Review: The Walking Dead (Episode 1: A New Day)

Rating: M (for Mature)
Genre: Action, Adventure, RPG
Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer:  Telltale Games
Release Date: April 25th, 2012


The Walking Dead.  If you’ve read the Graphic Novels or watched the television show, I’m sure you have a pretty good idea what you might be in for.  Even still, the name gives a lot away.  Zombies.

This is a game about zombies.  But what you might not know that those of us more familiar with the comic or the show are familiar with already, is that it’s also a game about choices.  Hard choices.  These are the quick on your feet, nail-biting, choose it or lose it sort of moments that kind of define the zombie genre and that The Walking Dead is already known for.

(That and if anyone ever asks where Carl is? He’s not in the house.  Most especially if he’s been told to stay there.)

Another thing to note is that people that are already familiar with Telltales specific brand of point and click, search and assess sort of games are in for both something new and something different in The Walking Dead.  What’s new is this gritty, dirtier, emotional sort of story-telling we haven’t seen a whole lot of, but started to get a taste of in Back to the Future.  I played the games before that, but I feel like that series really stepped it up with the plot and the storytelling in Telltale games.  Now, take that and amplify it, add zombies and add one more twist: the ability for the game to remember your choices.

It’s nothing new for RPG fans really.  You make a choice, the game makes future choices about how the world reacts to you, based on that one.  An interesting twist can be found at the end of part one, when the game shows you how your choices stacked up against other players.  I found I’d only made one choice that I wasn’t with the majority of other players on.  *rubs chin*  INTERESTING. Very.  Interesting.

Okay, so after all that set-up about the things you might already know, or think you know going into this thing…

In The Walking Dead, you play Lee.  When you start up, Lee [you] are in the back of a police car, getting talked to by the police officer driving you down to lock-up. Not a good place to be with the apocalypse breaks out, but there you have it.  Of course, maybe it’s good for Lee, because when the cop wrecks the car (zombies wandering the streets and all), it’s not the cop that walks away.  So, Lee has a new lease on life as a free man in the new zombie wasteland that is Atlanta.  Not only that, but after a brief post-wreck scene he’s had a taste (oh, poor word choice when talking about zombies) of what the world now holds for him.  His leg is hurt, but he sets off from the site of the wreck looking for safety.  He finds it, temporarily, and a strange little girl named Clementine.  That’s when our story starts getting good.

Now, the beginning, with Lee in the cop car is a good way to get you into the game because it gives you all the chances to feel your way around the control scheme and the dialogue choices.  Xbox players may take a little longer to adjust with the directional crosshairs, but it’s not too difficult to pick up (just harder to remember if you’re coming off another game).  It’s a little like your left-stick move, right-stick camera kind of idea, but far more focused because it’s not just directionality it’s focus.  The beginning gives you a good fee for that and you get to try your hand at all the basic directions (a la tutorial style) while you’re getting Lee’s backstory and seeing the first hints of buh-buh-BUH! … THE WALKING DEAD.

Once you get to Clemetine’s house, things get serious.  And now what you’re doing/saying is influencing another person.  She’s going to remember you, and what you say to her and to other people.  Other people you meet along the way will trust you or not based on what you do or say in their presence, and so on.

The game automagically saves as you pass certain dialogues or scenes, so there’s no remembering to save as you play like with many zombie games (as many of us are used to in RPGs).  Harder (but not impossible) to save and load separtate games that way though.  Like with all the Telltale game series, we’re only getting so many episodes, and so part one only gives you a few hours of game time.  I feel like it’s longer than other games have been in the past, that might not be true, but it certainly feels like it has a bit more depth and certainly there’s a lot more dialogue.  Of course, it leaves you chomping at the bit for the next installment when it’s over.

I’ve played through at least one part of every Telltale series and of them all I have to say this is my favorite.  I’ve liked previous games a good deal, but I think this one has kicked up the whole experience a few notches.  In The Walking Dead, there’s just the right mix of plot and dialogue mixed with action, the controls are pretty quick to pick up and I didn’t at any point feel like I was completely stuck on what to do next.  It’s definitely worth the money – in fact, based on my experience with the first part, I’d definitely recommend putting down the money to get the season pass, so you can get the deal for all of the episodes.