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The Walking Dead: Episode 1 - A New Day

Score: 95%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Telltale Games
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Adventure


Graphics & Sound:

The Walking Dead: Episode 1 - A New Day kicks off a five-part episodic game taking place in Robert Kirkman's zombie apocalypse universe. Unlike the TV series though, this game doesn't follow Rick, Shane and the other main characters from the comics. Instead, Telltale Games introduces fans to a new group of core characters, but makes a habit of bringing in some familiar ones when it's appropriate and doesn't contradict the comic's series of events.

The first detail that stands out when playing The Walking Dead is the graphics. Both the settings and the characters feel like they come from the comics and appear to be inked and penned as if you were reading a comic. While all characters and set pieces are well defined, there are sketch lines everywhere to convey this feeling. Details like pencil lines that go just a little farther than they should or and the game's coloring feels like a comic book as well - not a lot of harsh colors, but it has almost a watercolor feel.

As for the game's sound, all of the characters' personalities come through loud and clear in the dialogue and performance. New characters like Lee and Clementine really feel right and even characters from the comics/TV series like Glenn and Hershel fit. I will say that I was curious if the actors who portray these two in the show reprised their roles for the game, and while it doesn't look like that's the case, the actors who are used sound a lot like them.


Gameplay:

The Walking Dead: Episode 1 - A New Day feels much more like a classic adventure game, at least more like one than Telltale's last two titles, Jurassic Park and Law & Order. While still not standard adventure stuff like their older releases, I feel like The Walking Dead is a good middle ground between the interactive-movie that was JP and the classic gameplay style.

For instance, you have a lot more freedom of movement in The Walking Dead. Heck, you can actually control where you want to move instead of just selecting locations, but there aren't nearly the number of inventory and puzzle problems you would expect in a classic adventure title. That's not to say there aren't any. There are a lot of times when you will need to hunt for the right tool for the job, but the standard inventory+verb setup is pretty much gone and replaced with a much cleaner and minimalist control scheme that will place the inventory items right at your fingertips if you are hovering over something where it makes sense to try an inventory item. But more on that later.

What makes The Walking Dead good, be it the comics or the TV series, is that it isn't really a story about the zombies. The zombie apocalypse is just a backdrop to put humans in extreme situations and show how they behave when there is the constant threat of life. Well, A New Day continues that tradition.

Your character, Lee, was in the backseat of a police car, leaving Atlanta, on the way to a prison, when he saw his first walker. The creature caused the police car to fly off the road. It isn't long before he has to take one out in order to live, and it isn't long before he finds a scared little girl whose parents are out of town and the babysitter... well, lets just say the sitter isn't really keeping an eye on little Clementine anymore.

While it doesn't really take much for the girl to trust Lee, as the duo meets up with other groups, your decisions in what you reveal, both about Lee's past and your relationship with Clementine, can really change the way people feel about you. As a result, while there are inventory-based puzzles, The Walking Dead game is mainly about the dialogue. In other words, the human interaction.

While not every conversation you have is important, there are definitely some key discussions, especially when people are asking about Lee and Clementine's relationship. There are also a few times when you will have to make some tough choices, including, but not limited to, deciding which of two characters that are being attacked you will help.

While there are some obvious consequences to some of these choices, there are also some subtle ones as the characters you are talking to will convey very different attitudes towards you if they don't like your answers or feel like you are hiding something. This really made for a solid gameplay experience, and one that made me want to replay the game to see how the different choices played out. Unlike most typical adventure games, I felt like there were actual consequences to my choices and the decisions I made would have lasting effects in the future episodes.

Of course, just how lasting those choices are is yet to be seen, but Episode 2 - Starved for Help isn't that too far away.


Difficulty:

The Walking Dead: Episode 1 - A New Day has two difficulty settings, and, as you would expect from an adventure game, they basically toggle how much information you are given on the screen to help you along.

The Standard setting will highlight hotspots to let you know what you can click on, as well as give you notices when you've done something that the other characters will remember. This is usually in the form of text that will say something like "Glenn knows you are lying to him." or "Kenny will remember that you supported him." The other option, Minimal, turns pretty much all of these hints and helps off and really helps you immerse yourself in the events that are happening, but it will also be a little tougher since you will have to figure out everything you can click on.


Game Mechanics:

The Walking Dead: Episode 1 - A New Day has two major mechanics that are worth talking about. One is how the game's dialogue system works, and the other is the cursor and how it behaves.

When it comes to dialogue, the game doesn't let you really sit and puzzle out which option you think is best. In other words, you have a limited amount of time to decide what to say, and if you go over, you simply chose not to say anything at all - and sometimes, not saying anything might be the best choice. Since The Walking Dead is very dialogue-heavy, I found this added time constraint was a good way to not only keep me on my toes and force me to make decisions quickly, but also keep up the pacing of the game.

The other mechanic, the cursor, has a slightly different feel to it than most adventure titles. Where the cursor simply tells you if you can use/walk to/talk or whatever with the object on the screen by changing its icon, in The Walking Dead all of your options appear at once and you can easily choose (via the scroll wheel) which action you want to take. A handy side effect of this is that you don't really have an inventory screen that you have to click on and then attempt to use that item with the object in the world.

Simply put, if you hover over something that you might want to use an inventory item on, the few objects you are carrying around show up in the list of options you can do to that object, and using it is just a couple of turns of the scroll wheel and a mouse-click away. I found this to be a really natural feeling U.I. setup and reduces not only the number of mouse-clicks, but also the need to leave the game in order to dig around in my inventory. Granted, you aren't ever really carrying around a lot of items, but it's still a refreshing change and one that I would imagine translates well to the non-mouse-based versions of the game (i.e. consoles and mobile devices). I can't say for certain though since I haven't played any other version of The Walking Dead: Episode 1 - A New Day.

Next up is Episode 2 - Starved for Help and based on the preview at the end of A New Day, it looks to be just as good as this one. So far The Walking Dead game looks to be spot on and shows that Telltale continues to deliver what the fans want, both their own and those of the license they are developing against.


-J.R. Nip, GameVortex Communications
AKA Chris Meyer

Minimum System Requirements:



Windows XP Service Pack 3, 2.0 GHz Pentium 4 or equivalent processor, 3 GB RAM, 2 GB hard Drive Space, ATI or NVidia card w/ 512 MB RAM (Not recommended for Intel integrated graphics) video card, Direct X 9.0c, Direct X 9.0c sound device
 

Test System:



Windows 7 Ultimate, Intel i7 X980 3.33GHz, 12 GB RAM, Radeon HD 5870 Graphics Card, DirectX 9.0c

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