Telltale games’ newest title is a downloadable episodic game based on Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, and Charlie Adlard’s hit comic book The Walking Dead. This game consists of five downloadable chapters that will be released on a monthly schedule. Last week the first episode, entitled A New Day, was released on PC, Mac, Playstation Network, and Xbox Live Arcade.
Episode One takes placing at the start of the zombie outbreak while Rick Grimes, the protagonist of the Walking Dead series, is in a coma. In this game you won’t be playing as any of the well known characters, instead you’ll be put in the shoes of Lee Everett, a man that is being transported to prison after being convicted of a serious crime just as the zombie outbreak begins to get serious.
Essentially this game is a point and click adventure game, with a massive focus on multiple-choice conversations. Every now and then you’ll be forced to engage in quick time button pressing combat situations with zombies, but these are fairly few and far between. This game is mostly about building your relationship with an orphaned girl named Clementine. After stumbling across her hiding in a tree house, and discovering that her family is out of state and likely dead, it’s down to you to protect her from the zombie hordes.
As this is a zombie game you can expect to come across the undead… lots of the undead. Whenever you meet zombies it is usually a fairly frantic scramble to either escape or to bash their brains in. Rather than offering full control of the situation you’ll instead be required to follow on screen button prompts as they appear to try and defeat the zombies. For the most part this system works quite well. The tension is increased by the small window of opportunity that you have as well as the fact that Lee is either the clumsiest person on earth, or he’s suffering from a serious inner ear condition. Literally if there is any sort of obstacle at all you can guarantee that he will trip on it, slip over, or fall flat on his face.
The game also has a really great cartoony art style that vaguely resembles the art style of the comic books (apart from the fact that it is in colour) with thick black outlines. It’s a visually distinctive look and one that suits the tone of the game entirely, bringing to mind other games such as Borderlands and Jet Set Radio.
For the most part this first episode takes place in a series of fairly small environments with very little to do in terms of exploration. You can wander most environments freely but all you can really do is speak to the other characters. It is through these conversations, and the subsequent relationships that you either build or destroy, that the game truly shines.
When the game first boots up there is a note telling you that the gameplay experience will change depending on the decisions you make. In pretty much every conversation you’re given up to four choices to make. These vary from being kind, harsh, honest, or to lie, depending on the situation. Early on in the game I told a lie about how I came across Clementine simply because I thought it was the easier option. This resulted in a number of characters questioning my version of events, creating a palpable sense of unease as I feared how they would react should my little white lie be exposed.
This system extends to pretty much every aspect of the game. There are multiple paths to take, depending on the decisions you make, and you can even dictate which characters live or die, impacting on how other characters react to you in the future. This also applies to the way you speak to the other survivors; your choices will determine how friendly certain characters are towards you, and the prospect of carrying over those relationships to future episodes is something I’m looking forward to experiencing.
There are no major side quests in the episode, or optional objectives, beyond dishing out energy bars to hungry survivors and tracking down batteries for a portable radio. Even then, there’s no reward for completing these little tasks. Some may consider that a downside, but in my view this refined focus on the main narrative is a positive decision.
Overall this episode will last for about two hours, but the sheer variety in decisions and dialogue choices means that you could potentially play through it three or four times before seeing all of the possible outcomes. Of course some, feeling that their initial decisions were for the best, will feel no desire to return to this episode once they have completed it for the first time.
In a lot of ways The Walking Dead is reminiscent of Quantum Theory’s Heavy Rain, with its focus on narrative over varied gameplay. Sometimes developers get too caught up in trying to get the best possible graphics, or refining the gameplay, and almost seem to neglecting the story. The Walking Dead is almost the opposite of this, with solid and capable gameplay backing up a genuinely engaging and troubling narrative. If video games are to be taken more seriously as an art form then we need more games like this.
Graphics: 4/5 – A pleasing cell shaded art style that resembles the original comic book look, apart from the fact that it’s in colour.
Sound: 4/5 – Some atmospheric music and decent voice acting is let down slightly by random moments when the volume level suddenly drops. This appears to be a known glitch and should hopefully be sorted before too long.
Gameplay: 3/5 - If you are a fan of quick time button presses then you’re in luck. Outside of the mad scrambling fights with zombies you’ll spend most of your time exploring the environment and engaging in numerous conversations with other survivors. It’s not exactly action packed, but it is genuinely engrossing.
Longevity: 3/5 – This first episode lasts about two hours, depending on how much you decide to explore. There is scope for replayability in the form of at least two key decisions you make, which could very well extend the experience for some.
Overall: 4 out of 5
The Walking Dead videogame series is off to a promising start with Episode 1 providing a well written story, morally challenging decisions, and tense gameplay. The only real problem I have with this game is the fact that it has ended and we have to wait another month until the next episode is released. One thing is certain, as soon as Episode 2 is released we will be downloading it.
- Luke Mears