The Walking Dead: Episode 1 Review

The Walking Dead: Episode 1 is bloody, brutal, and hard to put down.

This is not your average Telltale Games adventure. The developer best known for all-ages affairs like the Back to the Future and Tales of Monkey Island franchises has nimbly waded into the guts and gore of the zombie apocalypse with the first episode of its five-part take on The Walking Dead. A New Day is chock-full of all the bursting brains, eaten entrails, and sudden deaths of leading characters that feature prominently in both Robert Kirkman's award-winning comic series and the freewheeling TV show adaptation. Marty McFly might not approve, but you certainly will if you have even the slightest taste for good zombie stories…and a strong stomach to deal with the many gross-out moments.

Luckily, Lee had been laying down some hardwood flooring when the zombie burst into his house.
Luckily, Lee had been laying down some hardwood flooring when the zombie burst into his house.

What makes A New Day so compelling is its attention to appearance, plot, and character development. To help with clarity, the art sheds the black-and-white style of the comics in favor of vibrant color, though it uses similar art to that drawn by Charlie Adlard in the current issues. Fans may yearn for an option to go into a black-and-white mode, but the game art builds nicely on its paper inspiration. The PC and console versions of the game look much the same, although the PC edition is best overall with the smoothest animations. The PlayStation 3 game stutters regularly, although never for long enough that this causes any problems. The only issue is the camera, which is often too close to the action to get a good look at your surroundings. You get a good cinematic view of everything, at least, although this doesn't help much when you're scrounging through the drugstore for goodies or checking out nearby zombies.

The story has been crafted adroitly to weave in and out of the events told in the comics and on TV, blending the new with the familiar. So while you take on the role of the previously unseen Lee Everett, the adventure takes you through parts of rural Georgia also visited by Rick Grimes and the gang. Many of the events here fill out backstories from the comics. You visit Hershel's farm before he started that interesting collection in his barn, for instance, and rescue Glenn when he gets trapped during one of his scavenging runs.

All of the characters are very well written and voiced as individuals (none of the TV actors reprise their roles here, though), which makes you care about whether or not they get munched on by ravenous corpses. It's difficult to get up from the game, so expect to finish it in a two- or three-hour single sitting. Granted, there are some cliches. Lee is a stereotypical man of mystery, with a sinister past that may involve his killing the US senator messing around with his wife. His kid sidekick, Clementine, while lovable and tough in her own right, is obviously a plot device to help tragic Lee find his way again.

And Carley used to think that stray dogs and the odd crack in the road were hazardous during her morning jogs.
And Carley used to think that stray dogs and the odd crack in the road were hazardous during her morning jogs.

Actual gameplay is of a more so-so quality. Although this is a point-and-click adventure, the puzzles are few and far between. Exploration is a must in a couple of places, and there are a few spots where you need to gather items to push the plot forward. Controls are basic. On the PC, you use a mouse-and-WASD combo, occasionally resorting to the number keys to change between the standard looking, taking, talking, and using abilities. Consoles work in a similar fashion, with the left stick moving, the right stick taking care of the point of view, and the four face buttons handling character abilities. Other than the control scheme, there isn't much to figure out. Most of the game deals with interacting with fellow survivors through dialogue.

Conversations typically give you limited time to respond to comments, forcing you to decide whether to blow somebody off or make nice. No selections are absolutely wrong. You can be tough on a coward who ran away instead of helping a friend avoid being chomped, or be kind to a sharpshooting gal in the hope that she might just save your life at some point. Key dialogue choices change how the game plays out, although not in wildly dramatic ways. You make a friend, you make an enemy, somebody notices you telling a lie, that sort of thing. The main difference between choices is the severity of the tone taken by other characters when speaking to you.

Quick-time action sequences bring up more important options. You find yourself a heartbeat away from zombie chompers on more than a few occasions during A New Day. When this happens, you're given a few seconds to either left-click/button-mash a wavering cursor on a zombie skull or hammer some keys/button-mash to fend off the dead guy's groping hands and snapping teeth. Miss this, and you're a juicy burger. Nevertheless, none of this is very challenging, and the mechanics are simplistic enough to draw in casual gaming fans of the Walking Dead comics and TV show.

Shoot him in his brains before he starts munching on yours.
Shoot him in his brains before he starts munching on yours.

The first surprise attack comes so suddenly that you barely have a chance to react before the teeth sink into your neck, but after that you can cruise through the moments of zombie mayhem, most notably a screwdriver/axe beatdown in a motel courtyard. What's more shocking are the times when you're forced to make the call between saving one friend in peril and giving one up to the hungry dead. These moments are unsettling and very true to the horrific nature of the comics, where beloved, long-running characters can be torn apart without notice.

Telltale's Walking Dead series is off to a great start with A New Day. This is more story than game, so there's little challenge in the hours you spend fleeing and fighting and talking about the zombie hordes. But that approach works here, allowing the game to build upon the cruel, character-driven comic series and stand apart from more mayhem-oriented zombie games like Left 4 Dead and Dead Island. This also lets you get to know the cast in a more intimate manner than would be possible if the episode were all about splattering zombies and solving puzzles. Although given the source material, you still probably shouldn't get too attached to anybody.

The Good

  • Gripping storyline and first-rate characters and dialogue
  • Fantastic, stylish artwork
  • Panicky, crazy action sequences

The Bad

  • Shallow gameplay
  • Camera angle is too restrictive in many scenes

About the Author

Other Takes on The Walking Dead: A Telltale Games Series

Shaun McInnis is a veteran of the zombie apocalypse and Telltale's The Walking Dead ranks as one of his all-time favorites in the genre. He would prefer to pretend that The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct never existed.
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