The Walking Dead: Episode 1 - A New Day
- Street Date:
- April 27th, 2012
- Reviewed by:
- Chad Goodmurphy
- Review Date:1
- May 2nd, 2012
- Game Release Year:
- Xbox 360
- Telltale Games
- Telltale Games
- ESRB Rating:
- M (Mature)
Over the years, fans of horror fiction have been treated to numerous creators’ visions of what a zombie apocalypse would be like. Some have been done in memorable fashion, such as George A. Romero’s iconic Dead Trilogy, while others have been utterly forgettable. Robert Kirkman’s graphic novel series turned television spectacle, The Walking Dead, is thankfully a member of the former group. In fact, it has become so popular that Telltale Games was asked to create a five-part video game based on the writer’s flesh-eating creation. Now that its first episode, The Walking Dead: Episode 1 – A New Day, is available, it’s time to talk survival.
The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
Telltale Games has made a name for itself in the gaming industry as a studio that likes to pay homage to the point-and-click titles of yesteryear. They’ve taken popular licenses like Sam & Max, Jurassic Park and Back to the Future, and have created immersive yet old-school adaptations of their fiction. That experience is artistically showcased with The Walking Dead: Episode 1, which is more than just a high-quality video game. Not only is it fun to play; it’s also very gripping and unsettling, delivering something that will make you think and feel.
Like its inspiration, this interactive version of The Walking Dead takes place in Georgia, focusing on a young African-American man named Lee Everett. Things pick up as our assumed protagonist is being transported to jail by a talkative police officer. Unfortunately for the trooper and the state, that delivery ends up being stalled, as the cruiser both men are riding in slams into a shambling figure that has wandered onto the busy highway. The resulting crash sends the siren-adorned car into a spin, and it ends up coming to rest in a nearby forest.
After awakening to find himself alone inside of a severely damaged motor vehicle, Lee must find a way out despite being handcuffed. Once the player assists him with finding a route to the outdoors, all Hell starts to break loose. The chummy trooper’s discovered corpse ends up becoming reanimated, and even more shambling flesh-eaters appear, looking for a taste of humanity. It’s at this point that the game really kicks into gear, using fear to bring out the survival instinct that lies inside of all of us.
That fateful trip down a southern freeway ends up setting a great tone for what is to come. Prior to the unexpected collision, gamers are given the option to engage in conversation with the driver. Choosing to do so will provide interesting hints regarding Lee’s past. However, silence can also be used as a response. Regardless of which option you choose, what’s important to note is that our potential hero has been arrested on suspicion of murder, but his body language and calm speech seem to contradict those allegations. It’s tough to dislike the guy, especially when he comes across a frightened young girl named Clementine, and decides to look after her.
Over the course of the next two hours, gamers can expect to be treated to an experience that doesn’t make any apologies. Nor does it hold any punches. Make no mistake – this is an adult-oriented game that is as unnerving as it is bloody.
As Lee and Clementine make their way towards Macon, our avatar’s hometown, they end up banding with other survivors. Each one happens to have his (or her) own opinion of the situation, in addition to individual goals. It becomes important to develop relationships with those digital humans, which makes some of the game’s difficult choices harder to make. Needless to say, this is powerful stuff that video game developers dream of.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Telltale’s latest release is its characters’ ability to remember things. Like in real life, there’s more to surviving than fighting. One must make sure to look after friends and allies, in order to keep them safe, happy and committed. Relationships are key, especially if you want assistance. However, what’s made clear is that players’ choices will have implications on future episodes, and we’re not talking about minor alterations. The digital lives of those around you will depend on certain choices made during key situations, and those actions will have severe consequences.
In order to make players feel like each play through is truly their own, a four-pronged conversation system has been implemented. Interacting with any character met along the way will instigate conversations, providing four different response options. Some are timed, creating tension to prevent folks from putting a lengthy amount of thought into which action or answer to choose. That was a smart move, considering how nightmarish and nerve-wracking the created scenarios are. If something like this ever happened in real life (though it’s very doubtful,) time would certainly be of the essence.
With all of the above statements having been made, it’s important to mention that this isn’t your average point-and-click adventure, having been noticeably inspired by Heavy Rain. The genre’s cursor hovering exploration is still alive and well within this download, but context sensitive situations also play a major role. When zombies attack, death is imminent unless a weapon is found or human limbs become a substitute. Highlighting the enemy and hitting a specific button before it attacks is the best way to avoid receiving the undead plague.
Lee can move throughout different environments, in order to search for clues, items or doorways. However, his on-foot action is restricted to designed pathways, employing joystick controls that lack precision. When an action event takes place, a button must be pressed to instigate a cutscene – many of which are interactive through the use of timed events. While this might sound uneventful, it really isn’t. Even though I’ve never been a big fan of the point-and-click genre, I was thoroughly impressed by how well this game’s mechanics worked.
Overall, The Walking Dead: Episode 1 – A New Day is a very good game, which is easy to recommend. It’s affordable at only five dollars, although it’s quite short. Then again, we’re looking at a five-episode game, which could end up being ten hours long, with an overall asking price of $30 or less. It’s tough to complain about that. Still, in order to fully appreciate this game, one must overlook its occasional frame rate issues. That specific performance problem prevented me from completing one timed response, which was slightly frustrating.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
Through the use of an artistically drawn art style, Telltale has paid homage to Robert Kirkman’s highly touted graphic novels. The result is a game that pops and has its own interesting visual style. Its employed colour palette is partially subdued, aiding the nightmarish tension that is set-up through well-drawn zombies and character-specific incidents.
Several locations were featured during this debut episode, including the aforementioned forest, as well as a residential neighbourhood, a farm and a pharmacy. Each one felt different in its own way, presenting different gameplay scenarios, in addition to varied amounts of colour. This mix of indoor and outdoor venues worked well, although the pharmacy location could have used more light. It was tough to see things at times, leading to lengthy searches for two different items. Needless to say, that became quite frustrating.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
To say that The Walking Dead: Episode 1 presents a very interesting and involved character study would be an understatement. After all, building relationships and making decisions are two of its dominant design pillars. That focus created the need for voice actors who could create realistic personalities for each in-game character. Thankfully, the chosen cast seems up to that job. Although one or two of A New Day’s performances weren’t as good as the others, the acting was generally well above average. The audio engineering wasn’t stellar, however, as certain sets of lines were harder to hear than others.
Likening this release to an impressive television show or movie is quite easy. Telltale has done a great job of delivering production values that add personality and memorability to the in-game world and its challenging inhabitants. Subtly using audio to add effect and importance to specific events added a complementary and artistic touch to the whole experience. Since a mature audience is being targeted here, it was a great move to go with such a poignant yet subdued approach.
Despite being short, The Walking Dead: Episode 1 – A New Day is powerful stuff. The unforgettable moral decisions that must be made are jarring, and the way that they completely change the game creates strong replay value. Thoroughly experiencing every event that this five-part series will provide may require at least three play-throughs. Thankfully, this zombie apocalypse is very interesting and well made, meaning that those extra completion attempts will be thoroughly entertaining.
Although there’s a high level of replay value created by what is a strong narrative, this episode’s supplied achievement list doesn’t promote return visits. Simply playing through its entire run-time will earn you the full 100 points, with each reward being tied to an important in-game event. This will divide the hunters out there, as certain sects prefer to work for tough achievements instead of earning the full amount during one play-through.
Fans of Robert Kirkman’s zombie fiction will certainly want to check out Telltale’s adaptation of The Walking Dead. This first episode provides a great indication of what we can expect from its five peers, and that bodes well for those of us who like to interact in digital worlds that are full of flesh-eating corpses. This is impressive stuff, although my hope is that some of the above-mentioned kinks will be ironed out before Episode 2 is released.
- Dolby Digital 5.1
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