Just when zombie games felt more tired than the frantic survivors running away from the undead creatures, Telltale emerged to add its own spin on an overused concept. Taking advantage of the massive popularity of the current AMC program, The Walking Dead: Episode 1 on the PlayStation Network is more closely inspired, both in presentation and execution, by the original works of Robert Kirkman. Protagonist Lee Everett and his ragtag band of survivors may not be previously established by Kirkman’s comics, but the hand-drawn style and short, episodic nature of the virtual experience allows it to fit right in.
An adventure game with a little extra punch, ”A New Day“ succeeds by grabbing players by their yet-to-be-infected heart strings through a well-constructed story and strongly written narrative. Intuitive conversations, not incessant action, make The Walking Dead a breath of fresh air in the world of zombie games – even if that air holds the pungent odor of rotting flesh.
Here’s what we liked:
A cast to care for – Since so much of The Walking Dead is conversational, it’s crucial to have a group of survivors that are both layered and interesting. Telltale has crafted an opening that gives players just enough of a peek inside each member of the crew to make you hungry to see more. Though Lee is first introduced to the world handcuffed in the back of a cop’s car, the central character quickly becomes a relatable and unique personality through his interaction with Clementine – a young girl desperate to find her missing parents. Many more faces, ranging from likeable to easy to hate, walk the zombie-infested streets, and the consistently strong voice acting and realistic dialogue do wonders to keep each conversation saturated with tension.
Beyond black and white – Choices need to be made in such dire times, and the way The Walking Dead handles morality is something other games should learn from. Instead of being presented with a “good” and “evil” option, each timed decision tests the relationships that you’ve built with the cast. Two lives may be on the line, but you’ll only have the ability to save a single individual from the hungry hell raisers. All you’ll want to do is weigh your options, but with a timer quickly running down, tough choices must be made. It’s rare to care about morality in video games, but The Walking Dead skillfully forces players to make a call with hazy repercussions – many of which won’t become apparent until later episodes.
Swinging the thinking man’s axe – Hard-hitting combat and headshots aren’t the focus in this zombie apocalypse. While violent kills are performed through quick and well-placed button presses, much of the actual gameplay uses combat as a puzzle. Thinking your way through a situation via item discovery, riddle solving, and Quick Time Events makes for an unfamiliar zombie game experience. You won’t be wildly swinging an axe or looking down the scope of an automatic weapon, but the tension produced from the more methodical pace is both unique and effective.
Looks to kill – Inspired by its comic book roots, The Walking Dead is a beautifully illustrated adventure that’s not afraid to get a little bit graphic. There’s plenty of blood and brutality to deal with along with a copious amount of cursing, so it’s obvious that this is an experience built for a more mature audience. The vicious kills and spills can elicit a squirm or two from the player, but the visual style and attention to detail make it difficult to look away. Even if you have a weak stomach, you’ll be able to appreciate the presentation, as characters and environments appear to be directly grabbed from the pages of a comic.
Here’s what we didn’t like:
Glitches galore – No matter how good the game looks, nothing can kill a solid presentation faster than a bumpy frame rate. The transitions going from pre-rendered pieces of dialogue to gameplay hitch and churn regularly, and it’s almost as if the game has to stop and think before a moral decision is made. It’s not truly game-breaking or unbearably intrusive, but the small hitches are too common to ignore. The adventure already moves at a modest pace, so adding extra seconds of technical bumps doesn’t do the game any favors.
At $4.99, there’s little reason to not give the first episode of The Walking Dead a go. Telltale has added some creativity to a type of game that’s been less innovative than military shooters; doing so through an adventure game that doesn’t lean too heavily on its action is a feat worthy of praise. It doesn’t matter if you’re a diehard fan of The Walking Dead series or just hearing of the word “zombie” for the first time – this is a well-crafted game that will make you yearn for a second episode as soon as the credits roll.
Score: Buy It!
The Walking Dead was developed and published by Telltale Games. It was released on April 24, 2012 for $4.99. A copy was provided for review purposes.