When I first heard that Robert Kirkman’s horror comic book series, The Walking Dead, was being turned into a video game I was a bit leery. I’m a huge fan of the comics and, despite some unevenness in it’s storytelling, also a fan of the tv adaptation on AMC. I’ve even bought and read the novel based on the comic book that details the early backstory of one of the series’ iconic characters. So, when it was announced that Telltale Games was going to make a game out of the series I was intrigued, but also worried.
Was the property being milked for everything it was worth to the point that it was reaching oversaturation?
As the months ticked by I read up on updates and news on Telltale Games and its plan for the series. It was going to be based on the comic book and not the tv show. While it won’t follow the characters from the comic book the game will still use some of those characters in cameos that the game’s new lead characters will intersect with. I was all for this but I was still hesitant to fully buy into the game until I actually played the first episode in what was going to be an episodic game totaling 5 distinct episodes.
Episode 1, titled “A New Day”, has been released and over the course of a couple hours in one night I’ve played through the episode and my first impression of Telltale Games’ The Walking Deadis a very positive one.
The game actually begins with the lead character of Lee Everett in the back of a police car being driven to a prison outside of Atlanta. We find out early on that Lee has been convicted of murder, but through conversations with the police officer in the car we get hints that he may not be the bad man his conviction labels him as. The game uses these early minutes of the game to give players a simple instructional on how the controls work and the manner in which players can choose how Lee should answer the person he’s speaking to.
Before one could get comfortable with the game’s control mechanics the story crashes headlong into the horror aspect of the game.
The game doesn’t skimp on the horror and tension the player will experience and this episode does a fine way of making the simplistic controls become part of making encounters with the living dead be very tense and terrifying. Most video games tend to make their controls very precise and accurate, but here the controls are just imprecise enough and timed to make zombie encounters not so simple. Even the action tend to serve the narrative instead of breaking away from it. This is not a game that caters to the action junkies, but more to those who value story, characters and emotion first and foremost.
“A New Day” also introduces the second lead that would become part of Lee’s main story: 8-year-old Clementine.
If there’s been a big criticism of the show based on the comic books it’s that the kids on the show have either been clueless, useless, or dangerous. Clementine from my first impressions based on this first episode seem to be the opposite of tv show Sophia and Carl. She’s resourceful, tougher than she looks but still retains enough of her innocence even after seeing the early days of the zombie apocalypse hit her close to home. The interactions between Lee and Clementine is turning out to be this game’s core and how players treat Clementine looks to affect how future episodes turn out.
That’s where the game truly stands out for me even with just this first episode being the only one released, so far. The story and how Lee interacts with his young charge and other survivors he meets up determines how the episode plays out. Play like a compassionate Lee and people will trust Lee and help him out. Play like a silent, enigmatic tough guy and some characters will accept him while others will be suspicious. A great aspect of this game’s narrative is that throughout this first episode (I’m guessing in the other future episodes as well) the player is put in a situation where he has to make Lee decide which two people he has to save from the zombies. The fact that every character doesn’t come off as one-dimensional that making these life or death decisions truly becomes tough.
Telltale Games has done a great job with this episode to lay down the oft-used theme of human drama and conflict in the face of the apocalypse. While it’s nothing new in zombie literature when it comes to the theme of human survivors being as much a dangers to other humans as the zombies with this episode we’re not hit over the head with it. We get some tense interactions between Lee and particular survivors, but nothing that boils over into outright violence. There’s enough distrust introduced with this first episode that we get a sense of danger from within not just from the outside.
I played the game on my Xbox 360 and the graphics is not super-high quality. What the developers do end up doing is giving the game a nice comic book art-like aesthetic which further puts it in line with the comic book series and not the tv show. For a price of $4.99 (400 MS Points) The Walking Dead: Episode 1is worth the price even if a player can easily breeze through it in just a couple hours. It’s how choices (both dialogue and action) made in the game changes the storyline that gives this first episode long-term re-playability. I’ve already done two playthroughs and with each one I’ve made different choices which clearly changed how certain characters acted towards me and how certain scenes unfolded.
So far, Telltale Games has done a great job with The Walking Deadand if this first episode was any indication then players will definitely be waiting for the future episodes with anticipation.