The Walking Dead Episode 1 – A New Day Review
There is a certain challenge to reviewing an episodic adventure. I mean, you need to set the benchmark in your first review, as no matter how good or bad the events in each episode, the overall game-play is not going to change dramatically from the first episode, right? I am pleased to tell you that the game-play and narrative present in The Walking Dead is so damn good, that it will take some serious missteps from Telltale in the subsequent releases, to bring this episodic series down.
Two things might have an impact on your experience of The Walking Dead.
1:) Have you played and enjoyed any of Telltales other Adventure games?
2:) Have you read The Walking Dead comic book series?
If you answered yes to one (or both) of the above questions, you will probably love/adore/worship this. If not, then I hope that you can take your “zombie bloodlust hat” off to enjoy it, as this is a very different zombie game that focuses more on interpersonal relationships than pumping holes in the skulls of the undead. Not to say it doesn’t have some delightfully gory moments, but the meat of this game is found in the characters and their interactions.
The Walking Dead takes place in the same universe as the comics of the same name. While this shares similarities with the popular TV series, there are some pretty fundamental differences. The player takes control of Lee Everett; a good man, who has potentially done some bad things and who’s now caught up in a very, very bad situation. Lee encounters folks all in the same predicament he’s in – they’re desperate to survive In a world gone to hell.
Most of the characters Lee meets are new to the series, but there are cameos from characters like Hershel, Glenn and Lilly. It’s nice to see these characters in a different light to their portrayal in the comics and it adds some great depth to their back stories. At the beginning of the game, Lee finds a young girl named Clementine, whose parents have more than likely been killed during the recent Zombie outbreak. He takes it upon himself to become her protector and this is one of Lees driving motivations throughout the first episode. We as the player are tasked with defining what steps Lee would go to in defense of Clementine and those around him.
The narrative is really strong in the first episode and I found it tread a nice balance between the deep conversation and chaotic set pieces The Walking Dead is known for. The cast of characters are well thought out and there is no clear cut good or evil present in your fellow survivors, merely a different approach to self preservation. Some people are willing to act less humane in this brave new world, where others cling to their morals even as the world they once knew falls apart.
This is the strongest element of The Walking Dead – choice. Most games offer up choice which can be fleeting, unimportant or Changeable. In this game however, almost every choice has a very real effect and some come so quickly you won’t have time to evaluate your options; acting purely on instinct. Once a choice has been made you are going to have to live with that decision for the next four episodes. It brings a real sense of importance to the decision making in the game and also a great sense of panic during some of the games more intense set pieces.
Who will you save? Will you tell Clementine about your past? Will you lie to your companions and hope they don’t learn the truth 3 episodes from now? These types of choices not only make for an interesting narrative but also bring a huge wealth of replay value to the title. I found myself eager to play again upon completion, to see the different ways the episode can play out. I hope Telltale continue to exploit this feature in subsequent episodes as its definitely one of the key selling points of the title.
I must have been one of the few people who didn’t actually mind Telltales Jurassic Park all that much, but even I will admit that it was little more than an interactive movie with some QTE events. Telltale have outdone themselves with this title however, completely overhauling the controls allowing for more freedom of movement and less constraints.
The visuals are striking – handled in a unique cel-shaded fashion that brings players right into the pages of the graphic novel. I played on PC and performance never seemed to be a real issue, even on a two year old MacBook. The audio is amazing and instills a real sense of dread in the player – with zombie sounds proving equally chilling (if not more so) than the audio of the TV series. There was some small out of sync issues but I’m not sure if these are present in the console versions of the title. I would highly recommend playing through a decent surround sound setup or with a really nice set of headphones.
The Walking Dead: Episode 1 offers up about 3-4 hours of game-play, serving as not only a really emotionally deep game but also as a fantastic companion piece to the comic series it’s based on. It wont be for everyone and “Zombiephiles” with an itchy trigger finger would definitely be better off looking elsewhere for a fix, as this is a deeply emotional and personal experience throughout. It has slight technical issues, audio that doesn’t always sync and some really out of character sections (A reporter whose in awe at the power of batteries – what the hell??) but even with these issues, it’s tough to fault the overall experience.
If telltale can keep the momentum up, I believe The Walking Dead will have no trouble being their best episodic series to date. Now we play the waiting game for Episode 2… Man, I hate the waiting game…
(Editors Note: When all episodes have been released I will aggregate the reviews of the individual episodes into one overall score for the entire series)