The Walking Dead: Episode One – A New Day Review
Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Telltale Games
Platform: XBLA, PSN, Mac OS X, iOS, PC
Release Date: April 24th 2012 (A New Day)
ESRB: M- Mature
Today marked the release of the very first episode of Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead. Based on Robert Kirkman’s comic series of the same name this five-part “season” follows the story of Lee Everett as he, much like everyone else in Kirkman’s world, attempts to survive the zombie apocalypse. Coming off of a couple of mediocre releases, fans were a bit concerned when it was announced that Telltale would be taking the wheel for the game. However after playing through the first episode A New Day I can honestly say that the developer has never been at their finest…
When asked what to expect out of the game Kirkman was brutally honest with the fans. Instead of focusing on the action and violence typically associated with zombie games The Walking Dead game would continue to do what its source material has done both on the page and on the TV screen: focus on the characters – their relationships, experiences, and emotions in the face of such mind numbing fear and despair. So far this is exactly what Telltale has achieved on a level that’s become standard for the franchise.
As Lee Everett the game opens with our character sitting in the back seat of a police car quietly watching his life as a normal college professor is slowly stripped away from him. Heading out of Atlanta, Georgia it’s not too far down the highway that all hell begins to break loose. After swerving off the road, Lee awakens to find the squad car flipped over, a painful gash in his leg, and the body of the dead police officer thrown from the vehicle. Wounded and terrified Lee makes his way to a deserted suburb with zombies in-tow and comes across a little girl named Clementine who has survived by hiding in her tree house. Taking Clementine under his charge Lee sets out on a journey back to his hometown of Macon meeting a number of survivors along the way.
Like Kirkman proclaimed, this game is all about the characters and their development throughout the entire experience. Even though in some ways A New Day is still in that awkward “breaking the ice” stage in regards to the ten characters they’ve introduced it actually works pretty well in setting the tone and mood for the opening chapter. By the end of the episode we sort of have a good idea of where each of the characters, including Lee, stand but there’s still plenty of things left unsaid to make any and all of them unpredictable and possibly dangerous – reminding the player that even in the face of disaster you always have to watch your back around strangers.
That being said Lee is undoubtedly the most important character in the game not only because he’s the one the player controls but he’s also pushed to make choices and carry out actions at the whims of the player. While this is a pretty easy process for games that allow for characters to be built from the ground up or start with a non-existent backstory it’s a little different in The Walking Dead‘s regard because Lee does in fact have a history that will undoubtedly be explored and discussed as the series progresses. The challenge then for Telltale is to somehow ensure that the player’s choices in the game get seamlessly integrated with the existing traits and designs of Lee’s character. Thus far it seems to be working well given how little we actually know of the man we’re controlling but the true test of the developer’s writing skills will be tested later on as more is revealed and more significant things begin to happen.
Giving life to the developing characters and the world in which they are attempting to survive are a number of different things which end up giving the game a very cinematic feel. The use of light and dark, different camera angles and shots, and other effects typically found in film really draw the player in and bring a kind of vividness to the action and characters typically not found in video games. In a lot of ways there’s a good number of similarities to Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain in terms of how The Walking Dead is directed and how it carries itself as a product of interactive story-telling.
Also like Heavy Rain this title is an adventure game. A slowly dying genre in this day and age, the adventure game doesn’t have players running around hack-and-slashing enemies or peering down the sights of an M4. Instead the story and characters come first while things like solving puzzles, searching for and collecting items, and having conversations are the extent of actual player interactivity within a series of environments. This however doesn’t necessarily mean that The Walking Dead is a boring fetch-quest game interrupted by cutscenes. In fact, Telltale has come a long way since Sam & Max and Tales of Monkey Island and this was most evident in an interactive scene in A New Day where Lee and two others had to clear out a motel parking lot of zombies. Crouching behind a low wall the player had to navigate through the lot without being spotted to find a series of items and perform a couple of actions that would enable him to confront any remaining zombies head on.
The action sequences though are probably the most exciting of the interactive bits. Using QTEs (quick time events) the player will have to press a series of buttons and sometimes quickly and effectively aim a reticule in order to escape the clutches of some overzealous zombie or assist another survivor in escaping a similar fate. However these sections aren’t a breeze. To make things more challenging the camera is usually shifting about or becomes blurry, sound can become distorted, and on top of it all the typical QTE sequence has to be completed in a matter of seconds for the player to survive. Sometimes these kinds of parts are also used for when Lee needs to make a quick choice – thus not only asking the player to press a couple buttons or aim a reticule quickly but also think through a decision that could possibly have some serious consequences…all in the span of four or five seconds. It’s these sections (two of which appear in this episode) that are really thrilling.
In the end The Walking Dead is certainly something to keep tabs on. A New Day is the first episode and there are four more to go so the success, and critical reaction, for this series could sky rocket or come crashing down depending on how well Telltale can…well…tell a tale. However make no mistake, if you’re someone who can’t get over the limited interactivity that these kind of games feature you’re not going to like The Walking Dead no matter how much of a fan you may be of the comics or television show. Let this serve as a underlined disclaimer: only those looking for a character driven story will like this game. It’s as simple as that. I just happen to be one of those people and so I’m liking what I’m seeing so far.
+ Sets up a story that could have just as much depth, emotion, and brilliant character development as AMC’s show or the original comics.
+ Doesn’t pull any punches – this isn’t an edited for kids version of The Walking Dead. Blood, guts, and foul language are present but not in an exploitative way. Many of Kirkman’s dark and mature themes are also explored.
+ Visual design has that nice hand-drawn animated feel to it that harks back to the original source material rather than the live-action series.
- Audio can get a little screwed up. This causes a sort of separation between character and voice which breaks immersion.
- Players who don’t want to play a game for it’s story rather than super-awesome gameplay mechanics will NOT enjoy this game. Period.
- Suffers from a mixing of high resolution and low resolution textures and yes, it’s obvious.
Remember – this is a review only of the first episode A New Day. There will be reviews for the remaining four episodes as they are released but obviously they will be more catered to the kinds of new and different elements they introduce rather than the basic concepts and features like visual and audio design, gameplay, controls, etc. When all five episodes have been released I will sit down and play them all back to back and then provide another review looking at the series as a whole.