Adapting The Walking Dead to a video game isn't a simple task. The comics and television series are more about interpersonal relationships than killing zombies. A Left 4 Dead-style co-op shooter wouldn't really do the franchise justice. In order to create a true Walking Dead, Telltale Games had to blend a few genres together. The result is, frankly, awesome.
Walking Dead most closely resembles an adventure game. You’ll move a cursor over objects in the environment in order to look at them, pick them up, combine them with an item in your inventory, and so on. What makes this game different from point-and-click titles like Monkey Island, though, is that you’re often in danger. You’re not just solving goofy little puzzles at your own pace – you’re trying to save yourself or fellow characters. A zombie is advancing toward you and you need to pick up a shotgun, put a shell in it, and blow his head off before he can sink his teeth into you. Once you’ve cheated death for the first time, the game will have your full attention from there on out.
Combat isn’t the focus of the game so it’s no shock that it’s a bit simplistic. When you’re in close quarters with a zombie, you’ll defeat them through quick time events (i.e. button mashing). At some point in this tussle, you’ll step into first-person perspective and need to click the zombie’s head with a crosshair to deliver a finishing blow. You don’t need lightning reflexes to emerge victorious. The combat’s really designed to accommodate people who don’t necessarily play action games. It’s infrequent, too; every zombie you kill has some relevance to the story. You’re not just battling random hordes of walkers.
The development team thought of really clever ways to dress up these combat mechanics. In one segment, you need to quietly take out a group of zombies one by one. Before you can run up and stab a zombie, you have to figure out some way to prevent the other walkers from noticing. It was almost like playing a Metal Gear Solid point-and-click adventure.
In Episode 1: A New Day, we’re introduced to the main character Lee Everett. Lee is being transported to a prison outside Atlanta when the zombie outbreak hits. After his transportation crashes, he escapes into the wilderness. Now, alone and injured, he must find help. While the game features many characters from the comics and TV show, much of the cast (including Lee) is brand new. Even if you’re a Walking Dead veteran, then, you’ll be left guessing what happens next. More specifically, you’ll be wondering who’s going to live and who’s going to die.
The game’s writing definitely measures up to other Walking Dead tales. Lee is an intriguing hero with a mysterious background slowly revealed over time. The dialogue has touches of dry humor throughout to keep you from feeling too worn down. The characters are developed enough that every death or near-death feels important. I wish more games put this much effort into their writing.
Walking Dead, in any medium, has never been about the zombies themselves. The real story is about the survivors and how they cope with the apocalypse. What will they do in order to ensure their own survival, or the survival of their loved ones? What principles will they compromise? As Lee, the player is constantly forced to make hard decisions. At one point, two characters are being attacked by walkers and you have to choose which one to save.
You’re not always making life or death decisions, though. You’ll spend a lot of time talking to characters in branching dialogue. For example, Lee can be up front about being an escaped convict or lie about it. If you show concern for a character or stick up for them in an argument with another survivor, they’ll remember it.
The choices you make will alter the storyline of this episode as well as later episodes in the five-part series. It’s tough to gauge how significant an impact some of these decisions will have just from this one episode. Still, after playing through the first episode once, I felt the urge to replay it just to see the other story possibilities. I’m rarely moved to replay any game I review so you should take that as a good sign.
There’s always some suspicion when it comes to licensed games but Walking Dead doesn’t deserve paranoia. Telltale has managed to adapt the traditional adventure game model to perfectly fit the subject matter. If you’re a fan of the show or the comics, this game will satisfy your hunger for another tale in the Dead universe.
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, PC (reviewed), Mac, iOS
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games