Game Review: ‘The Walking Dead – Episode 1 – A New Day’ for XBLA

Forget about it being AMC’s top rated series. Forget about Volume 1 being the number one selling graphic novel of April 2012 despite it being published more than eight years ago and seven other volumes filling up the top 10. And even forget about it being the title that made Robert Kirkman a superstar comic writer.

The Walking Dead is now a video game too. And yes, we were just as hesitant when we heard about it as anyone else. As much as we appreciate a studio like Telltale with a pedigree of former Lucasarts employees and titles like Monkey Island franchise and Sam & Max, we know the dangers of a licensed franchise being brought to the gaming world. Luckily, Telltale showed us once again that the right team working with the right property can bring magic on screen.

Gameplay:

The Walking Dead comes to players as a newer style of point and click adventure game. Traditionally, the genre revolved around players sorting through an environment with trial and error until they found the proper combination of items and persons needed to solve a puzzle. Now, The Walking Dead steps up the ante with a faster paced and more natural feeling action oriented adventure.

Players wave a cursor around screen until they come across items they can interact with, much like traditional gameplay. In some cases though, they only have limited amounts of time to accomplish tasks. Early on, a player must reach for a shotgun to defend themselves. If it takes them too long to get the cursor in the proper place or hit the right button, they are goners.

The Walking Dead also holds true to the lore established by the comic and tv series. If you get bit, it’s over. It isn’t like Dead Rising where you are the one lucky bastard with immunity who can take a bite and keep on ticking. If you fail in The Walking Dead, you see the main character Lee’s demise before kicking you back to a recent checkpoint. Luckily, checkpoints are fair and frequent to allow players to continue on with the story instead of repetitive punishment for a mistimed button press.

The game also has a dialogue system which works similarly to the action system where players are sometimes given a limited time span to make a dialogue choice. Important choices affect how characters interact with the player later in the episode as well as how they supposedly will in future episodes. These decisions are shown at the end of a playthrough including readouts on what other players have chosen as well. With the game allowing for three separate save slots, players can make extreme choices or walk the line and see how each translates in future playthroughs.

The simple nature of the game is really enjoyable and the action moments can be quite tense. Trying to find the right spot to kick a zombie away as they lurch towards you or the split decisions a player must make can be awesomely tense moments. It is even stranger to have such tension in a normally slower paced genre like point and click adventure games.


Story and Presentation:

The Walking Dead will take place over the course of five monthly episodes. This first chapter establishes the main character Lee and the secret that is going to be looming over his head throughout the rest of this tale and Clementine, a little girl Lee encounters early in the game. Taking place before the events of The Walking Dead comic, the game let’s players encounter the early days of the infection, well before Rick regains consciousness. Through the rest of the episode, Lee and Clementine encounter other survivors who are beginning to deal with the events unfolding around them. The story does a good job of weaving these characters together and builds very defined relationships between them. It also features two cameos from well known characters from the comics.

The story also gives lots of tense moments and there are a lot of big moments. Each of the individual chapters of the episode feels like it has a big defining moment that leaves a player breathless. These are what is going to bring players back in the coming episodes. The downtime that leads into the big rush of a life or death encounter instead of just going through and slaying mobs of non-threatening zombies in other games is great for the title’s pacing as well.

One major issue seen in the game though is the time frame the story takes place in. In the beginning of the game, Lee is leaving Atlanta when his vehicle hits one of the walkers and knocks him out. When he regains consciousness, things have already fallen apart in the world around him, though the game only gives the impression that a few hours have passed. There are hints soon after about how bad Atlanta and the surrounding towns have gotten and there is a visible level of decomposition of the bodies, but it just doesn’t feel realistic that the world devolves in to chaos in just a matter of hours, especially when you see the level of decimation surrounding the areas the characters encounter. The comic and television show were able to overcome this by leaving the early days of the infestation fairly limited in terms of details so it is interesting to see why the game made the decision to show it so early on.

Graphics and Sound:

The Walking Dead carries with it Telltale’s signature art style. The characters in the game somewhat resemble their comic book counterparts but aren’t meant to look like they were ripped from the pages. They have a more light hearted and cartoonish feel along with the cell-shaded effect to make The Walking Dead feel more like a “comic book game”. The zombies definitely have a more comical tone to them when you see the designs. Where Tony Moore began drawing the series in a gruesome and grotesque way that Charlie Adlard continued, the zombies in The Walking Dead game aren’t terrifying just on sight alone, but only when combined with their brutal actions do they feel like a true threat.

There are some graphical hiccups in the first episode of The Walking Dead though. There are brief and awkward pauses occasionally after dialogue or action choices have been made. There are also instances where characters and objects begin to clip and load in to the screen as the player is going about their business. In a game that isn’t hugely graphic intensive, this is somewhat disappointing as it does hurt the story’s immersion factor.

The voice actors do a very good job with the characters. Though occasionally certain dialogue choices seem overplayed, especially considering a lighter tone the conversation had been taking, there are few times where they seem this out of place. The two character cameos from the comic feel especially true to what you’d expect from reading the comics as well once you hear them on screen, one even more so than their television counterpart.

Overall:

An issue of The Walking Dead would cost you $2.99 on the news stand today and reading it would take you less than twenty minutes. For $5, you are getting about two hours of gameplay in the same world that people have already grown an attachment to. It seems like a win-win proposition. Despite the small graphical quirks and the strange sense of time passing through the story, Telltale holds true to the tone of The Walking Dead.

The characters are the focus and their interactions with each other are almost as dangerous, if not more so, than that of the undead. The characters playing off of each other are the focus of The Walking Dead and the zombies are just the catalyst to set people off on different tracks. At such a cheap price, The Walking Dead is worth playing for any fan of the comic or the series and with so many options for platforms to play it on, there isn’t much reason people could find not to play it.

XBLA (Also available on PlayStation Network, Mac, iOS and PC)

Developer: Telltale Games

Publisher: Telltale Games

Price: 400 Microsoft Points ($5.00)

Score: 8.0

 

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