Video Game Review: The Walking Dead: Episode One — A New Day
Release Date: April 24, 2012
Distributor: Telltale Games
Microsoft Xbox 360
by Eric Deters
Published: May 3, 2012
I tend to get the idea that we’re in a zombie apocalypse right now. A very different one, mind you, than the one that has been pumped out so often in just about every entertainment medium imaginable. Among the most popular has been Robert Kirkman’s comic and recently television series The Walking Dead. The thing about The Walking Dead is that it’s more concerned with the people surviving the zombie onslaughts than the implications of zombies themselves. It’s a character-driven series through and through, and with Telltale’s latest release, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The studio behind the most-recent “Sam and Max” titles has created a new cast of characters to inhabit Kirkman’s world (along with some familiar faces), and this dialogue and atmosphere-heavy adventure game is a successful spin-off of the comic series.
As of this writing, only Episode One of the “Walking Dead Game” has been released, and it’s titled “A New Day.” The player takes control of Lee Everett, a man sitting in the backseat of a police vehicle when we meet him. The mystery of his past is one of the most compelling things about him, and “A New Day” does a fantastic job of putting him under distressing circumstances concerning that past. Needless to say, the eponymous walking dead make sure that he never makes it to wherever he was going, and he soon stumbles upon a helpless young girl named Clementine. Lee and Clementine are the two constants you can likely expect throughout your journey and the upcoming four episodes in the series, as this is a universe where characters are taken by the walkers left and right. These deaths often play into very tough moral choices throughout the game, and they’re bound to get tougher as the games go on. The key to these moral choices is that they are far from black and white. There are no good or bad characters in the game, just as there are no right or wrong choices. As a player, you decide how you would react in that situation based on your concept of morality, and in turn, it informs Lee’s character. The people that Lee stays with will react to each choice you make, and there isn’t a karma or “Paragon/Renegade” system to keep track of, just choice and consequence, and that is easily the strongest thing the game has going for it.
When you aren’t struggling to make difficult choices or talking to fellow survivors, you can move Lee around with the environment, pick up and use objects, and even defend yourself from the zombies when they get too close for comfort. These defense segments are often the tensest in the game, as they require decent timing and the circumstances Lee is in are always dire. They can be fairly shallow (which is unfortunately a complaint that can be lobbed towards much of the gameplay in “A New Day”), but the tension and animation make up for it.
In regards to where this game fits in in the “Walking Dead” canon, it happens just days after the outbreaks hit Georgia, which means that Rick is in the hospital and won’t be making a surprise, fourth-wall-breaking cameo appearance. The game’s aesthetic is certainly more in line with the comic’s art than the show’s realistic feel, and I feel that it serves the game better. I should first mention that the art (which is almost reminiscent of “Borderlands’” cel-shaded style) is wonderful but never feels too cartoony for the source material. It serves as a great contrast to the violence and the horror of the situation that Lee and Clementine find themselves in, as well as present a very unique take on the universe. That said, there are some animation hiccups here and there, but nothing to get worked up over.
The audio is, for the most part, an incredibly noteworthy part of the experience. I think, in particular, Lee’s voice actor was chosen perfectly, as his sentimentality hits all the right notes, as do his zombie-killing bellows. Clementine was cast well too, but I feel like she didn’t get enough of a role in this episode, which I hope will be remedied later in the series. The two cameo appearances I can remember (there may have been a third, but I’m not well-versed in the series’ mythology) don’t sound much like they do on the show, but that’s due in part to this game having been in development since before the first season aired. The new cast additions do a wonderful job, especially in a tense pharmacy talk-out (it makes more sense in context) near the halfway point of the game. I did notice, however, some pretty bad audio popping, mostly on a particular character, but I’m pretty sure everyone got hit with it at least once. It’s pretty jarring near the end of the game where Lee has a conversation with said character and all that you can hear is audio popping.
The game ends by reminding you of your choices and how many people made the same ones, as well as a sneak peak for the upcoming episode, “Starved for Help.” (I won’t be reviewing individual episodes after this, but when the full product is released, I’ll write something up on that.) The trailer was enough for me to want to play the rest of the series, but this introductory episode does a great job of bringing the “Walking Dead” franchise into the realm of gaming, and I simply cannot wait for Episode Two.