Review- The Walking Dead: Part I
The Walking Dead: Part I
So far this morning, I have made a lot of choices. I decided to get out of bed and go to work. I chose to take out the garbage instead of leaving it for the afternoon. I opted for a cup of coffee instead of a soda for my morning infusion of caffeine. These choices were all of little consequence and were made with very little thought as is the case for most all decisions that the majority of us face on a daily basis. What if this wasn’t the case though? What if each choice we made had immediate and lasting consequences of importance? How would we deal with the constant pressure of these decisions or cope with the possibility of making the wrong choice? This is the situation that is presented to the player in Telltale Games new episodic series The Walking Dead. Combining intense decision making with very human characters Telltale Games has crafted an adventure game that will draw you in and leave you anxiously awaiting the coming chapters.
Based on the mythos of the graphic novels and TV show of the same name, The Walking Dead: Part I- A New Day centers on new protagonist, Lee Everett. As the game begins, Lee is traveling in the back of a police cruiser imprisoned for a crime he may, or may not, have committed. This tight, intimate introduction to a man at what is likely the lowest point of his life serves to immediately connect the player to his/her on screen avatar. This link between the player and Lee can largely be credited for the game’s overall impact. The choices that I made through Lee help to define who he was as a character and were also a direct reflection of how I believed I would have reacted his situation. Everything about the game seems geared towards intensifying this connection between the player and the events unfolding on the screen.
The Walking Dead’s presentation is spot on with the experience the developer is trying to convey. The cell-shaded graphics have a hand-drawn, comic book feel that is mature and consistent with the game’s content. From looking at still shots of the game or video clips, one could be excused for viewing the game as “cartoony”, but as soon as the experience begins in earnest the visuals are wholly appropriate. Bold lines and colors mix with the blood and grime of a world facing disaster creating an ideal depiction of the Walking Dead universe. The music and voice acting which accompany the game’s visuals are truly fantastic. Each character’s dialogue is delivered with emotion and conviction creating rounded, believable human beings. In a game where, by nature, the player’s interaction with the on-screen world is at a minimum, music and sound is used masterfully to create tension and atmosphere. There were numerous times when my pulse quickened and my hands gripped my controller more tightly based on aural stimulation alone.
Any player that does a little research before purchasing The Walking Dead knows what to expect out of the game play. All events in the game play out either as a standard click-to-interact process or as a quick-time event. There really isn’t much for the gamer to do here. No real puzzles to solve, very few triggers to pull, or items to collect. Unlike many classic adventure games you never end up with a spool of thread, a protractor, a turkey leg, and a pair of socks in your inventory wondering what in the hell you’re supposed to do next. Everything is intuitive and simple. In fact, calling The Walking Dead a game may be a bit of a stretch. If you approach it more as an interactive motion comic where you have direct control of the outcome of several key situations then you will enjoy this experience immensely. If you go in with the expectations of using your inventory to construct a Goldberg-ian device to solve puzzles or blasting away at zombie heads with a shotgun you may feel underwhelmed. A very minor personal gripe of mine was that there was no way to invert the Y-axis and I’m one of those wierdos for whom up is down and down is up. Took a little adjusting to, but ultimately did not detract from my appreciation of the game.
So what brings this whole package together? What makes this game worth working through when it is admittedly less of a game and more of an interactive book or TV show? It all comes back to the people and the choices you are forced to make as you direct Lee Everett through his experience. Telltale Games seems to have set up the game so that the choices you make when interacting with the other characters will have lasting implications across the coming episodes and all of these decisions must be made quickly. You are usually given about 5 seconds to read all of your dialogue or action options and make your choice. This is not much time when you are deciding what to reveal about Lee’s past and what to keep hidden, when to be compassionate and when to be tough, or which of your companions you will save and which you will leave to the ravaging zombies. There are no right answers to these choices, only the consequences and the weight of the resulting guilt. And you will feel guilty. From the sweet, abandoned child, to the redneck, to the grumpy old guy, the characters in the story are believable and illicit empathy and understanding regardless of their actions. And some of them will not make it out of this alive, no matter what you choose to do.
Upon completion of A New Day, I received a screen displaying a percentile breakdown that reflected how my key choices in the game stacked up against other players'. With the exception of one decision, almost every choice was an evenly split 50%-50% give or take a few points. This is a testament to the validity of the choices you must make- there is no right or wrong just you, your friends, a horde of zombies and a few seconds to act.
The Walking Dead: Part I- A New Day delivered exactly what I wanted from it: interesting, human characters, an engaging atmosphere, and affecting decisions. At about 2-3 hours in length A New Day was the perfect length for a $5 game, never overstaying its welcome and leaving you craving the next episode. The “next time on The Walking Dead” preview at the end only stoked the desire to return to the plight of Lee and his crew and I can say that Episode II will be an immediate purchase for me. Turn down the lights, bump up the volume and play through this game. That, at least, is a very easy decision to make.
Easy Educator’s Report Card
Audio/Visual: 9/10 A-
Gameplay: 9/15 D
Story 9/10 A-
Value 5/5 A+
Originality 9/10 A-
Extra Credit +5
Platform: Xbox 360 (PS3, PC)
Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Telltale Games
Published: April 26, 2012
Play Dates: April 29-30, 2012
MSRP: 400 MSP ($5)
Paid: 400 MSP