The Walking Dead opens in a police car driving away from the big city. You play the man in the back seat, an African American gentleman who may or may not have killed a sitting U.S. Senator. The nameless policeman has an engaging conversation about how he can tell who is and isn't guilty based solely on what they have to say. All the while, our "hero" is noticing police cars, ambulances, helicopters and other emergency workers speeding in the opposite direction. Something bad is going on.
Despite knowing exactly what was going on, I found myself riveted to the computer screen. This was the moment I breathed a sigh of relief. The Walking Dead is a return to form after Telltale's miserable Jurassic Park experiment
. Any skepticism I had going in was put rest with this expertly crafted introduction. Thankfully the rest also holds up nicely.
As I mentioned, this is Telltale's first adventure game post-Jurassic Park. After an otherwise strong line-up of point and click adventure franchises (including Sam & Max, Monkey Island, Back to the Future and more), all of the company's good will was thrown out the window with the hugely disappointing Jurassic Park. Instead of playing a compelling adventure game, we were stuck in a hell filled with loathsome quick-time events. It was going to take a mighty good game to make us forget about Jurassic Park.
The good news is that The Walking Dead: A New Day is that kind of game. Although it may look like it suffers from many of the same problems as Jurassic Park, the truth is that Telltale managed to fix everything and completely right the ship. This is a massively exciting adventure game that takes its cues from both new and old school point and click classics. It's also a great ambassador for the comic book of the same name, in a way that the hugely successful TV show can only dream of.
You play all of episode one as the same character, a mild-mannered felon named Lee. After escaping a nasty car wreck, our hero is forced to defend himself against an army of undead walkers. He quickly finds his way into a suburban development, where he meets up with Clementine. This eight year old girl has been surviving alone in her tree house for days, so Lee takes her under his wing to keep her safe.
Before long the two survivors meet up with a couple of guys trying to steal a car. They talk about a family farm, which seems like the perfect spot to lay low. Here we're introduced to even more people, which send us on an adventure full of puzzle solving, zombie killing and surviving. All told, the game has five or six major locations, something that keeps the pacing up and the action moving.
Occasionally we're forced to go into point and click adventure mode, where we search around the environments picking up inventory items and using them in a very specific order. The puzzle solving here is fairly light, but it does break up long stretches of nothing but dialog and zombie killing. There are two major set pieces in the final act that offer most of the game's puzzles, which largely consists of helping a group of helpless survivors as they try to figure out what their next move should be. This is Telltale in their element.
We all know that this developer can craft a good puzzle or two, but it turns out that they know a thing or two about tension-filled action scenes. While many of the exciting moments Jurassic Park fell flat, I couldn't take my eyes off the screen for a moment of The Walking Dead. Gone are the never-ending stream of quick time events, they have been replaced by a cursor that allows you to aim shots and interact with the environment. The few times you are in real peril are both significant and memorable battles. There's a real sense of dread you normally don't get out of this style of adventure game.
At the same time, this is not an action game. The mechanics sometimes resort to mindless button mashing, something that is all too familiar to Jurassic Park survivors. Most of the game involves you talking to strangers and figuring out how you can help. There are only a few times in the game where you can full control over Lee's actions, and even then you're doing little more than pointing and clicking. In a lot of ways you're just along for the ride, pushing the story forward with your actions.
Much like Heavy Rain, your actions can permanently change the rest of the storyline. Sometimes this happens in subtle ways, like you offering up information about yourself that makes other think less of you. Other times you will have to choose who to save in a short amount of time. These are major plot points that can change based on what you do, which suggests that you'll need to play through the game multiple times in order to see all of the variations.
All this is brought together by the wonderful writing. I found Lee's character believable and sympathetic, despite the hint of his murderous past. The rest of the supporting cast is also strong, offering a number of quippy one-liners to lighten the admittedly dark mood. Unfortunately, not everybody is as smart as the script. There's a woman who literally can't figure out how to use batteries, the type of thing that left me scratching my head.
Instead of being based on the popular AMC television show, Telltale's Walking Dead takes its cues from the graphic novel. The characters and the world have a hand drawn look, similar to what it would look like in the comic. Fans of the show will recognize a few familiar faces and locations, but there's no continuity between the two adaptations. This allows Telltale to tell a completely different story with a new cast, which in a lot of ways is better than what was on TV.
There will be people who don't like the game's limited interaction. This isn't the type of game where you can pick up anything and perform a thousand awesome looking combos. This is a slow-paced adventure where you mostly look around, choose what you're going to say and add items to your inventory. It's an interactive comic book. Anybody looking for fast action is better off tracking down a copy of Left 4 Dead.
The Walking Dead: A New Day is a riveting first episode that will impress fans of the source material. With strong writing, a few genuinely emotional moments and a number of real scares, Telltale's newest is also one of its best. I can't wait to see what happens to Lee and this ragtag group of survivors. If this first episode is any indication, The Walking Dead is the must-play zombie game of the year.