While Telltale’s zombie adventure game may be set within Robert Kikman’s zombie infested universe, it’s not to be confused with either the TV series or the comic books, (although the art direction does lean more toward the latter). Telltales’s The Walking Dead is an entirely separate story that tells the story of Lee Everett, a convicted felon on his way to jail before a road accident sees him plunged into a living nightmare.
Playing the role of Lee you barely manage to escape with your life before finding temporary safety in a seemingly deserted house where you happen along Clementine, a little girl who has been in hiding while waiting for her parents to return home. On deciding it’s not safe in the house, (combined with feeling a sudden obligation to protect the child), Lee takes Clementine under his protective arm and you both head out in search of a safe haven away from the ravenous hordes.
Broken down into five episodes, events begin at the point where the zombie apocalypse first unfolds and everything literally goes to hell. Unlike other games in the “zombie genre” the focus is placed more on character relations and the choices made surrounding those relationships as opposed to balls out action. The game is played primarily as a point-and-click adventure game fused with quick time events and a smattering of RPG elements. In more heated moments these choices are set on a timer which adds pressure to an already tenuous situation and can make for some believably intense situations.
And this is where The Walking Dead’s strength lies. Everyone’s life hangs in the balance, not just your own, and a series of tough decisions either make the best of bad situation or turn things for the worse – and when that happens people usually die. During your journey your choices will decide the fate of others as well as your own, and for as many friends you make, you’ll glean an equal amount of enemies.
While Lee at this stage remains, for the most part, a mystery himself, other characters that you meet along the way all have their own story to tell or secrets to hide. It’s through the use of careful observation and conversational choices that you can quickly ascertain weaknesses and strengths in any survivors you come across. Studying character reactions is perhaps the most important aspect of The Walking Dead as it enables you to filter out those who pose a threat to you or the group or discover invaluable members in a situation where two pairs of hands are better than one.
Each choice you make can have far reaching consequences and a simply nod of agreement, a lie told or a raised voice can change the tide of events in a heart beat. Gaining peoples trust and loyalty are paramount to staying alive, however raise their suspicions and you might find yourself in a very difficult situation – a scenario you’ll really not want to find yourself in. There are no real right or wrong decisions as far as the game goes, that is something Telltale’s have left you, the player, to decide and that is what makes The Walking Dead so compelling.
What sets the game off perfectly though is the tone. Throughout there is a constant sense of dread mixed with feelings of loss and at times even despair, and so rather than trying to snap its audience to attention with cheap scares, The Walking Dead instead chooses to draw you in with a sense of desperation in trying to find a solution to an almost impossible situation.
While fans of the comic and/or TV series may be disappointed in not seeing many well known characters from either of these mediums, Telltale’s characterisation and story has been wonderfully sown together, resulting in a tale that boasts many different layers and a depth rarely seen in video games; which should put to bed any fears fans of the series may have had of it being just another zombie basher trying to cash in on the franchise’s success.
My only real gripe at this stage is that interaction with each environment is a little thin on the ground, as are the puzzles – which themselves aren’t exactly the most strenuous of challenges. Whether or not Telltale have considered this with regards to each new episode remains to be seen, so for now we’ll just have to wait and see if they intend to present players with something a little more challenging in an environment that – in stark contrast to the story and character interaction – isn’t so ‘two-dimensional’.
Nevertheless, when every other zombie game is trying to find new and amusing ways to make heads pop with an array of different weaponry, Telltale’s entrant to the genre takes pleasure in reminding us why we’re both equally fascinated and terrified at the idea of the zombie apocalypse. The Walking Dead: A New Day is an excellent slice of interactive story-telling that both impresses and terrifies in equal measure, and as part one in a five part series it’s a very promising start indeed.