Telltale's take on The Walking Dead is a great take on the series
Telltale Games couldn’t have timed the release of The Walking Dead – a new videogame based on Robert Kirkman’s award winning series – any better for me. After the excellent finishing of The Walking Dead TV show’s second season, I was left with having withdrawal symptoms due to the lack of the weekly tune in with Rick and company as their story unfolds in twists and turns. The Walking Dead comic and television show aren’t just your normal, stale zombie story. Sure zombies get smashed up, stabbed in the eye with a screwdriver and their heads blown off, but the franchise’s main drive is to focus on characterization and the emotions that people go through to survive during these hard zombie-filled times. I was a little wary on how The Walking Dead videogame would turn out after playing Jurassic Park, which was a big disappointment for me. I’m glad to say that The Walking Dead is Telltale Games back at their best and a great mutation of the adventure formula mixed with what’s great about The Walking Dead.
Like with many of Telltale’s other games, The Walking Dead is a five-part episodic game, with a new chapter coming out every month until completion. The first episode, named “A New Day”, tells the story of a newly created character for the game that goes by the name Lee Everett. At the start of the game, Lee – the only playable character – is locked up in the back of a police car as he is driven down the highway to an undisclosed location. It’s not long till an innocent zombie bystander is involved and all goes to hell as Lee is involved in a car accident. Here he’s introduced to the world of reanimating corpses, and he takes this as a sign to get the hell out of the wreck and save himself. Lee soon runs into Clementine, a poor girl who doesn’t know where her parents are. He decides to look after her, becoming a sort of guardian/babysitter for the rest of the game.
The story is captivating and does a tremendous job of sucking you into the world of Lee’s survival with the undead. I didn’t want to put it down till I had finished it. I think it’s a first for me to experience a sense of panic and horror from an adventure game. It’s not scary as such, but you are thrown into situations that require you to think fast to protect yourself or others around you.
During the two hour plus playthrough, Lee will meet with two key members from the franchise, Glenn and Hershel, as he jumps from an abandoned town, Hershel’s farm (pre-barn infestation) and finally a defended pharmacy store. It must be noted that the game takes its inspiration and the series’ characters from the comic books, so don’t go in expecting the characters to have the appearance of the actors from the TV show. Telltale has created a dark toned, cel-shaded visual that outlines models with a deep black line – reminding me of the style used inBorderlands – that feels right at home when playing The Walking Dead.
This isn’t a traditional Telltale adventure game like we’re used to. Titles like Back to the Futureand Sam & Max are old fashion point and click games. Instead, this feels more Heavy Raininspired, with time playing a factor when choosing dialogue options. There’s no way to repeat a dialogue tree to hear what a character has to say. Once you decided on a choice, it’s permanently set. The game does alert you with tips – that can be turned off – letting you know that you’ve had an effect on a character’s feelings towards you. The first episode only gives you a little glimpse of this as Lee tells people about himself (lying or not is up to you) so that he can shelter himself about his past and what he’s done during the game. Also, there are points where you will have to decide the outcome of someone’s life in a spare-of-the-moment event, adding a sense that the player can change the course of the game. We are told that the future episodes will build around choices made in the previous ones, which sounds cool if Telltale can pull it off correctly.
When you aren’t chatting up strangers, you’ll be exploring around the environment. In the first episode, there isn’t that much interaction with the locations; rather, the game gives a sense of discovery as you look around and find clues to what’s happening and how people are dealing with it. There’s some emotional topics discussed, like suicide. Traditional puzzle solving isn’t here, as you’re never stuck in a place trying to make a picture from pieces or solve a riddle. Rather, in episode one, you’re finding an item for someone or an item to help you get past a tricky situation. Item management is kept to a minimum. You aren’t retained in the same place for long, giving the game a sense of fast pace and flow as you jump around from location to location. It’s certainly stimulating and it’s always nice to meet new characters that are curious, even if some of their personalities are a bit predictable.
Zombies are everywhere in the world of The Walking Dead, and you’ll occasionally have to deal with them. Telltale has set up scripted scenes with these ugly rotting corpses that don’t scare you, but put you in a sense of terror as you try to escape their deadly chomp. These scenes are pumped with tension as you alertly try to find something to help you fight them off or quickly take part in a quick time event to escape. Interestingly, I preferred playing this with anXbox 360 controller rather than a mouse and keyboard. The analogue sticks replace the WASD keys and mouse to move and look around simultaneously, but the pad highlights people or interactive objects and assigns them a direction on the target reticular, allowing you to simply press that button on the pad. It just felt better doing that rather than having to press 1, 2 or 3 on the keyboard and the right mouse button to accept. It’s the same design choice for dialogue choices, and it just felt good to not be unfocused from the captivating storyline.
First episodes need to get the player interested so that they are willing to continue playing until the end. So far, The Walking Dead shows promising signs that this will be an absorbing adventure game that fans of the series will easily enjoy. If you’ve never read the comic or watched the show, you should still give yourself a chance to play this game if you aren’t fussed about the game’s focus on story rather than solving puzzles. A gripping story, a dark, gritty comic book look, good voice over work and Telltale’s understanding of the atmosphere and tone of The Walking Dead makes this a great package, and I’m excited to see what’s in store for coming episodes.