While a debate still rages over whether the episodic game model actually works, Telltale have been successfully using the formula for the last few years now, bringing the once popular Point and Click adventure genre back to PC and consoles. They’ve achieved this with as much love as Lucasarts originally bestowed on titles like Sam and Max and Monkey Island, but Telltale have recently been branching out and bringing new titles to gamers based on popular franchises from the big screen.
Now they turn their attention to The Walking Dead, most recently made popular by the TV series. But Telltale have opted to go back to source and use Robert Kirkman’s original decade-old Comic book series for inspiration in order to create their new game universe. Instead of using characters from the original stories, Telltale have gone with a new story that runs parallel to the events surrounding the original zombie apocalypse. Atlanta still features, but this time it’s a convicted criminal named Lee Everett who is leaving the city on his way to prison for a crime he may not be entirely guilty of.
When the world goes to hell, the police car Lee is travelling in gets overturned and the adventure begins, providing Lee’s first face to face meeting with the walking dead and leading to his forced adoption of a young girl named Clementine. From here it’s a series of choices and a growing sense of tension as the story plays out.
Choices make up a big part of The Walking Dead’s gameplay, with the game guiding you through many of the set pieces, stopping for important conversations where you’ll need to think carefully about your response, or quicktime-style events where Lee will need to defend himself, attack a Zombie or save someone. There are a few major points where you’ll need to decide whether to save person A or person B and the game ensures that you’ve had enough time to get to know both of them in order to make that decision much harder.
Unlike other games which claim to make a difference depending on your choices, The Walking Dead really does play on this approach and any conversations early on in the game could have far reaching implications, not just in this episode but later in the series as well. Even small lies can backfire if you then go on to mention something which contradicts what you’ve already said.
To show just how important these choices are, the game actually displays the percentage of other gamers who made the same choices as you after the end credits. It’s an interesting little extra which certainly gives you some insight into the way others have played the game.
For those who arrived at The Walking Dead via the TV series, the artistic direction Telltale have taken for their new episodic game series might seem slightly jarring, but it’s actually the most obvious sign that the inspiration for the game actually comes from the original comic book. While characters are all modelled in 3D, a sketchbook style effect has been added to create an odd (but not unappealing) mix of 3D and 2D style, as if the comic had come off the page into 3 dimensions. It’s certainly distinctive and actually adds to the dark, brooding atmosphere of the trapped survivors amidst the uncertainty of their situation.
With so many other zombie based games already saturating the market, The Walking Dead manages to find a fresh take on the subject, just as the source material did. The excellent writing, interesting characters and art style all help to make this a great first episode in a series I look forward to seeing to the end.