The Walking Dead - Episode 1: A New Day



Genre:   Adventure

Developer & Publisher:    TellTale Games

Released:  April 2012

PC Requirements:  

* OS: Windows XP, Vista or Windows 7
* CPU: Core 2 Duo 2GHz or equivalent
* RAM: 3 GB
* HDD: 2 GB free disk space
* Graphics: 1 GB Graphics Memory
* Sound Card: DirectX 9 Compatible
* DirectX: Version 9





by flotsam


Some confessions up front. I am a fan of The Walking Dead TV series, and don’t mind a bit of undead mayhem in my game playing (see Dead Space 2). I also have a range of graphic novels on my bookshelf, so on one level I was probably predisposed to like this.

However, fans can be the hardest to satisfy – what if the mayhem isn’t sufficiently mayhemish? And this is a game, not a book. So predisposition may not get us very far.

Whatever the un-blank canvass of my prejudices might be, I liked this game a lot.

Telltale has chosen to tread an interesting line. Zombies, by the very fact of being such, need serious seeing to, and no game set in The Walking Dead universe could avoid that fact. So dealing death, and being susceptible to it being dealt back, must be givens. But a full-on kill fest is just another first person shooter, and what make the TV series so compelling are the relationships, emotions and motivations of the non-zombies, unlikely colleagues doing what they must simply to survive. So you tone down the action, and ratchet up the storyline and characterisation. But you then risk alienating two audiences – those for whom non-playing characters are just collateral damage risks, and those who are allergic to any action in their adventure diet whatsoever.

Both should give this a go, if only to at least see how the other parts can add something to the mix.

The final product is best described as an adventure game with some action elements. It could also be described as an interactive graphic novel.

Which isn’t to say there aren’t things to do and choices to make and dying to be done. Front and centre though is the story, and the people through which it is explored.

Out of the frying pan

Central among those is Lee, who is with us from the start and who provides the personage for your own involvement. In the back of a Sheriff’s car (for we don’t yet know what) on his way out of Atlanta, a car crash results in Lee being free, but in a world gone to hell. How, and how so fast, is never explained, but it doesn’t really matter. It now is what it is, and Lee has to survive.

Soon we meet Clementine, an 8-year-old girl hiding in a tree house. Then some locals, but how many depends upon a choice you have already made. You make more of these as you progress, most being answers to questions, some being actions. The game promises that it’s the choices you make that shape how the game plays out, and you get some inkling of how that might happen if you choose to play in standard mode. A particular choice might elicit a “pop-up” indicating that another character will remember that you didn’t side with her, perhaps indicating that you won’t be able to count on her support later. Having played through twice, deliberately choosing different responses and actions, there are some obvious changed sequences and some different survivors, but much of the story played out the same. However there could well be subtle influences which carry over to other episodes as the game progresses, and it promises to be interesting to watch how things develop.

You can make another choice, which is choosing to turn these pop-ups off, and I suspect I will do so for the remainder of the episodes. It was a little distracting knowing that something I had said might make a difference to future events, and even more so when a choice had no stated impact.

You can also choose to have minimal hotspot information, which is really not that minimal. In standard mode the hotspots will start to light up when the mouse is in the vicinity. In minimal mode the mouse has to actually find the hotspot, which is how things work in most adventure games. As they appear quite generous in size, minimal will not be an issue for most adventure game players.

Having said that, in the action sequences you may prefer the comfort of the standard mode. You will have a certain amount of time to decide what to do – perhaps to try and save one person or another – or to perform a particular action, usually involving dispatching a zombie or preventing it from dispatching you. The more hotspot information you have, perhaps the better. It will be a matter of taste, and you can change back and forth at any time.

It’s just one bullet

Whatever your taste, there aren’t a lot of these action sequences, and they are more nuisance value than challenging impediments. Some are quite brutal, enhanced by the polished animation and the realistic sounds effects. I did die twice, once through failing to make any choice, but the game just starts again from the last autosave.

You also don’t control all the action. Many scenes will require only one or two inputs from you, despite what is occurring on-screen. Other sequences require none; very early on you run away from a large group of zombies and escape by jumping a fence. You just watch that happen – you don’t have to achieve it.

There is some keyboard pecking at times (two or three), hitting one key quickly to effect an action, but the mouse does the rest. Killing will likely involve clicking the hotspot to result in an icepick, or a hammer, or perhaps an axe being brought to bear. A “kill zone” around the hotspot means you can inflict damage, maybe stabbing the zombie in the shoulder, but not stopping it, which requires a lethal blow to the head. You will know when you have been effective.

I said it was brutal and it is also gory. Bludgeoning someone with a hammer is a violent act, and a messy one. Language is equally colourful. The Walking Dead did not feel gratuitous, but nor does it pull its punches.

Lest all this talk of action put you off, rest assured this is not a game that sets out to kill you at every turn, forcing you to continually keep it at bay through your actions and interactions. The action generally takes a backseat, being all the more powerful by its short, sharp, brutish nature.

So too the finding and problem solving has been turned down. You do find items – some of them essential, some of them not so – but having them is enough. You don’t choose to use them in places, rather the game will offer you the opportunity to use certain items at various hotspots. So a locked door might initially give you the option of “using” it, but once you have the key, the hotspot will also give you the option to utilise the key. Items will generally, though not always, only be offered where they can be used. So you are never really just trying random things. You also don’t have to do everything there is to do. I deliberately didn’t solve one conundrum the second time through or hand over any of my food bars, and it didn’t seem to matter, although it is always possible it may affect how things play out later.

Which brings us back to the story, which is allowed to slow burn its way through because of the limited approach to these other things. The balance is almost perfect; enough to do to stop it from feeling like you are just turning pages, but not so much that it feels like the action or the puzzle solving is the reason for the game. The plot and the characterisation builds, and the result is dramatic and engaging.

Like a good ensemble, just about all of the characters add something to the mix. Lee stands out, not yet the hero but certainly the focal point. In Hemingway style, he is flawed, determined and introverted. You can meet the rest yourself, and for those who know The Walking Dead world, some characters will be familiar, placing these events before those in the TV series.

Two enter, one leaves

It's through the characters that there is more to this world than ugliness and violence. There is strength, tenderness, compassion, and every so often some humour. There is also fragility, selfishness, denial, resentment and the rest of the panoply of human emotions.

The Walking Dead looks like a graphic novel in the way it’s been animated and coloured, and I thought it was sensational. Its generally 2D look was in no way “flat”, and its muted tones suited the bleakness of the environment. There was also a realism in the character modelling, and lip-synching was rather good. Light and shading was high quality, ditto the sound, both the ambient and the musical score. The overall effect was almost cinematic.

You can’t save at will, but autosaves occur regularly. If you die or if you exit, the game will start again from the last autosave, which may mean you replay some parts. A little pinwheel in the top right corner will indicate a save, so (if you have had enough) exit then to limit the need to play sequences again. Information will pop up at times to describe how to play the game, most of it in the first ten minutes or so.

The game is played from a third person perspective, and the mouse is used for searching the world and for most actions in the game world. Moving Lee about is via the keyboard. You can use the keyboard to select dialogue options, or scroll with the mouse wheel and click. Selecting hotspot actions is the same.

Once the game is completed, you get a sneak preview of the next episode, plus a range of statistics telling you how other players responded to some of the choices you made. I had no glitches whatsoever.

That the episode was over in not much more than two hours was a downside, but it remained tight and focussed as a result. I wanted more, but will have to wait. The seeds have been sown for what could truly be the first great episodic adventure.


I played on:

OS: Windows 7

Processor: AMD Phenom 9500 Quad Core CPU 2.2 GHz

Ram: 4.00GB DDR2 400MHz

Gx card: ATI Radeon HD 3850 512Mb

The Walking Dead series can be purchased via download from Telltale Games.


GameBoomers Review Guidelines

May 2012

design copyright© 2012 GameBoomers Group

 GB Reviews Index