The Walking Dead comic book was such a success that it spawned a TV series on AMC that was such a success that it spawned even more tie-in product. And since zombie games are already a popular genre, it was only natural that somebody would license the property to do The Walking Dead videogame.
Thankfully, that somebody turned out to be Telltale Games, so instead of a gory shooter, we instead get to enjoy a dramatic and tense zombie adventure game. Episode One of the five-episode serialized game has now been released for download on PC (through Steam), PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, and I had a chance to play through the Xbox version. The full review is waiting for you just around the corner in the dark...
The Walking Dead is a tie-in to the comic book series, not the TV show, and that is already one point in its favor. (In fact, almost immediately, the characters in the game are 100% more likeable than anyone in two seasons of the TV show) Working as a kind of prequel lead-in to the comic, the game weaves familiar characters and locations into the storyline for brief cameos that really make it seem like part of the same universe. The story focuses on your character, Lee Everett, who is an escaped convict. Well, escaped because of a zombie outbreak, not because he was actively trying to get away. Lee runs into a young girl, Clementine, and together, this odd couple must navigate the horrifically transformed world of a zombie apocalypse.
Being an adventure game, The Walking Dead is all about choices. Yes, there's going to be some using of items you collect to solve puzzles, but for me, the meat of the game was the dialogue choices and major life-changing decisions that you must make at certain points. Because Lee's backstory is a mystery and revealed piecemeal throughout the first episode, it's hard to know how to respond at certain dialogue prompts. I basically filled in some blanks myself and made my own decision about what actually happened, and then played it that way throughout. It's just kind of awkward when characters ask you what you did, and you don't actually know whether your character is guilty or not! I did wonder if the way the player responds to dialogue options regarding his crime might actually influence the crime itself in the end (you know, if you play it like you're innocent, later on it will be revealed that you actually are), but it doesn't seem that way.
The Walking Dead insists that decisions you make during an episode will affect how subsequent episodes will play out, and I have no doubt that will be true. I'm sure a choice I made towards the end will directly impact something in the next episode, because a choice you are forced to make early on in Episode One should make the rest of the episode play out very differently. I've only just finished my first play-through, but the game gives you three save slots, so while waiting for the next episode, you can kill time by going back and creating an alternate universe where you can make the opposite decisions. The game does autosave, though, so once you've made a choice, you're stuck with it. (I also liked how after you finish the episode, the game lists the major decisions you made and compares your choices to the other players... I was surprised how few people lied to Herschel!)
Graphics are wonderful. Based off the comic, it looks like the illustrations come to three-dimensional life. Oh, and in color, too, naturally. Some of the physical animations are a little stiff, but the facial expressions are terrific. Lee, in particular, is very expressive without saying even a word. Although the voice acting in general is really quite good. A few of the supporting people aren't great, but nobody is distractingly awful. At least, not to me.
The only minor complaint I have with the game is with the controls. You move your character with the left thumbstick, and control the reticule with the right. When you move the reticule over a hotspot, various options pop up, corresponding to one of the four face buttons on the controller. Obviously, the PC controls are different, and from what I figure, wouldn't encounter this problem. Because there are a few times when the game gets time-sensitive, and maneuvering the reticule on top of a zombie's head with your right thumb and then quickly moving your thumb onto the button to attack it can be a little tricky. Then again, I might just be supremely uncoordinated. Like I said, it's only a minor complaint, because it's not really that big of a deal. It didn't really cause me to die at all... it was just kind of awkward. (There's a reason FPS's use the trigger as the action/shoot button since your thumb is already busy!)
Actually, there's one other problem with The Walking Dead. While three hours of gameplay for $5 isn't a terrible deal (especially since the game fairly begs to be played again with different choices), the episodic structure means that you have to wait about a month before the next episode is released. Just as things were getting really good, "To Be Continued" pops up. Also, because of the serialized storyline, things could theoretically go seriously south at any point during episodes two through five, rendering the game ultimately disappointing, but just judging from the quality of Episode One, that's not terribly likely!
A review code for The Walking Dead Episode One was provided by Telltale Games for the purpose of the review. The entire episode was played through from start to finish one time so far!