The first game I played from the people of Telltale Games was the first episode of Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Adventures on my Xbox 360. They helped popularize a genre that hadn’t seen much success since the late 1990s: the point-and-click adventure. After tugging at the heartstrings of geeks with interactive adventures based on beloved properties like LucasArts’ Monkey Island series and Steven Spielberg’s Back to the Future and Jurassic Park, they have taken on a darker route with the first episode of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead.
The Walking Dead, available on Steam, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3, is based on the popular comic series which was later adapted into a hit television series for AMC. Rather than adapt the story of Rick Grimes and his family again, the game goes farther back into its timeline around the beginnings of the outbreak. It is told through Lee, a professor convicted of murder, which plays a significant role in the core of the game. The game introduces its mechanics with a simple conversation between Lee and a sheriff’s deputy, and then suddenly there is a car accident and he is having his first zombie encounter.
We are now in a time where games featuring the undead feel one and the same, where studios try to capture the same influence Resident Evil carried with it in the late 1990s, and Left 4 Dead in the late 2000s. Even the hit Call of Duty series has a bonus mode that crossed tower defense with first-person shooting. The Walking Dead, thankfully, brings a newer perspective to games and zombies. In true Telltale fashion, it’s an interactive story, focusing more on characters, relationships, and overall decision-making than a direct conflict with the monsters.
What I enjoyed about Episode 1 of this five-episode series is how we learn a lot about Lee without knowing too much about him. His first interaction is with a young girl named Clementine, whose parents were away and it is presumed did not survive the outbreak. Lee offers his help, and the player can guide their relationship as they travel for help. There are a number of environmental objects to interact with, and while some objects come into immediate use, others are stored away for potential use later in the story. While I didn’t get to play much of Back to the Future or any of Jurassic Park, it would seem that the focus of the game is the player’s snap decision-making as opposed to the puzzle solving and logical implementation seen in other point-and-click games. Every response to an action, a question, or statement has a time limit on it. Any non-player character interacting with Lee will take account the player’s decision, which will either benefit them or hurt them later. I hastily had one character punch another and towards the end of the episode, I paid for it.
There are actual confrontations with the zombies in timed presses of a button and highlighting the cursor in the right area for interaction. Sometimes you’ll mash a button until a meter fills up, and hopefully you’ll push the right button after that or become a zombie’s next meal. Nothing too difficult, but it is definitely a secondary mechanic compared to the interaction with other characters. The zombie scenes add a lot of tension and a sense of urgency and fear when it’s time to accomplish an objective.
There is a new cast of survivors, each with a different attribute in mind. They don’t behave in very distinctive ways, but they are not empty in personality either. They simply survive “until the whole thing blows over.” There are familiar faces who play important roles as opposed to a simple cameo. I think the one surprise is that these particular characters have, so far, seen the most sympathy from me compared to most of the comic and TV series’ leads. It is that sympathy that makes the decision-making even more integral, since it can be assumed relationships will change and roles will come into question.
I had little interest in the game since I’m not great at these kinds of games, and I am a casual fan of The Walking Dead comics, not so much the TV series, but if my input and direction help drive the story as I would live it, I’ll gladly stick around for longer. I suppose if I took issue with the game, it’s that sometimes the timer for the decision-making is a little too fast for my liking, and the lack of the wonderful and intense TV theme. Regardless, I hope the rest holds up.