input style.
I’m trying to avoid spoilers as much as possible since the real draw into The Walking Dead is the story. Without going into too much detail, the aforementioned Lee runs into a young girl by the name of Clementine and takes her under his wing to protect her as her parents are nowhere in sight. I can hear the groans of, “Argh, it’s just a five-episode long escort mission” already, but I’m glad to say that this isn’t the case. In fact, she saves you on an occasion and serves as a driving force for players to not only survive, but to protect this little girl.
Rather than focus on the zombies as a plot device, the people at Telltale Games have taken the path of Kirkman and very much centred the story on the human aspect of a zombie apocalypse as characters soon learn a lot about themselves due to living in a world full or terror and death. Obviously, this would make the voice acting incredibly important to nail, and for the most part, I walked away pleased; the performances are believable. The only problem is that some conversations can feel a bit forced and unnatural, but this is an issue that comes up rarely and is quickly rectified by the presence of zombies. Zombies tend to have that effect on people.
Telltale Games has promised a story that is greatly impacted by the choices you make, where characters can live or die based on your decisions; something you say to one person in episode one can come back to haunt you in episodes down the road. The illusion of choice is one developers have been waving around for a while now as a selling point and generally it makes little to no difference to the story. After playing through The Walking Dead twice in significantly different ways, I came away with fairly different stories , with different relationships with characters, and in some cases, not surviving at all. Most interestingly is that, in both my playthroughs, I felt in a sense that I was playing as a different Lee.
Lee is, in some ways, the opposite of Rick Grimes, the main character of the comics and TV show. Lee is a convict rather than a small town police officer, and unlike Rick, he wasn’t thrust into the role of a leader. That’s understandable given his shady past, and it’s refreshing to play as a character who at the best of times is on the outside looking in, rather than being the hero that all look to for advice and leadership. How forthcoming one is about your past is a recurring theme in The Walking Dead and one that will split gamers on how to deal with it. Is honesty really the best policy, or do you keep your secret to yourself so you don’t lose the group’s trust?
The story does re-tread territory that has been done many times before—it’s the nature of doing a zombie apocalypse story nowadays—but it manages to build upon the themes that makes Kirkman’s franchise so popular by remaining faithful to the source material. Being an adventure game perfectly suits the story being told and really highlights the strengths of the medium. Notably, I found that the game handled best with a gamepad rather than the traditional keyboard and mouse, leaving a product that felt a bit too much like a console port rather than a true PC title.
The inclusion of a mode with no UI is greatly appreciated and goes a long way in making the game more cinematic and immersive. This allows players to determine for themselves whether what they had just said would be important later on. It isn’t necessarily more challenging, but it’s a welcome addition for those who would prefer to go in blindfolded rather than having their hands held.
The game can be completed in one sitting, clocking in at a bit over two hours. I find this is perfect for episodic content because it draws a number of similarities to the TV show and can be a story that can be told to you in a solid amount of time, leaving players wondering what will happen in the next episode. $25 for five episodes of approximately two hours length each is certainly not a bad offer.
When I played The Walking Dead: A New Day, all previous concerns and the cautious feeling I had about the title soon melted away. It serves as a great start to the series for people who haven’t seen the show or read the comics. One doesn’t need to be familiar with any prior knowledge of the franchise to enjoy this, although those who are will appreciate the appearances of some notable characters of the show and comic series. I’m eagerly anticipating the second episode, which I’ll review shortly after its release, and I hope it’ll build upon the story whilst dealing with some of the issues the first episode ran into.
* Strong voice acting
* Choices that matter
* Faithful to franchise
* Pleasing visual style
* Compelling and engaging story
* Unnatural conversation trees
* Visual stuttering and bugs
* Feels somewhat like a console port
* Disconnection from action sequences due to QTEs
FINAL SCORE: B+
Disclaimer: The reviewer played through the entire episode twice and made different choices each time. The first playthrough had the UI turned on whilst the second had it turned off.