This is a review of the PS3 version.
Telltale has a specific way of making games. They found their niche in the Adventure market, and since then, they have refined their style in various ways. Telltale went from the simple point-and-click design (Sam and Max) to creating a more dynamic way to interactive environment (Jurassic Park, Back to the Future). Telltale makes narrative and puzzle driven games, they are not as concerned with action as other developers and they can be a bit jarring to gamers who are not use to the Telltale style. I want you to know, that before going into The Walking Dead: Episode 1, you should not expect a Resident Evil or a Dead Rising. This game is driven by narrative and choices made by the player with the other characters. Don’t go in expecting a third-person shooter. Ok?
Telltale recently put out the Jurassic Park adventure game a few months back, and it was met with negative reviews. It was a shame because the Jurassic Park name is something that many people feel close to. So, when I heard that The Walking Dead game was going to be put out by Telltale, I was very nervous. I love the show and the graphic novels are great (though, I haven’t invested that much time into reading comics). I was willing to give the first episode a try (only five bucks), even if Telltale was showing signs of losing it with Jurassic Park. Well, after playing through the first episode in one sitting, I can safely say that The Walking Dead: Episode 1 is worth your time.
The Walking Dead: Episode 1 revolves around the character of Lee Everett, who at the beginning, is being taken out of Atlanta because he has been arrested for murder. As the cop and Everett talk (or don’t, depending on your choices), the car hits a walker (zombie) and is thrown off the side of the road. Everett is forced to break out of the vehicle, and makes his way towards some houses. While searching through one of the homes, he comes across a little girl, who becomes his companion in this newly, dangerous land of the south.
The gameplay of The Walking Dead is something similar to what was created for the Jurassic Park game. Your character is able to move around certain parts of the screen and interact with selects elements in the environment. You choose what to do with the reticle that you move around with the right thumbstick, and then when you find an interactive area, you select the corresponding button (A, B, Y, X, or Playstation equivalent). Your movement is controlled by the left thumbstick, but you do not have the ability to roam anywhere you want. In fact, in some instances, you don’t control Lee’s movements at all. In these moments, which usually deal with a zombie attacking you, you move the reticle around the screen to find a spot to kick the zombie or grab a weapon to do some damage.
Those zombie occurrences are not frequent; the majority of the time playing you will be interacting with characters and talking with them about their lives. When you talk to a character, you are given dialogue choices and sometimes they are timed so that you have to choose quickly. Depending on how you respond to the characters will affect their moods towards you as well as their loyalty. At key moments in the story, you are asked to make decisions that will end up with a character dying. No matter which person you choose, you will have to deal you decision as well as the attitudes of those around you.
Of course, when you are not killing zombies or trying to make every survivor adore/hate you, there are puzzles to solve. None of them of entirely hard, they mostly consist of finding items in the area and giving them to the people who need said items. One example is that you have to find batteries for a radio at one point (though, it’s entirely optional) and then you have to fiddle with the radio to get it working. The puzzles are basic and not challenging, but the game is not challenging as a whole. Telltale obviously wanted you to experience a storyline that you have an effect on with your choices. Everything else feels secondary, but not in a bad way.
Graphically the game looks like it WALKED right out of the comics. Telltale applied cel-shading to their engine to give the game a comic book look (say that ten times fast). Telltale’s games are not the prettiest and if you look hard enough you can still see some of that ugliness lurking underneath. But, the cel-shading is a breath of fresh air for them and even though it’s not an overhauled engine, it looks fantastic.
As much as I loved this game, I had a few issues. For starters, the frame rate drops quite a bit when the scenes change. This is not surprising because both Back to the Future and Jurassic Park had this problem, so I guess it’s in the coding for the engine. Controlling Lee is difficult as well and sometimes I felt I was in an old Resident Evil game, but it didn’t happen enough to ruin anything for me. The voice work, while mostly great, is noticeably bad with some characters. Duck, a child that you meet, is face slapping-ly bad and his mother is no better (maybe it runs in the family?). These few issues do not take anything away from the otherwise enjoyable experience with The Walking Dead: Episode 1.
I had a great time with the first entry in this five part series. I enjoyed being able to be sucked into a narrative that revolved around a conflicted character with a mysterious past. The girl that you find at the beginning became my friend, and through my actions, she started to trust me. I felt that I was actually developing relationships with these characters and affecting the story. I actually felt that my choices were more important in these three hours than say a game of Mass Effect.
I highly recommend The Walking Dead: Episode 1 to those who like adventure games and those who enjoy The Walking Dead (comics and show). It’s not for everyone, or at least, it’s not for someone who is expecting to lay waste to hordes of zombies. This is about the story and character arcs, which is refreshing to someone like myself who enjoys those elements in a video game. It’s only five bucks for PS3 owners, but those on the PC will have to buy the whole season up front. The Xbox 360 version should be out this week, so make sure y’all get your hands on it. Now I’ll go back to wondering who I could’ve saved instead. Damn you, video games.