May 03 2012
Spoiler Alert: I’ll do my best to refrain from spoiling plot details, but as the gameplay and the plot are wound tightly together it will be difficult. You have been warned.
Before jumping into the undead apocalypse I should mentioned that, like many, I really love zombie lore. I’ve seen the movies, played the games, read the books; I’m an apocalyptic aficionado if you will. I mention this because I’m of the belief that there is no such thing as an objective review.
Sure I could end a review with an official “8 out of 10” or give it a decimal “8.5!” to make it look legit, but unless I fork over some sort of rubric any number I create is arbitrary. I’m also a fan of AMC’s The Walking Dead, so my brain will most likely draw subconscious similarities between the game and the show. There is no point in pretending that I have no expectations when sitting down to play a zombie game, so I’m going to be honest about it. I was psyched to sit down and play Telltale’s The Walking Dead, and I really wanted to like it. This was my mindset as I sat down for my first play through of Episode One: A New Day.
As I was playing the PC version, the first thing I noticed was that the mouse was moving laughably slow. Even after turning the sensitivity to maximum, the controls felt sluggishly manageable at best. When I checked the button mapping, I figured I had found the problem. In lieu of a keyboard and mouse layout for the PC version, the control screen had a big old Xbox 360 controller on it. Either it was optimized for the 360 or something was wrong with my mouse, either way I chalked it up as just another additional apocalypse handicap and went on my way.
The art style was clearly derived from the original Robert Kirkman graphic novels. The dark twitchy lines that accentuate the characters and environment definitely make The Walking Dead feel less like a game and more like a moving comic book. There isn’t too much color, but it’s much more than the real-is-brown attitude that we’ve seen in recent years. There is also a distinct lack of an ambient soundtrack, which to be honest, is a good thing. Instead, the vast majority of game sounds come from within the game’s environment, adding a realistic tension to the game. Ever listen to just the emergency broadcast system? It’s creepy, especially when the lights are off and the headphones are on, with digital crows “cawing” in the background. I prefer the ominous ambient silence of the growing apocalypse to any sort of phony soundtrack trickery.
Much like the sound, the gameplay also has a somewhat natural feel to it. Essentially the game plays out like a series of scenes, with gameplay specifically tailored to propel the story through each scene. If I have to solve a puzzle, my character will most likely get to walk around, but if I’m stuck somewhere I may only be able to speak to get through a situation. Even when my characters actions are limited, I can still make important gameplay decisions as a player. Without giving anything away, I was impressed with the effects a single conversation could have on the actual game itself. Not every decision is life or death, but each one does have a specific and measureable effect on the gameplay. I wasn’t just controlling Lee, the main character, but the whole story though Lee’s actions. Because of this I was finally able to make some of the decisions I yell at other fictional characters for never making in situations like this. When given the option to travel during the day, or rest and travel at night, you can bet your ass we got moving before the sun went down.
Babysitter Level: Badass
While there is no real “core” gameplay, many of the scenes in the game follow the point-and-click formula, with this item going here and that one going there. But usually they are mixed in with some of the games conversation challenges and choices, allowing you to solve some basic puzzles while tending to some of the group’s “people problems.”For example, at one point I found myself with two energy bars and way more than two hungry people, it was my choice in deciding how they were distributed, allowing me to make the decision between making new friends and keeping old ones. Of course I could just lie to people as well, but I learned quickly the difficulty in keeping my lies straight. NPCs remember what you tell them, lie and you may find yourself having to cover-up that lie later or get flat out caught lying to their face. The normal puzzles were everything you would expect from a game like this, but the social puzzles really made the game interesting; everyone knows the living are more dangerous in an apocalypse than the dead.
No time for niceties in my apocalypse
Yeah, yeah, yeah, but what about the zombies? I mean let’s face it, everything I’ve mentioned can be perfect, but if the zombies are lame and unthreatening it’s all for naught. Without spoiling any of the specific scenes, let’s just say that each individual zombie encounter is a unique experience. It may be customary to think of a zombie game as nothing more than a shooting gallery with bloated undead targets, where players mow down endless waves with a machine gun or torch them with homemade Molotov cocktails, but in The Walking Dead each individual zombie encounter is its own tension filled nightmare. It might seem silly as it’s really all just clicking, but there are in-combat decisions to be made; do I keep hitting this zombie or do I reach for this weapon? Each fight with a zombie was a fight for my character’s life.
Well Clementine, looks like it’s time to grow-up
Remember my initial interpretations of the game’s sluggish controls? Well they were made before I had encountered any real zombie combat. After having some trouble accurately clicking with a zombie bearing down on me, the controls seemed much more deliberate than I originally thought, like it was taking the weight of my character’s arm into account. Either this was deliberate or I invented it in my head, but either way the extra weight on the cursor added to the tension in some scenes. After my first zombie encounter I felt that the controls gave me an unnecessary handicap, after the second I didn’t mind, and by the third I preferred it. Some games use story to propel gameplay, but The Walking Dead seems to use the gameplay to tell the story. I found myself taking sides with people because I liked them, not because it would give me some tactical gameplay advantage. Considering there are four more episodes to be released, in my opinion, The Walking Dead is well worth the $25 bucks I spent on it.
More Unreal Posts
- The Value of Less Restrictive Gameplay
- The Morning Link: Why you Secretly Want a Zombie Apocolypse
- Unreal Game Review: Telltale’s The Walking Dead – No Time Left
- Unreal Game Review: Telltale’s The Walking Dead – Long Road Ahead
- Debate of the Day: Why Can’t We Have Good Apocalypse Shows?