The Walking Dead, Episode 1: A New Day
System: Playstation 3 (also on Xbox 360, PC, Mac and iOS)
Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Telltale Games
Price: $4.99 ($19.99 for PS3 season pass)
Release Date: April 24, 2012
Looking to capitalize on the success of the wildly popular Walking Dead TV show and comics, Telltale Games have started their own episodic take on the series. Known for their point-and-click adventures (Back to the Future, Jurassic Park), Telltale already have two seasons planned for The Walking Dead. The first is currently going on right now, with two episodes already released. The second season will likely arrive sometime next year. At just $5 per episode, it’s hard to resist digging in, even for non-fans of the show (like myself). Even better, the first two episodes are now available for free for Playstation Plus members.
A New Day begins with the protagonist, college professor Lee Everett, handcuffed in the back of a police cruiser. The driver, an old, grizzled police officer, makes small talk with Lee, and bits of his past are slowly revealed. Clearly, he was arrested for a serious crime, but it’s unclear as to exactly what it was. Before they can reach their destination, a figure suddenly appears in the middle of the road, causing the car to lose control and violently crash off to the side. After maneuvering out of the handcuffs and noticing more grotesque figures (later learned to be zombies) heading in his direction, Lee escapes and stumbles into an abandoned house.
It is here that Lee meets Clementine, a first grader who has been hiding in her tree house, patiently waiting for her parents to come home. The two of them decide to leave together in an attempt to find safety in this suddenly apocalyptic world.
For those unfamiliar with the adventure genre, The Walking Dead’s gameplay will be a bit of a surprise. This is a game that doesn’t rely on rapid action or non-stop zombie killing. Instead, the main focus is on story progression, character choices and occasional QTE (quick time event) sequences. Lee is controlled with the left analog stick, and the right analog stick is used to select objects. When chosen, Lee can make observations, chat with others or use two items together. The control system is as easy as it gets, and even non-gamers should be able to dive right in and feel at home.
As mentioned, choices are of the utmost importance in the game, and your personal actions will modify the events found in the rest of the series. In A New Day, there are five moments that the game labels “Tough Decisions”. These are critical sequences in which Lee has to choose between two actions. One such example involves two characters being attacked by zombies. You only have time to save one of them, and it has to be quick — who do you choose? There are also decisions to make during standard dialogue exchanges, and characters will remember your replies for future reference. While the impact of these decisions is minimal in the first episode, it’s going to be a hell of a lot of fun to see how these play out over the entire season.
Telltale included a nice treat at the end of the game that shows how your choices compared to others. Interestingly enough, I sided with the majority in all of my “tough decisions” except for one.
Aesthetically, The Walking Dead looks and sounds like a low budget title, but it actually works for the concept. The cartoonish art style fits the theme, and it doesn’t hold back with plenty of gore in some especially gruesome moments. Some animations can cause the framerate to sputter a bit, but they never messed up the gameplay. The voice acting is hit-and-miss; sometimes it can be convincing, yet other times it is laughably bad. On the whole, though, the voice acting is competent enough.
A New Day is an exciting beginning to The Walking Dead series, and for $5 you’ll get about two hours of good, solid gameplay. The real fun lies in making choices, as these ultimately will matter a great deal in future installments. In the heat of the moment, what would you do? Who would you save?