Friday, May 25, 2012

The Walking Dead: A New Day Review

The first episode of Telltale's The Walking Dead is out now, and it manages to set the bar pretty high right out of the gate.

The game's story takes place before the events of The Walking Dead comics and television show, during the initial zombie outbreak.  In other words, it takes place at a time when the main protagonist of the other "The Walking Dead" media, Rick Grimes, is still in the hospital.

This timeline change has allowed Telltale to follow a new protagonist, Lee Everett, a man who was convicted of murder, but now is free among the rest of the population, just trying to survive the zombie apocalypse.  At the beginning of the game, he encounters a young girl named Clementine, who he reluctantly takes into his care due to the fact her parents are missing.

Together, they try to survive by trying to form allegiances with anyone who is still alive, as that will greatly improve their chances of survival. Although the game centers on a new character, Lee meets characters from the comic and television show along the way. The characters Lee meets are respectful to the comic book's timeline for the most part, and their appearance in the game isn't just for pleasing fans of The Walking Dead. The way they are portrayed in the game actually makes sense within the universe of The Walking Dead.

There has been much said about Telltale's choice of Quick Time Events (QTE's) in Jurassic Park, and they do return here.  However, they don't happen that often, and they are used in a way that they heighten the tension of the game.  Most people will be pleased to know that QTE's are not the main focus this time around. You gain direct control of Lee with the left stick (or keyboard) any action selections are controlled by using the right stick (or mouse) to move a cursor around the screen until you find the object you want to manipulate.  In this sense, it is very much like an adventure game.  There is also a verb coin that pops up when you can manipulate an object.  You choose what you wish to do with this object by choosing one of four slices of this coin.  You may choose the slice of the coin to look at an object, use an object, or in some cases, use an object from your inventory on an object.  This game does feature the return of an inventory system, which is a staple of adventure games.  The items show up in a bar along the side of your screen, but as I stated earlier, the items are selected through the verb coin.  Adventure gamers will instinctively try to select the item directly, but the new system is easy to use, so it shouldn't take long to get used to it.

The inventory system also allows for more standard action sequences rather than QTE's.  Lee will be able to use objects on the walking dead at points in the game.  Like all other media in The Walking Dead universe, the game is highly character based rather than a zombie apocolypse slasher.  However, like the comics and the television series based on it, there will be moments where it is inevitable that Lee and his team will have to put some of the walking dead out of their misery.

As this game is mostly about interactions between characters, dialog options are also available in this game, also selectable with the same verb coin system as object manipulation.  Appropriately, the dialog in the calm moments is similar to a traditional adventure game, where you can take your time and choose what you wish to say.  However, in tense moments, there is a timer where you have to choose what you wish to say quickly or Lee will remain silent.

The most touted feature of The Walking Dead is that the game remembers the actions you make and the dialog choices you choose and tailors your game around it.  Unlike some things that have been added to adventure games in the past, this is not a gimmick.  It adds a depth to the game that is unprecedented in Telltale's games. The characters will remember what you say to them, and the game will remember the choices you make.  This is true not just for the episode you are playing, but in future episodes as well.  If someone dies in episode 1, they will remain dead throughout the remaining four episodes.  Someone to whom you make a friend or an enemy will stay a friend or enemy in upcoming episodes.  The options you choose are saved to your memory slot, whether on a computer or a console (as the next episodes on console are considered DLC, making each episode use a single memory slot), so if you have two or more game saves, each save will be independent of each other. 

The voice over work and music is always a high point in Telltale's games, and the quality continues here.  Bay Area Sound handles these duties once again, and they shine as usual.  Jared-Emerson Johnson has composed a score that is fittingly eerie yet has a adventurous feel, and fits the mood perfectly.  The voice over work is excellent.  Lee's voice captures the complexity of his character, and the side characters fit their roles as well.  As usual, some familiar names to Telltale fans have returned, as Nikki Rapp (Morgan Le Flay from Tales of Monkey Island) is here in a role that will be familiar to fans of the comics and TV show.

The first episode of The Walking Dead stands it's own with the best games Telltale has made.  The story is engaging, the music and voice overs are excellently done, the puzzles are interesting, and the new controls are easy to use, and make the game fun to play.  The branching story system of The Walking Dead is the best thing to happen to Telltale's episodic gaming structure since they switched to monthly episodes with Sam & Max Season One. It helps give the entire season a feeling of cohesiveness as a complete game in a way that was never there before.

Final Verdict:
4½ out of 5

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