It seemed last year that Telltale Games may have lost some of their goodwill by releasing Jurassic Park which was for the most part lukewarmly received by critics and fans. They shifted their style for that from the classic Telltale adventure game format which has made their Sam and Max seasons as well as Monkey Island and Back to the Future great episodic content. Having completed the first episode of The Walking Dead I can say fear no more Telltale has produced a worthy companion to the comic.
One thing that Jurassic Park was maligned for was relying too heavily on Heavy Rain esque non stop quick time events. Walking Dead really only borrows this for some of the more tense moments (such as backing away from and evading zombies) and for the most part it works pretty well. It seems to me that Walking Dead is the best parts of Back to the Future and Jurassic Park mechanics put together. Most of the time in controls like an adventure game you click on things and pick them up and use them with something else. The puzzles are not really abstract and for the most part are really easy by adventure game standards. Ultimately it helped keep the plot going so that was probably for the best. There are a couple really good sequences that barely count as puzzles but feature some brainpower. Combat sometimes happens a little fast to even notice and it can be out of no where your mouse is now a large crosshair that has to go on a zombie’s head to punch it. Having it be sudden and quick is kind of the way action is in the Walking Dead you think you’re safe and boom a zombie is there for a second and eats your family.
I have to say I didn’t think the story was going to be much good but it was surprisingly entertaining and has me looking forward to the next episode. You play as Lee a man who may or may not have really committed a crime and like most police transfers which never seem to go too well he’s getting transported and it’s zombies that break up this one. You come across Clementine, a little girl waiting for parents who as one could guess aren’t probably coming back. You of course meet up with different groups of survivors in different areas (some places and people of course you will recognize for them to justify the Walking Dead license). Much like what happens in zombie movies you find yourself displaced often and scrounging. Naturally as we go people turn out to be jerks, people get eaten, and those people probably become zombies. The plot is good and works this episode really more sets up Lee and Clementine and begins to give us our group. So far I like em, it’ll be too bad to watch them die and come back.
When you boot up the game it tells you that it changes based upon your decisions. I have to give it credit character choices do influence how people treat you as you run into them and get into sticky most likely zombie filled situations. I lied to a character and he caught me in and called me on it. I was nice to one and he called me a friend (I’m totally invited to his bday party). While some of these choices seem like the are just going to act as accents to dialogue and character treatment through the series you will also have to pick who lives and dies in some scenarios. It’s going to be interesting to see if my choices with this much more serious matter play a big role. I certainly hope so because having to do things like that is kind of what makes Rick Grimes the protagonist in the Walking Dead comic awesome, he has to deal with messed up stuff and in sometimes messed up ways. While Rick isn’t featured at all in the game other cast members seem to drift in and out. It’s a little unnecessary but for the most part unoffensive. I don’t need to have a stop at Hershel’s farm but sure why not I’ll hang out there for a day. They don’t seem to milk which is the best case scenario.
Walking Dead has a neat cell shaded art style that is a nice bit of a departure from Telltale’s usual cartoony look. Sadly on the PC not all the textures looked great, there would be dull blocky textures right next to really goodlooking hi res shaded ones. Also some character models look much better than others. The zombie models themselves aren’t the best but at least stay close to the source material. I had a few framerate hiccups running on the highest setting here and there once there were more than a few characters on screen.
Much like a zombie I am hungry but rather than brains I would like the next episode of the Walking Dead (I completed this one in two hours). It’s not 100% adventure game or 100% quick time events and that’s a good thing. Everything seems to fit well for the universe. The new characters even when tropes feel deep and have some genuine moments. The decision making mechanic cinches it though and actually makes you feel like you are having an impact in the world. It was great too that in the end they showed what percentage of places picked what. This of course is just episode one and hopefully the momentum keeps going. If you are a fan of Walking Dead or any kind of thinking man’s zombie entertainment you’ll do well to give this a shot, in the brain.