The Walking Dead is turning into a multimedia phenomenon. It started as a graphic novel, which was turned into a successful TV Show. Now the team from Telltale have taken the concept and turned into one of their episodic adventure games. For those who haven’t heard of The Walking Dead, this is your standard “Romeo” style zombie story. The dead are walking and the living are their food. If you get bitten, then you die and get up; and start trying to eat other people.
I can honestly say I’m entering into the game as a Walking Dead newbie. I haven’t read the graphic novel, and I haven’t seen the TV Series. I don’t know of any other adventure game with zombies aside from the Ghost Pirate LeChuck. But, who can resist a Zombies Adventure?
The game starts with Lee Everett being brought to prison. You play Lee. In this episode, we don’t get the full back story of Lee, but some details will fill in as you play the game. I’ll save those spoiler details for you to discover yourself. The important part is that Lee is a convicted murderer and is going to jail. That is, until the police cruiser accidentally hits a zombie head on. Lee blacks out as the car rolls off the highway and wakes up inside the wreck. Your first challenge is to get out of the car and free Lee of his cuffs. You’ll also get to fight the newly zombified police officer.
Lee escapes the oncoming zombie hordes by hopping a fence and hiding in the backyard. This is where Lee finds Clementime; a young girl who went into hiding. Her parents are away and the babysitter is missing, so Lee and Clementime make friends and move cautiously through the changing world. They join up with a few other people, visit a farm for a bit and then go to Macon looking for Lee’s family. In Macon we get to visit a pharmacy where the bulk of this episode takes place, and a motel.
The Puzzling Choices
One of the foundations of the adventure games is the puzzle. You’re supposed to find a puzzle, get stuck, think about it for a bit, and try a dozen different things before the right one clicks allowing you to move onto the next puzzle. However, with this “stop and think” approach are often used at the expense of any sort of immediacy to the story. Some games, such as the Monkey Island or Da New Guys try to combat this in certain puzzles by changing your location frequently as forces beyond your control move you to another area. The Walking Dead used a different approach. A lot of responses are timed, forcing you to think quickly and choose a path without extended thought. The choices have consequences. Sometimes a character may remember your actions later. Other times, characters may die; and you can’t save everybody.
An interesting element of the game is the death choice. When Zombies attack, you will be put in a situation where you have to decide who to help. These choices will affect the ongoing story in future episodes. The character you choose to save will be there; and the one you couldn’t save may not be. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in future episodes. I envision that the game designers have a very large flowchart detailing all the possible options, almost like a telemarketer call script.
The one downside of the quick choices having a future effect is that the tone of the voices is often inconsistent in future conversations. Instead of a continuous voice track with a consistent tone, some lines are spoken with anger or despair or sympathy or understanding based on your past actions. However, the rest of the conversation is neutral. I noticed it a few times where it felt like a character was yelling at Lee only to be completely calm in the next sentence.
The Interface is one of the worst interfaces I’ve used since Dreamfall. You use the mouse for looking around, the keyboard ( wasd ) For walking, and for selecting items you must first use the mouse on the item and then press a number key to select the type of action. All objects have a default action, but you may—for example—want to talk to someone before looking at them, especially if you’ve already looked at them once. You can’t just click the person to talk. Expect to die a few times during your first few battles while trying to figure out the interface. (Note: I played the PC Version; I bet the interface is more suited to console controllers).
Another interesting design point is the lack of saved games. You, basically, have one path through the game. The game will save itself automatically, but there is no indication when that occurs. If you try to quit, you get the “standard” ominous warning about losing progress. The first time I saw that I went looking for a way to save my game, but alas there is none to be found. I found that especially frustrating given the timed nature of many of the puzzles. I would have loved to save a game before a “major” decision and then restored it later in order to easily grow two separate paths through the game. Instead, if you want to choose the alternate route, or try a different conversation, you have to start the game from scratch.
I’m not sure if I’d classify The Walking Dead as an adventure game. It’s more like an interactive story. There aren’t puzzles to mull over, or thousands of locations to explore. The experience is more confined. When you have to make choices, they are laid out for you and no matter what choice you make the story continues. However, if you’re a fan of The Walking Dead, or a fan of Zombies, this should be a fun way to spend a few hours.
Final grade: B-
A Second Opinion
by Karla Munger
You didn't think you were going to get away that easily, did you? I was asked to write a second opinion of this game, and here it is now.
Like Jeffry, I am a Walking Dead noob. And I must say that my reaction to A New Day -- the first of the game's five episodes -- was quite unexpected.
I was surprised by how quickly I became attached to some of the characters; particularly Lee, a 37-year-old convicted murderer (he's the character you play) and Clementine, an eight-year-old girl he encounters while searching for other survivors of something -- we haven't yet been told what's happened -- that's apparently turned most people into zombies.
Lee starts looking after Clementine and an unlikely bond develops between them. Both are multi-faceted characters and I find their relationship quite touching, right in the middle of a blood, guts and gore zombie game.
Lee and Clementine meet other survivors and they try to figure out what to do. In this respect, the game feels a little like Stephen King's The Stand (which is definitely not a bad thing).
Jeffry mentions that there are times when decisions must be made very quickly and a player's choices can impact the story later, even in subsequent episodes. I think this is a great feature. It's more like real life, and drew me even further into the story.
Jeffry also mentions the...ahem...clunky controls. I agree that they do leave something to be desired. I played the PC version as well, and I share his impression that the interface likely works better on consoles.
Until I got used to the controls, I couldn't last five minutes without being transformed into zombie food. But I stuck with it and eventually did get the hang of things.
I'd like to share something funny. Early on, Lee enters a house looking for other survivors. There's a beeping sound in the background. The first time I heard it, I ignored it. Then it happened again. So I said, out loud, "What's that beeping? As soon as the words left my mouth, Lee said, "What's that beeping?" I love comic relief when I'm trying to avoid getting eaten by zombies.
Anyway, I wholeheartedly recommend the first episode of The Walking Dead. If the other four episodes are as good, I'm going to be in gamer heaven.