The Walking Dead. First a cult hit comic series, taking geekdom by storm at the end of 2003, then it went mainstream after AMC turned it into a phenomenally successful television series in the fall of 2010. Now, the franchise is almost a household name, transcending its inner-circle popularity to become a bonafied hit in the entertainment world. Although I’m sure timing has had a lot to do with it, considering pop culture’s rabid love for the undead in recent years. Nevertheless, it just makes sense that we have a video game tie-in as well. There have been plenty of zombie games this console generation, from full-fledged titles like Valve’s Left 4 Dead and Capcom’s Dead Rising, to secondary modes in other franchises like Call of Duty’s Zombies mode (which has become just as popular, if not more so, than the core game itself). Can yet another game based on the undead eek out a spot amongst gamers hearts, or has the genre taken its final shot to the head?
Even though the genre has not worn thin on me personally quite yet, I will admit to some reservations when The Walking Dead was announced. Developed by Telltale Games - who is best known for bringing Sam & Max back to life, as well as the point and click genre itself - it was hard for me to see something that just screams spooky action be set in a point and click adventure. Especially when looking at the developer’s mixed bag of other recent intellectual property adaptations (I’m looking at you Jurassic Park). Fortunately, those concerns were laid to rest shortly after beginning the first chapter of Episode One.
"I have to hand it to Telltale, even though I had my doubts, they pulled this off in fine fashion."
Much like most of Telltale’s catalog, The Walking Dead is an episodic point and click adventure, although it also has some minor action elements, along with a thick RPG aspect the permeates throughout. While the setting is firmly in the same universe as AMC’s series, you won’t be playing with Rick or Shane. Instead, players take on the role of Lee Everett, a convicted murderer who ends up free as the apocalypse begins. Soon he meets up with arguably one of the most adorable children ever to grace a video game, Clementine. With her parents presumed dead, Lee takes her with him, acting as her guardian as they try to figure out what is going on and what to do next. Their journey will see them cross paths with some familiar faces, and players will get to see some of the prequel events that took place with their favorite characters from the show.
As this is a point and click adventure, Lee will interact with his surroundings via an on-screen reticule. While several have tried in the past, I think Telltale has truly mastered the mechanics, which has typically been the biggest stumbling block when bringing the P&C genre to consoles. The reticule is large, and usable items are highlighted when the reticule goes near them, so the old school pixel hunting is pretty much a thing of the past. Maneuvering Lee is performed by the left stick, very similar to the Resident Evil franchise. When it comes time for an action scene, such as battling a zombie, it shifts to what can be best described as an amalgam of traditional P&C and QTEs (quick time events). It may sound a little odd, but in practice it works very well, and adds a level of tension that is needed given the subject matter.
What keeps the game interesting is the RPG elements threaded throughout the story. As Lee and Clem proceed, they will meet up with other survivors, and the dialog with each is incredibly important. Lee will develop relationships, garnering trust from those he’s with, as well as upsetting others. Telling the truth or telling a lie, each is important, and the other NPCs will note your responses, which will affect how the game plays out. Additionally, hard choices will have to be made, and some will be met with disapproval from the rest. At times, multiple characters will be under attack, and Lee will essentially have to choose which one will live and which one will die (since he can’t save them all). This directly impacts how the story will unfold, and will change the overall plot.
Telltale opted to go the cell-shaded route for the art style; a great call in my opinion. It helps give the game that interactive graphic novel feel, perfect given the franchise’s comic book roots. An added, and probably unintentional, benefit is it helps mask the animation issues. Often times the animations felt...off. Disjointed. Fortunately it isn’t as prominent as it could have been, and it certainly doesn’t detract from the overall experience.
I have to hand it to Telltale, even though I had my doubts, they pulled this off in fine fashion. They’ve taken what they do best and managed to fit it to a franchise that would seem to be better suited for a different genre altogether. The RPG side of the equation adds a whole new layer to the experience, keeping the focus on the emotional side of surviving the zombie outbreak, just like the source material. And even though this is only the first of five episodes, the story as a whole is a real treat, especially for fans of the television series (like myself). Seeing aspects of the narrative that tie directly to the show fleshes out the experience for both. If the rest of the episodes turn out like this one, then The Walking Dead will be a must-have companion piece for AMC’s TV hit.
Release date : 2012-04-21
Publisher : Telltale Games
Developer : Telltale Games
Gameplay : Survival Horror
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