Game Name: The Walking Dead Video Game: Chapter One
Publisher and Developer: Telltale Games
Platform: PC, Mac, PS3, Xbox 360 (iOS in Summer)
Rating: M (for Mature)
Retail Price: $24.99
Category: Licensed Zombie Horror Adventure Game
The zombie meme may be on the verge of playing itself out but, in the right hands, there are surely still interesting tales to tell. Or maybe I should say tell tales since that’s the company who has developed The Walking Dead video game: a five part episodic story in which you find yourself in the shoes of convicted murderer Lee Everett in the early days of a zombie outbreak. With that mention I’ll keep this review completely spoiler free outside of a saying the setting is Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead comic, from Image, and not that of the AMC TV show and you’ll have the opportunity to interact with a couple of well-known characters from the comic books as well.
Telltale’s The Walking Dead Chapter One: A New Day plays out as an interactive movie as opposed to a first or third person action game. It’s important to make note of this because if you go in with the expectations of mowing down zombies in droves, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. Telltale has approached The Walking Dead in a similar style to their other well received episodic games, Sam & Max and Back to the Future. The adventure game trappings aren’t extremely heavy and none of the puzzles have solutions so outrageously bizarre to take you out of the experience or bog down the pacing of the story. The Walking Dead moves along at a much more leisurely pace than most console gamers may be attuned to but this is actually a strength of the design; good horror is filled with tension and the slow burn so when Lee finds himself in a life or death situation – either his own or someone else’s – the scenes pack a little more emotional impact.
Graphically, the game doesn’t scream but overall isn’t hard on the eyes either. The character models are well done although Lee and many of the other male characters have a style reminiscent of the comic art whereas other characters, mainly the females, have a bit softer and more realistic look. It’s not jarring by any means but it is noticeable. Backgrounds and objects are rendered nicely enough so they don’t interfere with the immersion but nothing stands out.
I should point out I wasn’t a fan of Heavy Rain. In all honesty, I played that title for about two hours and just couldn’t get into it due to the feeling I was just mashing buttons or maneuvering the controller without taking part in something. Who knows? It’s still on my shelf and one of these days I’ll probably take it down to give it another shot because I might really be missing out on something. I mention Heavy Rain because there’s a bit of that “I’m just along for the ride” vibe with The Walking Dead. This isn’t a huge issue since, after the first few minutes of the game, the pacing picks up well enough that you’ll be focused more on advancing the story rather than the mechanics used to advance it.
This is a mature title as good doses of graphic violence, F-bombs, and a couple of shocks are tossed in for good measure. This is a zombie game so you can’t be walking in expecting Mario Kart… The story is also dealt with in a mature manner understanding decisions have consequences. Throughout the game’s brisk running time you’ll be faced with making a choice. Many times there will be no right or wrong path and regardless of what you choose someone will die. Telltale has indicated that the choices you make in this episode will have further consequences in later episodes and you do see some of this take place here in the first. I can’t say how far reaching these will be once the fifth and final installment arrives but I’d like to see it play out as Telltale has indicated it will. Once you complete the game (and you may want to give it a second or third go round just to learn more about other characters and the world) you can see what decisions other players have made if your system is connected to the internet.
I do have a couple of issues with The Walking Dead Chapter One. One is more a criticism of the story, and no doubt just a personal take, while the other is a little more concrete.
First of all, the story takes place during the first few hours and days of the zombie apocalypse. This is an aspect of The Walking Dead universe that has been largely unexplored in both the comic and TV show. Honestly, I believe this was a conscious decision on Robert Kirkman’s part because his interest lies in exploring what takes place after civilization as we know it has fallen and societal mores have, for the most part, been obliterated. Thus our main protagonist of the series, Rick, awakes from a coma once the devastation is complete and we only get flashbacks or exposition of what took place at the beginning. Here in chapter one of the video game, our main character, and the fellow survivors, are in the midst of the whole opening crescendo. Yet there’s no real sense of seeing the beginning of the end. Although much of the action takes place in the suburbs outside Atlanta – and in the city of Macon, Georgia – the streets are empty with very few sights or ambient sounds of life or “unlife”. Outside of a few radio broadcasts you’ll hear toward the end of the episode, you’d think the time frame of the game is weeks after the outbreak as opposed to supposedly bearing witness to the proverbial dying of civilization’s light.
Second, and this I believe is a more serious critique, is the price of the episode. With a playtime of ten hours, maybe a touch over that if you get stuck with puzzles, and the fact replaying an episode probably differently doesn’t drastically change the real outcome outside of the cast of characters I think $24.99 may be a wee bit steep for all five episodes. I know there are plenty of people out there who have no problem dropping $59.99 on a title that they’ll complete in ten or fifteen hours as long as they feel those few hours are a real rush. I get that, I really do. I just don’t happen to pitch my tent in that camp for the most part. Still, if the remaining episodes are as good as this first chapter you won’t feel ripped off.
All in all, I liked The Walking Dead Chapter One. The reality is this could have been a real disaster as licensed material more times than not smacks too much of a take the money and run mentality. Telltale has done a nice job crafting the first part of a story that seems like it would fit right at home in the TWD canon. The game is well paced while the adventure game trappings aren’t completely overboard nor do you disconnect by simply watching the screen waiting for the game to tell you what buttons you’ll need to mash next. I can see this new series will appeal to fans of The Walking Dead
I have to say, even with my critiques, I’m looking forward to Chapter Two.