Unless you have been living in a barricaded house for the past few years, you will have noticed that zombies have infected popular culture in a big way. Film, television, literature and of course, video games have all fallen prey to the undead. However, one franchise stands out amongst the horde, Robert Kirkman‘s The Walking Dead.
For the uninitiated, The Walking Dead, is a comic book series set during a zombie apocalypse. It follows small-town sheriff Rick Grimes, who, upon awaking from a coma, discovers that the dead are returning to life with an insatiable appetite for living flesh. Having enjoyed huge success in the comic world, the franchise further penetrated pop-culture last year, when AMC adapted the material for television screens. With comics and TV all but devoured, video games are next on the menu.
Based upon the original comic series, instead of its TV counterpart, The Walking Dead is an adventure game developed by Telltale Games. Like their previous work, The Walking Dead, is an episodic affair with five instalments planned in total. The first of which is entitled A New Day.
Instead of retelling the story of Rick Grimes, Telltale have opted to create there own story that runs concurrently with the comic books. With A New Day actually taking place while Grimes lies in a coma. Players assume the role of Lee Everett, a convict, who is involved in a car accident while being transported to prison. Shortly after the accident he encounters a young girl named, Clementine. Deciding to band together they set out in search of fellow survivors.
Unlike the majority of undead fiction out there, The Walking Dead is very much grounded in reality. It’s much more concerned with the human element over the mindless slaughter of zombies. It’s about how people cope with the extreme situation they find themselves in. For that reason it’s a very character driven narrative, and one that lends itself perfectly to Telltale‘s strengths as a developer.
As Lee, there are plenty of opportunites to converse with the survivors you encounter. Each is well realised and a joy to talk to. This is thanks to the stellar writing at work, which manages to be tense, humorous and even heartfelt at all the right times. The story is further brought to life with some excellent voice acting, lending emotional gravitas to the story in key scenes. It’s a testament to the writing team that at the end of the episode I felt significantly invested in the characters and couldn’t wait to see what Episode 2 has in store for them.
The plot isn’t just doled out to the player though, as perhaps the most exciting element of The Walking Dead is that the narrative actively adapts to how you play. Choice and consequence are both huge factors here, with the story branching at multiple points depending on the decisions you make. In true Walking Dead fashion, there is usually no good outcome to the situations you find yourself trapped in, just bad and worse. With each having both immediate and long term repercussions that ripple throughout the rest of the game, colouring fellow survivors opinions of Lee presumably for the rest of the series.
The comic series is well known for featuring some horrifically bleak concepts. Thankfully, Telltale doesn’t shy away from the mature subject matter at hand. Characters will often drop the f-bomb and there are some pretty gruesome deaths featured in A New Day. For example, not ten-minutes into the game you’ve already used a hammer to reduce a zombified girls head to mush. This is a bold departure thematically for Telltale and the game is all the better for it.
Mechanically, The Walking Dead is very much an evolution of the modern adventure game. Something that Telltale has noticeably been working towards with each of their releases. While rooted in classic adventure design, the game succesfully incorporates some faster-paced action sequences, giving a much more cinematic feel to proceedings. Something they experimented with in their previous release, Jurassic Park. A game that was seriously flawed, but, I’m now glad existed as it allowed the kinks to be ironed out before A New Day saw the light of day.
The Walking Dead sticks to its comic book roots. By going for an illustrated, hand drawn look, the game remains faithful to Charlie Adlard‘s artwork while still retaining a hint of Telltale‘s own style. The biggest visual difference between the books and the game is that the latter uses a full colour pallet, in contrast to the stark black and white inking used in the books. While, the full colour look is great game, it would have been nice to see a black and white option tucked away in the menus.
Unfortunately, there are a few performance issues with the console versions of The Walking Dead. Textures can look a little low res and muddy at times, and the frame rate tends to drop during some of the busier scenes. The game also tends to hang momentarily while the camera transitioned between shots. All in all, they are minor annoyances and don’t really get in the way of the fantastic narrative experience.
A New Day is a wonderful introduction to The Walking Dead and perhaps Telltale‘s most accomplished release to date. Not only does it remain faithful to the source material, it actually enhances it. The branching nature of the story coupled with the well written character interactions work to deliver an absorbing experience. For fans of The Walking Dead this is an essential purchase, while remaining a no-brainer for everyone else. Roll on Episode Two.
Developer: Telltale Games
Format: XBLA, PSN, Windows, OSX with iOS forthcoming.
Release Date: 24th April 2012