kdavey2004's The Walking Dead - Episode 1 (Xbox 360 Games Store) review

Walk and Talk

The hype surrounding the first season of AMC's adaptation of The Walking Dead was fairly substantial. It seemed like we were going to get a thoughtful, expertly-written zombie melodrama from the guy who had so successfully adapted The Shawshank Redemption in the 90's. The pilot aired to critical acclaim, it seemed we had got what we wanted, only to then be treated to five further episodes of distinctly average writing and characterisation, sporadic zombie appearances and glacier-slow plotting. It was disappointing, to say the least.

So, unsurprisingly, I really wasn't expecting much from Telltale's adaptation of the comics. Having been bittered by the mediocre TV show and Telltale's own inconsistent output, I was anticipating something akin to 2011's lacklustre Jurassic Park: The Game, complete with copious amounts of QTEs and dull characters. Imagine my astonishment then as I played through the 2-3 hours of Telltale's game and enjoyed every damn second. It was a complete revelation.

Needless to say, the less detail I go into here, the better, it's a story best experienced with a fresh mind. We first meet our protagonist, Lee, in the back of a cop car on its way out of Atlanta, emergency services flying past in the opposite direction as the outbreak implicitly erupts behind them. We get our first glimpses of the great cel-shaded art style, clearly inspired by the comics, every character has a distinct look and the scenery is reliably pleasant. The tone is expertly set as you make conversation with the friendly old cop ferrying Lee to wherever, the dialogue is nuanced and intelligent, the facial expressions tight and well-observed.

As you might expect, things quickly go south and Lee eventually finds himself taking care of a potentially orphaned young girl named Clementine. From here the story takes a fairly well-beaten path but the great writing and visual design remains a constant pleasure, you'll find yourself actively seeking out further conversation and exhausting every option with relish. Of particular interest is Lee's story, it's not immediately apparent why he was cuffed in the back of a cop car and the epidemic could almost be seen as a chance at freedom for him, his arc promises to be very interesting in the episodes to come.

It's predominantly an interactive story in a similar vein to Heavy Rain, your input limited to making plot choices, speaking to other survivors and poking at hotspots in the scenery. The style fits the material like a glove though and it manages to absolutely nail a tangible feeling of paranoia and impending doom throughout. Whether genuine or not, Telltale have done a great job of at least giving the impression that the 3 or 4 big narrative choices you make have significant effects on how your story will play out, it's a case of waiting for the rest of the episodes to see how well this goes.

A very pleasant surprise then, I'm not sure anybody expected Telltale to do anything quite as assured as this with the license, let's hope they can keep it up.

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