The Walking Dead: Episode One – A New Day |
Telltale's has had an amazingly strong run recently. Rising from a relatively humble – but still impressive - beginning of CSI games and 90's adventure game throwbacks, they've moved on to some genuinely impressive movie based games, and now they're tackling some of the best indie comics. Based on the style of Robert Kirkman's comics, The Walking Dead presents some of the tensest, most engaging gameplay I've ever seen in an adventure game.
You're Lee Everett, a former college professor, and you've been arrested for the murder of a state senator. You start in the back of a police car on the way out of Atlanta, but you don't have time to learn much about your character, though, before the officer driving you hits a zombie. You wake up hurt, confused, and in handcuffs, and things get worse from there. Along your journey, you meet up with other survivors, and your interactions with them, and your choices about what you do, who you save, and what you tell them about yourself do a great job setting up Lee's character, creating alliances and enemies within the group of survivors, each of whom is relatable with their own personal agenda in addition to their own personal need to survive.
Telltale does an excellent job setting up situations that are difficult to explain for Lee. When you're an escaped convict looking after a probably-orphaned child, there aren't many easy explanations, and your choices about who to confide in and who to help will determine who's on your side when everything goes wrong. And everything will go wrong. While the other survivors are the real star of the show, the zombies aren't any slouch, either. They're the classic sort: Slow, implacable, numerous, and hard to kill without the right tools. You'll have a few tense fights with them as you go, and although the mechanics pretty much boil down to button mashing or 'use ice pick on zombie', the presentation sells it, and makes for more convincingly desperate, brutal zombie action than most other action-filled horror games.
As you go through this episode, you'll mount desperate defenses against hordes, fight lone zombies while trapped and unequipped, and find ways to pick off a small pack to make your way to a trapped survivor. It's all classic zombie scenarios played out expertly by Telltale's writers and developers. Even the moments of brutality against the dead are terrific. When you keep hitting a zombie in the head with a hammer, and she just won't stop moving until her head is broken across the ground like an overripe melon, it really drives home the brutality and desperation of the situation, far more than the gratuitous murder-fest of other zombie games.
The game is pretty solid overall, but the ventures into classic adventure game puzzles are some major stumbles. When Lee needs to distract a street full of zombies, you plod through a sequence of events that involves throwing a convenient brick through a window across the street, and reprogramming a hidden universal remote. Going even deeper down the rabbit hole, another puzzle is predicated on the idea that one of your fellow survivors has absolutely no idea how radios and batteries work. It might be intended as a bit of comic relief, or an insight into her character being just completely, mind-bogglingly stupid, but it was still a very strange experience to have to walk a fictional person through an incredibly simple task.
The game's graphics and sound are right on the mark. With character designs and environments taken straight from the comic and authentic cel-shaded graphics, the game looks like an animated, colorized version of the comic, and the sounds and voice acting are right on. Even the little touches are brilliant. When you finish the episode, you're presented with a trailer for the next episode with selected scenes based on the choices you made, followed by a list of the major choices you made, and how they stacked up to the choices other players made. Even during the game, you get pop-ups telling you when an NPC's attitude towards you has been affected by your choices. When you refuse to answer someone's pointed question about your past, and the game tells you that "they'll remember that", it's about as chilling as being trapped by the dead. In a game so focused on player choice, Telltale really grasps every opportunity to highlight when and where the things you do matter.
The Walking Dead might not be for everyone, but for the people who realize that the real horror in surviving a zombie outbreak lies in other humans, Telltale's game provides a compelling drama. While I'd prefer more interaction and more desperate fights and less puzzles for the sake of padding things out, The Walking Dead is still one of the only zombie games that gets why Romero's zombies worked, and it's all the better for it.