The Walking Dead: The Complete First Season
- Street Date:
- October 14th, 2014
- Reviewed by:
- Levi van Tine
- Review Date:1
- December 10th, 2014
- Game Release Year:
- Xbox One
- Telltale Games
- Telltale Games
Digital version reviewed on Xbox One.
Telltale’s 'The Walking Dead' video game series is based on the graphic novel of the same name, written by Robert Kirkman. That graphic novel has also been adapted into a popular TV show, but the video game and show are more or less separate. In all versions of 'The Walking Dead', a zombie plague has decimated humanity, leaving scattered pockets of survivors who must defend against the zombies and each other. To add insult upon injury, any human who dies with an intact brain reanimates shortly thereafter, regardless of the manner of death. The video game is an episodic adventure story first released in 2012, and has now been ported to the Xbox One. All five episodes of season one are included, as well as the short sequel '400 Days'.
The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
The player character of the first season is Lee Everett, a man with a shady past who is in the back of a cop car when the first episode begins. I have sometimes wondered, while playing as Lee, if it would be better to be in a state prison for the rest of my life or be free during a zombie apocalypse. At any rate, Lee is soon freed and makes contact with Clementine, a young girl who is alone after all of the adults in her life have either gone missing or been eaten. Lee and Clem then travel together for the rest of the series, and Lee takes responsibility for Clem’s safety. The pair cross paths with all kinds of survivors, and Lee must decide how to deal with these people. Like the comic book upon which it is based, the zombies don’t hold a candle to living people in terms of danger, which is why the series is so compelling but also so dark and depressing.
The game is third-person, but much of the playtime is presented as cutscenes. The episodic nature makes it somewhat like an interactive TV show - As Lee makes choices, either in conversation or in his actions, the game remembers them and presents different choices later. Actions that Lee takes, such as fighting off a "walker", lifting a heavy object, etc., are completed by a quick-time event - either mashing a button, alternating the triggers, or something of that sort. Failing a QTE puts the player right back before their death, so in terms of difficulty it is a gentle game. Some of the decisions that were presented to me were not - the characters are believable enough that their fates have meaning, and these fates were often in my hands. This is the game that made me an unabashed Telltale fan, owing mainly to the great writing and story choices.
The relationship between Lee and Clem, which alternates between a father-daughter and brother-sister, is brilliant and made me fiercely protective of her. My Lee is always willing to sacrifice anything for her, kill to protect her, favor her when resources are scarce, and tell her the truth, even when I needed to lie to others. In general I had a cold reaction to others who treated me poorly, but was friendlier with characters who are more reasonable, like Kenny and Carley. The series has no problem with adult, even gruesome subject matter, but isn’t quite like the gratuitous spectacle of the TV show. There are a few plotlines that are less clear, but as the story is told from Lee’s point of view and not that of an omniscient character, some mysteries are unavoidable. The narrative makes sense on the whole and there is a "Previously, on the Walking Dead" segment before each episode to run down the player’s previous choices.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
Each Telltale game looks similar, and season one of 'The Walking Dead' hasn’t received any notable graphical upgrades during its port to the Xbox One. Textures can be a bit muddy, especially at range. Animations in particular are subject to the occasional bug - a character will be facing the wrong way, their mouth will be moving when they’re not actually speaking, or they have weird facial expressions (the eyes are especially creepy). Some clipping issues also crop up, like seeing through objects. But, thank providence, most of the stutters and shakes from the 360 release have been smoothed out. The framerate remains steady, even during the first-person shooting minigames.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
The voice acting is above average, and individual performances range from subdued to amazing. I am not a fan of Clementine’s voice actress, who doesn’t exactly have a wide emotional range, but Lee, Kenny, Katja, and most others are spot on. The quality of sound effects can vary widely, and syncing isn’t always perfect. The music adds to the survival horror motif and has a menacing, sometimes violent sound.
Playing a Telltale release can be compared to reading a good book. It should be experienced sparingly, perhaps once or a year or less, to avoid familiarity. The only real reason to replay an episode is to make changes to the save file for future seasons, unless you have an interest in seeing how the game pans out after different decisions are made. Telltale has not yet explained how save files will work with future seasons when making the jump to next-gen consoles, so I for one do not mind replaying the seasons on the One so as to have a save file ready for the upcoming third season.
Season one of 'The Walking Dead' was the first in Telltale’s modern era of storytelling, which includes 'The Wolf Among Us', 'Tales from the Borderlands', and 'Game of Thrones.' It is a little rough around the edges, but has established them as a leader in inexpensive, highly entertaining adventure games. The Xbox One version is a vanilla port and has no added features, but should be experienced by anyone who has yet to play 'The Walking Dead' or who would like another go at Lee’s story.
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