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The Walking Dead Episode 1: A New Day

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The first time I heard a curse word, I was actually taken aback. The nice, clean comic-book look of the game doesn’t feel like an environment where you would hear R-rated words. Adding to this feeling you also don’t expect to see gratuitous violence and bloody head-smashing, but it’s there too. ~Justin Richardson

The Walking Dead Episode 1: A New Day

Do you hear that pounding? It’s not the Tell-Tale heart under the floorboards, no, it’s your own heart racing in Telltale’s newest game. A game where you actually care about the characters.The zombpocalypse in media has been popular for a long time now. Many people feel that it’s high time it dies and is finally laid to rest. While this may appear to be the overall vocal consensus, somehow the zombie craze manages to shamble on, selling movies, games, books and perfumes. Well, probably not that last part. There are still groups out there, banding together and hanging on for life, voraciously eating up the zombie media like the living dead gathered around a corpse. Why?Perhaps we like the excitement and the thrill of the concept – the adventure of it all. Perhaps it offers us a way to fantasize about venting our frustrations of humanity, on humanity, without feeling as much as a twinge of guilt. And perhaps we’re just fascinated with the idea of reanimation. Whatever the reason, Telltale Games has just released the first episode in their The Walking Dead Pentalogy, and overall it does what you might expect a zombie adventure game to do, but rather well.

This is my first Telltale game. After going into this without having any kind of expectation I can say that I finished this two and a half hour episode with a smile on my face. None of Telltale’s previous games have ever really managed to grab my attention, but The Walking Dead feels like a good match for a developer that is revered for its focus on story, humor and having a personal touch. While Telltale may not have a lot of experience with heavy material or gritty violence, they pull this off with aplomb.

The Walking Dead - Episode 1 - A New Day - Telltale Games

The proper “I’ve just seen a zombie” face.

It was nice not to be stuck in the conventions of another run and gun game, which, for me, was a much needed break. Come to think of it, the protagonist, Lee Everett, throws down a shotgun in one of the first sections of the game, as if Telltale is saying, “No. This isn’t a first person shooter. We’re going to slow down and look at how these characters interact as the world collapses around them.”The game is quick to get you into the story. Lee, who I immediately feel an attachment to, finds himself in a squad car being escorted to prison for a crime that he may or may not have committed. It doesn’t take long for the player to pick up on the fact that, in the spirit of the show (and comic) you’re in Georgia, and have returned to your hometown after a long time away. There is an accident and the story quickly escalates into the chaotic mess that you have likely come to expect from The Walking Dead.

The Walking Dead - Episode 1 - A New Day - Telltale Games

Option A – Not For the Kiddies

 The quicktime events (QTEs) / decisions are just that: quick. They offer only a few critical seconds to make key decisions that could drastically change your game. Many of these decisions have a great deal of permanence and will persist throughout the episodes, so think on your feet and choose well. These choices will change how other characters view you, who lives and ultimately who doesn’t. I’d be lying if I told you that I didn’t reload once or twice so that I could hit the desired response. If you don’t respond fast enough your character remains silent, which is a response in and of itself, which not everyone appreciates. Some of these QTEs come in times of great tension, and do a great job of boosting the heart rate a bit. If you hear pounding in your ears, beware, it could be the Telltale heart.You’ll spend your time mostly talking to people, exploring small open areas and reacting to QTEs when they arise. You’ll have to use your head a little bit, but not too much. If you aren’t the sharpest knife in the drawer when it comes to adventure games, the process of elimination will eventually make the solution clear. There are only so many interactive points. You’ve either clicked on everything available or you haven’t. Unfortunately, I suspect that there is only one way to solve any given puzzle.

With that being said, the puzzles are actually quite fun and varied, even if they are a bit simplistic and linear. In The Walking Dead, you won’t be straining your brain or doing nonsensical things like placing wine in a time capsule and visiting the future where it has turned into vinegar. Nor will you mix cat hair and honey to make a mustache disguise. No, these puzzles are designed to be intuitive. A nice touch is that during these sequences, your perspective is constantly shifting based off of the situation or the nature of the puzzle that you have to solve. Have to unlock handcuffs – first person. Need to get from here to there – third person. Need to see a larger area – here’s a zoomed out view of the yard. I found this to be a refreshing change from static mounted-camera views, and from other games in general.

The Walking Dead - Episode 1 - A New Day - Telltale Games

This picture says it all. Sadness. Emotional depth. Baseball hats.

The first time I heard a curse word, I was actually taken aback. The nice, clean comic-book look of the game doesn’t feel like an environment where you would hear R-rated words. Adding to this feeling you also don’t expect to see gratuitous violence and bloody head-smashing, but it’s there too. As a result, there is a bit of dissonance between the cartoonish look of the engine, and the dark, apocalyptic feel of The Walking Dead. However odd it may feel, it’s not really a problem, and I’m glad they are approaching the material with the gravity that it deserves.

I say all of this not to fault the graphical engine. While it is admittedly dated, it’s still highly polished and works well for the comic book art style that they’ve gone for. It has the polish and feel of a late generation game  engine that has been pushed to its max. Again, not a problem as it serves it purpose while still providing a slick and attractive environment.

The Walking Dead - Episode 1 - A New Day - Telltale Games

I’m an expert tracker. I have followed the bloody marks in order to locate the body.

This is predominantly a character driven story, and to this end the voice acting and dialogue is truly brilliant. A friend of mine was asking me how the voice acting was and I wasn’t immediately able to answer him. Not because I was uncertain, but because I hadn’t really noticed the voice acting at all. And I hadn’t noticed it because it was so well done that it never shook me from my immersion in the game. Bravo, Telltale. Sometimes, I was so swept up in the story that I yelled out in victory, or shrank down and felt shame over a decision I had made.

For the most part my complaints with the game are few. There were a few audio stutters and blips during the dialogue, but it wasn’t consistent enough to really hinder my experience. However one of the most glaring issues wasn’t technical at all. There is a section of the game where a character doesn’t know how to put batteries into a radio, or what kind of batteries it could possibly ever need. This really serves to undermine the believability of that character and to shatter the player’s suspension of disbelief. This wouldn’t have been something to point out in a bad game, but The Walking Dead is otherwise intelligent and well conceived.

I’m not sure how differently the game would have played out had I made different choices, and I’m anxious to go back and replay it in a different way. There are a total of three save slots, so Telltale has accommodated the curious player like myself. Heck, I’m curious like a cat. I have a couple of friends that call me Whiskers. So I intend to fill all three slots.

The Walking Dead - Episode 1 - A New Day - Telltale Games

Hell comes to the suburbs of Georgia. Quick, hide in the tire!

The length of this episode felt about right for the first episode of five. I beat it in one sitting and never felt like my attention was drifting. For $25 this is a nice, bite-sized morsel of splendid content.

Fans of the excellent Idle Thumbs podcast will note the inclusion of names such as Sean Vanaman & Jake Rodkin in the opening credits. At an early stage in the episode, a character mentions “Ol’ Breckon” down the road, which is of course represents another Thumb member, Nick Breckon. This reminds me of the mention of Christopher di Remo and Jackie Rodkins in Bioshock 2, thanks to Steve Gaynor. Also himself. These guys are name dropping each other all throughout your videogames. Oh, Idle Thumbs. If you don’t know who they are, go check out their podcast.

Spolier alert! This video shows all of Episode 1

If you’re not entirely sick of zombies and are looking for a fun change of pace and some interesting characters, you should probably pick this up for PC, Mac, on the Playstation Network or Xbox Live Marketplace. I for one am not sick (or infected) of zombies. I realize that I’m in a constantly shrinking minority, but I find that there is something primal and fascinating about the juxtaposition of our modern world with this catastrophic zombie event. Perhaps even more importantly, I feel that we are drawn to the idea because it provides humanity with two important things that we perhaps otherwise lack: unity and purpose. Maybe reading World War Z has renewed my interest in the genre and Telltale happened to come in at the right time to give me an interest boost. At any rate, enough waxing zombitic. Go play The Walking Dead.

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    • I enjoyed this one. Unfortunately I made the mistake of playing it close to bed time and dreamt of zombies.

    • Oof! This game certainly makes for an intense bedtime ritual, haha. Hope you’re not dreaming of zombies anymore!