BitSnark

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The Walking Dead: Episode One Review (360)

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What makes The Walking Dead so enjoyable? Well-written characters, a tense scenario, stylish violence and ‘Shut up Dale’ would be the main four things I’d say. Well, Telltale Games inaugural episode of The Walking Dead goes three for four with the potential promise of the fourth being fulfilled in a later episode.

Well, with any luck anyway.

The Walking Dead: Episode One, subtitled ‘A New Day’, casts the player as Lee Everett, an academic turned criminal who begins the episode en route to prison; locked in the back of a police squad car.

As you might reasonably expect, things go to shit really quite quickly and before you know it, your leg is all fucked up and you’re hobbling out of the smouldering wreck of the squad car trying to find some sort of salvation in a downtown suburb whilst a great throng of undead lerch after you, desperate for a spot of noms.

The Walking Dead plays in a very similar fashion to Telltale Games other titles, with the player character wandering around a set scene, interacting with objects and striking up conversations with NPC’s to further the plot. The puzzle solving element which is prevalent in the majority of their output, has been toned down here in favour of a focus on conversation and character development.

And it’s here really, in the quality of it’s writing that the Walking Dead dramatically separates itself from its Telltale stablemates. The Walking Dead legitimately feels like a three or four long episode of the popular TV show, rather than a pale imitation of it and that largely is down to just how well the characters are fleshed out and how effective the dialogue is.

The way you chinwag in The Walking Dead is through the selection of a number of dialog options in a similar manner to how you would in games like Dragon Age or Mass Effect. The real kicker here though, is in some cases if you don’t reply quickly enough, events will continue on around you – often forcing spontaneous and rushed responses as you would expect in a scenario where the undead are trying to turn you into a Happy Meal. It’s all really quite great and refreshing change from what has come before.

Speaking of conversation though, lies *will* come back to bite you in the ass as a result of your actions often carrying significant consequences with them. For example, if you begin lying to folks about certain aspects of your past, when these past transgressions come to light, people start casting doubt on you and trust you less; which as well as resulting in different dialog, perfectly echoes the character dynamic of the TV show and graphic novel, with everybody suppressing their darkest secrets in the face of prioritising survival.

Indeed, many of the survivor’s that you come across run the whole gamut of the human condition; you’ll encounter everything from the orphan looking for a place of security in a world she doesn’t understand, through to the terribly over-protective asshole father, who doesn’t want to let you within ten feet of his daughter, knows your darkest secrets and hates your face. This is the main reason why The Walking Dead fiction succeeds so well as a TV show and as a graphic novel; it never shies away from showing what desperation does to the human condition. It makes people paranoid, violent, insular, scared and many other emotions to boot and it’s this whole range of human emotion in a broken world, that Telltale Games have been able to replicate, pretty much wholesale, in The Walking Dead.

A nice little surprise in the game is the revelation that this appears to take place before the events in TV show/graphical novel, so expect to bump into some familiar faces prior to their journey with Rick & Co later on. It’s a nice touch and helps to make the world seem that much bigger and interconnected.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that all you do is talk though. While you do a fair chunk of talking and chewing the fat, there is a fair bit of action to be getting on with too. The combat system is not a twitch-based system like you would expect to find in the likes of Dead Rising and Left 4 Dead, but rather it employs a mixture of the dreaded QTE’s and cursor motion based systems.

Before you cringe yourself into the floor, let me just say that the QTE system actually makes sense here. Rather than watching the character on screen do like a seventeen-thousand hit combo that can be triggered by just pressing ‘A’ (*cough* Asura’s Wrath *cough*), the Walking Dead employs the system sensibly. For example, if you’re struggling to prevent a zombie from going all-you-can-eat buffet on your face, you tap ‘A’ until you free yourself and then using the cursor to move your arms around, you snatch a pin-hammer from the hands of a trembling on-looker and proceed to aim at the skull of the rotting cadaver, whilst pressing ‘B’ to mash said hammer into the cranium of the undead until they stop moving. They tweak the formula a smidgen between encounters to keep things fresh, but ultimately given the distinctly cinematic experience that Telltale has crafted here, the system holds up and feels both effective and satisfying.

Despite the pleasing graphical novel inspired cel-shaded art style, make no mistake; The Walking Dead is a violent game that pulls few punches. Rather than the splashes of blood and bodies clumsily splashed in blood as seen in Dead Rising, violence in The Walking Dead is almost always a prolonged and intimate affair, with lingering graphic scenes of folks getting torn to shreds, eaten and of course, zombies being offed in increasingly ultraviolent ways.

As the episode reaches it close, a real kicker of a little feature appears. It’s an end of episode report which shows you the percentage of other players who did exactly what you did at key points throughout the game. Really, it’s something that all games should have that trumpet the ‘choice’ card. For instance; were you a complete asshole who got somebody killed? Well, 22% did the same as you – so you can all take seats in the asshole boat together.

Another cool little gimmick and one that precedes the end credits is the next episode preview.

Done in the style of TV show, ‘Next time on The Walking Dead’ shows you a sizzle reel of what you’ll be encountering in the next episode but most ingeniously, hints towards the potential consequences of choices that you have made in this episode. Genius stuff indeed.

The Walking Dead: Episode 1 is *easily* worth the 400 MSP admission price. For that, you’re essentially getting an experience that cribs all the best aspects of the TV show and still manages to pack in enough gameplay to keep you occupied. I’ll look forward to future episodes and to hopefully fulfilling my goal of telling Dale to shut the hell up. The twat.

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Written by bitsnark

May 3, 2012 at 4:25 pm

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