THE WALKING DEAD Episode One: a Zombie Lover's Dream
Rama Rating 9 out of 10
There is something about zombie comics that somewhere along the line zombie video games forgot: while zombies themselves are a threat, the true threat is a world that has been flung out of control, that the breakdown of the barrier between death and life takes with it the scaffolding of society. Telltale Game's latest episodic adventure, The Walking Dead, based off the massively successful Image/Skybound comic created by Robert Kirkman, explores that breakdown better than the freak-show shooting gallery that is Left 4 Dead or the zaniness of Dead Rising ever could and the end result is sublime.
Taking place in parallel to the original comic book version of the The Walking Dead, as opposed to the TV version, the game is a hybrid point and click adventure/action title featuring a new character, Lee Everett, a former professor of history who after a bad car wreck wakes up in a world in the final stages of being overrun by the undead. Soon into your adventure you encounter the quiet, clever eight year old Clementine and the two of you begin your struggle to survive.
Like most of Telltale's adventure titles, the game is at its core presents you with a series of environmental puzzles that you can solve with items you find in the area, but cleverly plays with the form. In most cases you will need to navigate physically, moving Lee around from a third person perspective, but when a “walker” bursts on to the scene in a scripted event or as a result of your actions, you will need to do your point and click problem solving in a hurry to avoid becoming lunch. These action sequences, sometimes in the form of button mashing quick-time events, often taking place from the first person perspective, thrillingly providing you with probably the closest simulation to what it might feel like to have a zombie inches from your face as you lay dazed and disorientated from a sudden attack.
The action isn't limited to zombie encounters either, quick discussions also impact your interactions with other characters as the conversion system is timed, a la the cult Capcom title Alpha Protocol, and since just like in real life you don't get a second chance to make a first impression, the consequences of what/if you speak are permanent and can have a lasting impact on all your future interactions with that character, apparently even past the end of the first chapter as the game will remember what you said, what you learned, and the lies you told for export into future chapters. A pleasant side effect of this system is that for those viewers and readers of the franchise in its other forms frustrated by the characters seemingly useless secret keeping can exorcise those demons with 'their' Lee.
By turning simple conversations into a potential minefield, The Walking Dead almost never lets up on the player through its sadly brief, but very tightly paced first chapter. An experienced adventure gamer can finish it in less than three hours, but the litany of choices you can make in those three hours leave it well open to replay. Of course, more will be on the way, as the game's other four episodes are distributed through the coming months.
Despite all that this game already does well, it does one more thing better then perhaps a thousand games have done in the past and that is to transport you to the world of The Walking Dead comic. Visually speaking, this game is the comic come to life, a three-dimensional version of artist Charlie Adlard's zombie filled world. Character design, environments, the decayed bodies of the zombies and right down to the blood stains on Lee's shirt, almost any frame of the game could be one from the comic, but in color. Sharp voice acting and animation flesh out the game and a script full of interesting characters, including some that fans might recognize, makes The Walking Dead a worthy addition to the franchise canon and one of the best comic book video games of all time.The Walking Dead: Episode One is out now for PC/Mac, the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade. More Walking Dead on Newsarama: