May 4, 2012

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The Walking Dead: Episode 1 Review

The Walking Dead: Episode 1 Review

In a few short years The Walking Dead has taken over many different platforms. The incredibly successful comic books are a hit and still on-going, the AMC television series has been popular, and now The Walking Dead is looking to take over your video game consoles. Teaming with Telltale Games (of Back to the Future fame) this grim depiction of a zombie apocalypse is not only looking to further the franchise, but also stand on it’s own merits as a solid and quality product (much like the Back to the Future games). But with zombies in nearly every aspect of media today, are fans going to overlook The Walking Dead due to over-saturation?

A major part of the success of The Walking Dead series has been it’s emphasis on characters and character development. With clever writing and well thought out dialogue, each person you come in contact with (be it in the books or TV series) feels fully-fleshed out and sets The Walking Dead apart from other typical zombie stories. Telltale Games did a wonderful job in The Walking Dead: Episode 1, providing tons of characters with varying emotions, reactions, and life-like qualities. You play as Lee Everett, a former teacher who opens the game up sitting in the back of a police car. Through some unfortunate (though lucky) events, you stumble upon a seemingly abandoned neighborhood where you discover a young girl by the name of Clementine and decide to take care of the child. Along the way you meet different characters that are interesting (although cliche at times) and not only discover their backgrounds, but whom you actually develop relationships with. With up to four different reactions to nearly every situation or interaction, these relationships either flourish or fail depending on your input. Heavily basing games on imaginary relationships often fail, but Telltale Games did a wonderful job creating multi-layered characters much like the comics that players will enjoy and actually care about.

Though the writing itself is solid, the animation and passion the voice-actors put in is excellent, helping you to get lost in this abysmal apocalypse. Like I stated above, the characters themselves can be a tad cliche at times, but the dialogue is top-notch and flows perfectly given the circumstances. Like The Back to the Future games, Telltale has given The Walking Dead a similar look, and while it’s cartoony, it actually works perfectly and makes the games look more like the comic books. The music too is complimentary to the game, being atmospheric at times, then ramping up during appropriate situations. As a whole, The Walking Dead: Episode 1 is perfect for fans of the series and is solid both visually and audibly.

The Walking Dead games are like point-and -click adventures, though more similar to the PS3′s Heavy Rain game. The entire game is split into five different episodes (likely releasing one month after the other) and each decision made throughout the course of the game alters the story and those involved. While the concept is great, after multiple playthroughs of the first episode, it’s still too early to tell how much the campaign will change later on in the story. The characters may be different and the means of getting from point A to point B can change, but the destinations appear to stay the same. Like Heavy Rain, quick reflexes are required in order to survive both zombie attacks and on-the-fly questions. Aside from needing to fend off the undead, different characters you meet will often require a quick answer or reaction to different statements, which affect their perception of you in later events. Lying to one character may cause them to distrust you, while revealing a bloody secret might change their view on your character. Throw in the fact that you’re usually given mere seconds to decide your replies and you’re given many situations that are both stressful and exciting. Outside of these glorified quick-time-events, the only other gameplay facet lies in minor puzzles which are usually as simple as “use found object here” or “find necessary item for character A.” The gameplay doesn’t stray too far from what is expected and it’s obvious that Telltale’s focus was mainly based on telling a good story.

I’ve enjoyed the first episode through the three times I’ve played it, but that isn’t to say that there aren’t any flaws with The Walking Dead. For starters, characters are controlled using the left stick and the right stick controls a target reticle. Unfortunately, many of the interactions require players to quickly press the ‘A’ button while aiming with the right stick, causing some thumb twisting. This is remedied by the fact that players can press “down” on the d-pad instead of “A,” but it’s still awkward and actually resulted in a friend of mine dying during a crucial moment. Also, there are occasional hiccups in the voice-acting as well as the character movements. Many times during cutscenes I’ve seen characters freeze in place while their voiceovers continued their conversations or have seen ridiculous animations that appear as if they’ve been ripped out of The Sims. Lastly, there are multiple save files available to play on, but the game appears to employ a permadeath system, kind of making the save files unnecessary. The episode will roughly run you a couple hours, and while it may not seem necessary to leave the game or save, the couple of times I attempted to do so I came back to three empty save files. It’s frustrating because I’d be forced to replay scenes over and over with the same dialogue.

As a first episode, The Walking Dead delivers a quality story with decent enough gameplay. It’s characters are well thought out, it’s situations are appropriate, and there are more then enough tension-filled scenarios. Though the game isn’t perfect, I’m eagerly awaiting the second episode so I can continue the story of Lee Everett and the friends I’ve encountered.

The Walking Dead: Episode 1
Platform: PC, Mac, PS3, 360 (Reviewed)
Genre: Action Adventure
Release Date: 04/25/12
Developer: TellTale Games
Publisher: TellTale Games
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)
MSRP: 400 MSP ($5)