Nearly killin' it
This review is also posted at my game writing portfolio, Visual Memory Unit. Would you kindly pay a visit?
Telltale Games may be known for puzzle-driven adventure games with lots of humour, but that's far from what you get in their latest episodic adventure, The Walking Dead. Based on the series of comics that also spawned the AMC TV show, this game is likewise littered with blood, foul language, and gory scenes of unfettered man-versus-zombie violence. If you're interested in a story-driven game with great writing and good looks, this one is for you. But without any real puzzles or combat sequences, it can often feel more like a visual novel than a full-on video game. Still, it's a damn fine visual novel.
This first episode of five, A New Day, introduces you to the zombie outbreak in Atlanta as well as a diverse and interesting set of characters. Although the series contains events and characters from the comics, you play as a newcomer, Lee, and most of who you interact with are freshmen as well. A professor on his way to jail in the opening scene, it's not long before Lee's in the thick of a zombie apocalypse with a young girl, Clementine. Both disoriented and separated from their families, the two team up as they search for safety and information. Once you meet up with some other survivors, you'll head up some dangerous expeditions for gasoline and medication, and even decide the fate of a few lives along the way.
Telltale has been cultivating a modern adventure game control scheme across their last few series', and the way The Walking Dead controls seems like a logical evolution of what's come before it. You move Lee around with the left stick, and the right stick steers a cursor around the screen. Point it at an object or person of interest, and a few graphics will pop up. Push the button matched up with the action you want to perform, and you're golden.
Your involvement pretty well ends there. The game is pretty exciting to watch, but your input feels limited. Even during the most action-oriented sequences in the game, you more or less just point with your cursor and press a button to trigger a gruesome death or otherwise control the situation enough to move the story forward. Again, it's presented in a very actionable way and can feel a lot more exciting than a typical adventure game. Problem is, there is nothing that supplements this basic button pressing. There aren't even any real puzzles or other such opportunities to work your brain.
This is just the first part in a series of five Walking Dead titles, so there's plenty of time for things to develop and change. I'd like to see far more involvement from the player in the future, to have to really lead a group of people through a zombie disaster. Something akin to Mass Effect 2's suicide mission, where you need to really read the characters you've been interacting with and assign them duties that may lead to their demise, would be amazing. Puzzles based on the strategy of what the group needs to do to progress would make The Walking Dead more involving to play while still keeping the cinematic tone it nails. There's a lot of room to expand and grow to make the actual game part of The Walking Dead more interesting alongside the expertly developed characters.
In the story development and atmosphere are so good, in fact, that in spite of the total lack of demand placed on your skill, The Walking Dead is off to a very good start. The story elements and presentation are awesome, and the choices you have to make - often under a bit of time pressure - can really mix up the scenes and give you some reason to extend your stay in the otherwise brief run of the game. For great mood and immersion, this is a game well worth checking out.