BUY IT FROM AMAZON: RIGHT HERE!
PLATFORM: 360, PS3, PC
PRICE: $24.99 (for the entire series)
ESRB RATING: M
DEVELOPER: Telltale Games
PUBLISHER: Telltale Games
Even though I reviewed the demo of The Walking Dead: Episode 1 – A New Day in my Indie Round-Up for the week of April 29th, Telltale Games was nice enough to provide CHUD with a review copy of the entire first entry, and I’m thankful they did. As I pointed out in my previous article, I’m not the biggest fan of the comic series, but I absolutely adore the television show (mostly due to how incredible Season 2 was and how I finally grew attached to one of the lead characters), and tune in each week for my fix of human drama set against a hot, southern zombie apocalypse.
Right from the start, it’s obvious that a franchise like The Walking Dead is going to be handled with greater care by a company like Telltale than by just about any other videogame company. I’m just being honest here. Would any of us be so engrossed in this game if it was made by Activision or EA? Doubtful. Telltale always prides themselves on delivering solid and enjoyable interactive adventures, with an emphasis on story. As someone who puts a premium on good storytelling in any form of media, this makes me incredibly happy.
The easy way to adapt The Walking Dead would be to make an FPS, add a bit of human drama, but keep the cast small and give it some kind of multiplayer focus. Thankfully, that game already exists in the form of Left 4 Dead, courtesy of the mad geniuses at Valve. Instead, we get a action/adventure/RPG/point and click story set around the beginning of the zombie apocalypse just outside of Atlanta. The game takes its time, much like the series, and has a surprisingly large cast of characters, each well-fleshed out and interesting in their own way.
Our lead character, Lee Everett, is a man with a somewhat shady past. Something has happened (I won’t say exactly what, as it’ll take away from the experience) to him that has forced him into the back of a police car on his way to prison outside of Atlanta. While being driven to jail, Lee and the officer driving the car chat a bit about his potential innocence, about the nature of humanity when facing punishment for crimes committed, and eventually, about the helicopters and squad cars on the other side of the highway, driving into Atlanta. Lee seems concerned about what’s going on, and rightfully so. The dead have begun attacking the living, feasting, devouring. You’ve seen zombie movies. You know the drill.
The intro to the game serves as a nice way to get the player used to the controls. I was playing on the XBOX 360, and while I still found the controls to be a tad “sticky” for lack of a better term, I had no problems looking around, manipulating items in the environment, moving Lee from various points in the area, etc. My first encounter with a zombie (which is not the same encounter from the demo, mind you) was ridiculously intense and somewhat frustrating as I died almost instantly, Lee’s story coming to an abrupt close mere minutes into the zombie uprising.
Once I re-loaded my save (thankfully, the game does so automatically), I didn’t suck quite so much with the controls and was able to blast the zombie’s head off with a shotgun. In typical horror movie fashion, (perhaps due to electric shock from Bradley Whitford) Lee threw the shotgun down and set off through the woods on his own, clambering over a fence to a somewhat serene neighborhood (this is where the demo begins).
While it’s clear our hero isn’t exactly what he appears to be, the player really should do their best in order to make others around them happy, and appeal to their better judgment and graces. Clementine, the little girl Lee meets upon arriving into the neighborhood, for example, is an important character when it comes to dialogue options, as an onscreen prompt informs you that “Clementine Has Learned Something” or that by talking to her and seeing how she’s doing rewards the player with “You Checked On Clementine”. The importance of this extends to the nature of what it is to be human in a horrific situation. That’s basically what The Walking Dead as a franchise, has always been about. While there are certainly players who will play this game and be nasty and negative (even to a little girl), there are those of us who are on an even keel who will play the game perhaps the way Telltale envisioned, being ourselves, regardless of our intentions. Little touches in the game endear the entire cast to you, as well. Clementine, for example, when it comes to escaping her overrun neighborhood, joins Lee and a pair of other survivors as they attempt to push crashed vehicles off the road. Little moments like that that make this game stand out from so many other games featuring characters in extreme situations.
Lee has a backstory that will surely unfold as the series progresses, however; he’s a blank enough slate that we, as the player can easily project ourselves onto him. I played the game as I would, should I be lucky enough to survive as long as Lee has, thus far. Personally, I think I’d be dead in minutes of a zombie outbreak as I’m a bit thick in the midsection and my impossible good looks would mean nothing to the hungry undead. That said, Lee makes bad decisions, just like we all would. These decisions get people killed. That’s something the show does a good job of emphasizing, as well, the concept of what it means to make life and death decisions, when others around you question and wait.
That kind of urgency is there in The Walking Dead: Episode 1 – A New Day, and hopefully, they’ll continue into the rest of the series. The decisions you make as a player define who Lee is and affect all the relationships with the characters you meet along the way. Giving a character an energy bar, for example, may result in them helping you out in a moment of life or death. Checking on Clementine and offering her support, knowing that her parents were more than likely eaten alive in Savannah (where they were when the outbreak happened) will endear Lee to her more, and she’ll look at him as a protector and caregiver, rather than a stranger. I’ve always been a sucker for decision making in videogames. Mass Effect 3 shit the bed when it came to valuing all of the player’s decisions across three games. Hopefully, Telltale doesn’t make the same mistake.
The game makes use of some incredibly vibrant and beautiful visuals, something I touched on in my initial piece on the game. It’s refreshing to see the end of the world presented with a realistic color palette as most of the time, we’re awash in a sea of grays and browns. Having spent minimal time in Georgia (not of my own choosing, mind you), I have to say Telltale seems to have gotten the vibe and look right. Granted, my time was spent mostly in Augusta, so all I can say is that its lovely and unbearably hot there in August, but going strictly from a visual sense, Georgia looks like Georgia.
Interestingly, I neglected to turn on the subtitles for the game. This is something I always do, whether I need them or not. I just found myself so drawn into the world created by Sean Vanaman (the writer and one of the directors) that I simply forgot, having become so engrossed in the game itself. The on-screen prompts and Lee’s inventory are managed nicely, with very little cluttering up the screen. When it gets truly intense, when its life or death, the game seems to utilize a bit of the Paul Greengrass shakycam-style of action, as a way to give the player a sense of true terror. It certainly freaked me out a couple times, and I’m a veteran of horror games.
My only complaint is that, although the music for the game is top-notch, I’ve come to associate The Walking Dead with Bear McCreary’s incredibly score. The game’s soundtrack, composed by Jared Emerson-Johnson (longtime Telltale collaborator) is fine, but it comes off as a slightly above-average horror movie score when compared to McCreary’s work. A minor complaint, but I have to find something, surely.
Understandably, the game is certainly setting itself apart from the television show, though it works in a few characters from both the comic series and the show itself. Glenn, a prominent character in the show and comics appears (sans New York Yankee hat, damn it) as a member of the group Lee and Clementine become associated with. Glenn’s probably my favorite character in the series, now that my original favorite deputy went off the reservation and got himself zombified at the end of Season 2, so it was nice to see him scrounging up goods and needing rescuing (as well as chasing some tail).
High replay value. There are plenty of decisions that the player can make that will have an immense impact on the entries to come. Certain characters could live or die depending on your choices, as well as certain dialogue options that may endear you to characters you may want to consider having on your side as the story unfolds.
The Walking Dead: Episode 1 – A New Day may be Telltale’s finest game to date. I have yet to play Jurassic Park (sitting in my backlog), but I imagine it’ll pale in comparison to how brilliant The Walking Dead is. I truly hope that Telltale continues delivering high-concept, high-drama entries in this series, as I would hate to see a dip in quality after such a powerful start.
9.5 out of 10