Telltale’s adventure games have been an up-and-down experience from the well-received Back to the Future: The Game to the less-than-stellar Jurassic Park: The Game. I honestly came in not knowing what to expect. What I got was a cohesive adventure title that put me on the edge of my seat early on and wouldn’t let me back down.
What Telltale has crafted in The Walking Dead – based on the super-popular comics rather than the mega-popular TV series – is a highly emotional adventure title that plays off the stress that a world-ending event pushes onto its characters, and it does it well. It utilizes highly emotional situations — such as a terrified message left on an answering machine from a mother to her daughter, or that same child watching you bludgeon a zombie right in front of her — to emphasize the hopelessness of the situation. Each event progresses the plight of the outside world and just how desperate it is or will become.
The Walking Dead thrusts you right into the middle of the undead apocalypse within the first few minutes with an intense and exciting opening, with you riding in the back of police car. What starts out as harmless chatter with the police officer ends in a horrible accident that leaves you bloody, injured, and alone; next thing you know, you’re fumbling a shotgun in your quivering hands as the undead creep ever closer.
The first thing you will probably notice about this game is the shocking art style. While faithful to the comics, the vibrant colors and animations give it a slightly cartoony look, which contradicts the violent nature of the game. However, this is not a negative aspect since the art style helps bring life to the world around you. It’s just a bit surprising.
You play as Lee Everett, a convicted felon who is clueless as to what has happened around him after he is left alone after the car crash. He’s neither a deadly ninja assassin nor a sharp-minded detective; he’s just a normal man with the desire to survive whatever is happening and with the “skills” at his disposal.
Although you are in control of the protagonist, this control is limited by what is happening in the game. You can move the character around freely some of the time, but in certain situations, you are restricted to actions only, like when you are trying escape from a zombie in close quarters. These moment-by-moment specific actions are selected by pressing the allowed buttons. This lack of control adds an aspect of helplessness to the adventure, which in turn helps to focus the player more on the horrifying scenario at hand.
Your true control is over actions and conversation. The options you choose while conversing with others directly affects how they see you and interact with you, which can affect the story at large. People can catch you lying and distrust you, or think you are a great guy for sticking up for them. You must choose wisely, and quickly, as most dialogue options are under a time limit. Not answering in time is interpreted as just that — silence.
While the puzzle solving and item finding elements are nicely implemented, The Walking Dead isn’t exactly a game meant for geniuses. The items are always right in front of you and their uses are pretty self explanatory. Need that window broken? Look, there’s a brick! Can’t open the lock? Hey, you’re already carrying an axe. It’s all pretty basic. Still, none are so easy that it’s laughable, just simple. The voice acting does leave a little to be desired as well. Most of it is fine, but some emotionally high encounters teeter on cheesy or overacted.
As far as story-driven adventure games go, The Walking Dead: Episode 1 is top notch with intriguing character development, just the right amount of action sprinkled on top, and a superior execution of atmosphere. This title may not be as deep as other games of its genre, but it is highly compelling. As the first of several, The Walking Dead: Episode 1 does precisely what it should: leave you begging for Episode 2.
FINAL GRADE: A