The Walking Dead has always been vastly different than other zombie stories. While the TV show and the comic have a lot of zombie related violence, both do a tremendous job focusing on the characters, their relationships and the desperate situations they find themselves in.
The Walking Dead – A New Day is no different. Instead of blasting away zombies for hours on end like you would expect from a game like Left 4 Dead, The Walking Dead puts the emphasis on deciding what kind of person you choose to be once the zombie apocalypse starts. It also places an importance on building relationships with your fellow survivors.
At the beginning of the Zombie Apocalypse, you take control of Lee Everett, who is a convicted murderer. Whether or not he is actually guilty remains to be seen. As an adventure game, you won’t be running around killing hordes of Zombies. Instead you walk around and interact with objects and people in each level, most of the zombie killing comes in the form of scripted interactive cut scenes.
While interactive cut scenes can conjure negative connotations, The Walking Dead handles these moments brilliantly. The pacing of the Episode 1 does a great job building suspense and tension for these cut scenes, resulting in some very satisfying zombie action.
More important than the action is the group dynamics that can change drastically depending on the choices you make as Lee Everett. Episode one features a dozen different characters, some of whom will be familiar to fans, that can play a large role in your survival, depending on the choices you make.
There are choices that require you to decide between two lives, which will change not only the members of your group but how the group perceives you in subsequent episodes. There are also dialogue decisions that may be important in later episodes, such as lying or withholding information. Whenever you make a choice an indicator at the top of the screen will tell you that a character will remember your actions or a fact you divulged to them.
One of the smart decisions Telltale made when creating the decision making system was giving the player a limited window of time to make a choice. You won’t be able to think of every possibly outcome to your decisions or dialogue like you would in Mass Effect. Instead you will have to make a quick, instinctual decision as if you were really in that situation. This adds a level of authenticity to the decisions, making them feel like they are your decisions as opposed to predetermined options laid out by the developer.
The only concern regarding the decision system is just how effective the player’s decisions will be carried over to the rest of the episodes. If Telltale can manage to keep all of the decisions in check and not relegate characters that could have possibly died to background characters, the story could be very personal and epic. My concern is based on one incident in the first episodes where a character spoke to me as if I made an alternate choice earlier on.
Telltale has done a great job creating compelling characters in Episode one, which can also be attributed to the fantastic voice actors behind these characters. I actually began to feel comradely with certain characters while becoming agitated with others. In particular the relationship between Lee and Clementine, an eight year old orphan, was handled incredibly well. Over a few short hours their dependence on one another and their genuine care for each other becomes integral to the player’s experience.
An art style reminiscent of the comic book is employed over the realistic look of the TV show. While it doesn’t borrow the illustration style of the graphic novel it does retain enough of its spirit while creating a distinct visual look for itself. The soundtrack also does a great job drawing forth a feeling of desperation and suspense while emphasizing the terror that comes with a horde of zombies attacking.
Episode One of The Walking Dead Game is a promising start for what could be the best zombie story told on consoles. Implementing a timer to the decision making system is a bold choice that works incredibly well at forcing the player to make quick decisions and reinforces their choices. The characters, and their relationships, are very interesting and should provide great moments in future episodes. I’m looking forward to playing through Episode One two more times and I cannot wait to play the second episode.
This review is based on a downloadable copy of the 360 version of The Walking Dead: A New Day.