ESG Review: The Walking Dead: Episode One
The Walking Dead franchise has sure grown exponentially throughout the years. Starting off as a comic series that gained a large following, the franchise then expanded with a wildly successful show on AMC. With the ever-expanding popularity of the franchise, many wondered when the eventual video game tie-in would come about: Telltale Games has answered that call, and have recently released the first episode of their The Walking Dead game adaptation, entitled A New Day. Does this first installment in an ongoing series deliver in bringing the violence, despair, emotion and drama that The Walking Dead is so known for?
Story: 5 out of 5
The Walking Dead: Episode One – A New Day is set in the world of Robert Kirkman’s award-winning comic book series. Lee Everett, a man convicted of a crime of passion, has been given the chance for redemption in a world devastated by the undead. Players will experience life changing events, meet new characters and familiar ones from the original comic, and also visit locations that foreshadow the story of Deputy Sheriff Rick Grimes. The Walking Dead offers a tailored game experience – player actions, choices and decisions affect how the story plays out across the entire series.
Considering this is the first episode of a planned five-episode arc, A New Day mostly serves as an introduction to the characters that you will be familiarizing yourself with throughout the entire arc. That does not mean that what you experience here is completely throwaway though: in fact, what story and plot details that are shown here are very well-done and make you invest yourselves in the characters almost immediately.
A New Day centers on Lee Everett and his relationship with the recently orphaned young girl, Clementine. Lee ends up meeting with the young girl fairly early on in the episode, and from there a deep bond is created between the both, with Lee acting as a surrogate father for the young girl who has been separated from her family as a result of the zombie outbreak. It is a testament to Telltale’s excellent writers that you begin to immediately sympathize and care for the outcomes of these two characters, even without having much knowledge about their lives prior to the zombie apocalypse. From then on, the two help each other as they move from location to location, trying to survive the dangerous new world that has made itself known to them, all the while meeting characters new and old to The Walking Dead fans. Fans will be pleased to know that fan favorites Glenn and Hershel appear, while those with a keen eye will notice another character from the comics (though I will not mention the character in question here, due to possible spoilers for the comics).
Everything culminates to events that occur in a small pharmacy in Macon, Georgia, as well as a motel, with events that tie into what will occur in Episode 2. There may not be an insane amount of backstory here, and nothing for those of you who want an explanation for the zombie outbreak (the mystery surrounding the outbreak is a large part of what makes the franchise so successful), but the excellent character writing and script are enough to keep you compelled for the entire playthrough.
Gameplay: 5 out of 5
It would seem that Telltale Games have learned their lesson from their drastic gameplay changes that were found in their Jurassic Park adaptation, and have mainly returned to the formula that has given them success in the past. What I mean from that is that The Walking Dead thankfully is not riddled with QTE sequences, only using them at an appropriate time when there is high tension in the air. Beyond that, it’s the standard Telltale fare, with point-and-click exploration and dialog trees among the various characters. It’s not anything new, but it’s a formula that Telltale excels at, so why fix what doesn’t require fixing?
One interesting addition to the formula here is that your actions have direct consequences here, and also affect events in future installments. In a world riddled with chaos, there are going to be times when Lee will have to make some hard choices, and depending on the choice you make, you can literally be judge, jury, and executioner for some characters. The results of these decisions affect your relationships with the supporting characters – you may end up earning their trust, or they will consider you a threat. It remains to be seen how long-term these consequences are, but it will certainly be interesting to see how they shape out in future episodes.
Presentation: 4.5 out of 5
Below are the recommended PC specs for The Walking Dead, compared with the PC used to play the game itself:
Recommended PC Specs:
Gaming Rig PC Specs:
|OS: Windows 7||OS: Windows 7 Professional 64-bit, Service Pack 1|
|Processor: Core 2 Duo 2GHz or equivalent||Processor: Intel® Core i7 875k @2.93GHz|
|RAM/Disk Space: 3GB RAM and 2GB Free Space||RAM/Disk Space: 4GB DDR3 RAM and 1TB disk space|
|Video Card: ATI or NVidia card w/ 1024 MB RAM (Not recommended for Intel integrated graphics)||Video Card: NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 460|
Overall the game ran fine with no game-breaking issues occurring through my playthrough. For the most part, the game ran at a smooth 60fps at my resolution of 1680×1050, with the exception of some particularly intense sequences and some random framerate hiccups here and there. Looking back, I wouldn’t chalk this up to a problem with my PC, but with the Telltale game engine, as these are fairly common quips found in Telltale’s games, and most likely a direct result of the games only using a single core: multi-core usage would likely eliminate any technical hiccups in regards to framerate. Audio is also fairly good this time around, with little to no audio hiccups and overall strong voice acting from the cast. On a side note, main protagonist Lee Everett is voiced by Dave Fennoy, who most will recognize as the man who does the voiceover narrations for Hulu – this fact stuck out to me the entire time while playing the game, and made me chuckle at certain points. Hopefully you are not affected in the same way, and don’t wish to hear something along the lines of “The following zombie apocalypse has been brought to you with limited commercial interruption by Telltale Games”.
Outside of that, The Walking Dead is a surprisingly pretty game to look at. Telltale has decided to use a cel-shaded look that closely resembles that of a comic book, which helps keep it grounded with the comic book roots. Some The Walking Dead purists out there may cry foul that the game is in color and not in black and white, but I can see why this was not an option, and those naysayers can simply adjust their monitors for that desired effect if need be. Characters and environments have a mix of realism and comic, which is a nice balance that Telltale keeps throughout the experience. For one, I am glad that the more realistic visuals seen in Jurassic Park have been eschewed here in favor of the semi-cartoonish style that the developer is known for; it lends itself more to the universe of The Walking Dead.
On another note, I am glad to report that my initial fears of The Walking Dead being censored when translated to game form have been lifted: this first episode is filled with the profanity, violence, and gore that the franchise is known for. It may be jarring for longtime Telltale fans to hear the things that the game’s characters say, but it is all being faithful to the established world that these people live in. Now, while this first installment is pretty violent in its own regard, it still doesn’t hold a candle compared to the completely gruesome things that have transpired in the comics. It will most certainly be interesting to see how future installments compare in that regard, and if Telltale is even bold enough to go to those extremely dark places.
Lasting Appeal: 4.5 out of 5
Perhaps the biggest crux here is that, by design, this is only the first installment in a planned series, and as a result, perhaps won’t hold up on its own for most people. Playthroughs of The Walking Dead: Episode One – A New Day can range from around two to three hours, depending on if players go for certain secondary objectives, as well as exhausting all available dialog trees with the game’s supporting characters. What certainly helps in that regard is, as I have mentioned before, that certain dialog options as well as the decisions you have to make affect the outcome of the story. This adds some great replay value as you can be the selfless hero in one playthrough, while possibly being a complete jackass in the other. Luckily, there are three save slots that are available to you, meaning that you can keep a distinct session in each save slot and see how each one goes without tampering with another.
At the end of the day, for an episodic installment, Telltale has changed the game in a way that makes repeat playthroughs of a particular episode a completely viable option. While not everyone will check this feature out, those that do will surely enhance the overall experience and gain some extra entertainment out of it all when it’s all said and done.
The ESG Verdict: 4.75 out of 5
When Telltale Games’ video game adaptation of The Walking Dead was announced back in February of 2011, many fans of the franchise were initially skeptical, myself included. With the release of A New Day, however, I am happy to report that Telltale has started off strong with a solid first installment that introduces interesting and complex new characters, while also blending in established characters from the comics. It will be very interesting to see the journey of Lee Everett and Clementine continue, and see how they survive this brutal new world that they live in with future episodes.
Of course, longtime fans will be interested to see what other ties to the comics these episodes will have, and newcomers to the world of The Walking Dead will find this prequel to be a great starting point to the universe that Robert Kirkman has fleshed out over the years. So long as Telltale keeps up this level of quality with their future installments, The Walking Dead will be an excellent and gory ride that many will be happy to experience.
**This review is based off of the PC edition of the game, with a review copy supplied by the developer. The Walking Dead is available now for purchase on the PC, Xbox LIVE Marketplace and PlayStation Network platforms at various price points**