Telltale’s point and click adventures have been a mixed bag. Sam & Max proved to be a hit with its point and click charm filled experience. Back to the Future was a mixture of good and bad, Jurassic Park was just simply bad, now its time for The Walking Dead to get the Telltale games treatment.
Detaching itself from the storyline followed by the immensely popular TV show, The Walking Dead Episode 1: A New Day follows a new character named Lee Everett. During a prison transfer Lee is in a police car and being taken up state to his new place of imprisonment. After a quick chit chat with the police officer escorting him things take a turn for a worst when he is involved in a car accident. Waking up to the screams of the previous mentioned police officer it becomes quite clear all is not well. From here begins Lee’s journey of survival through the familiar setting of a zombie apocalypse.
The core gameplay is the classic point and click formula with a few quick time events thrown in. Players navigate each scene using the analogue sticks to move Lee around and look around the environment. Lee’s point of view is displayed via an on-screen d-pad, when it hovers over items/points of interest, interaction options appear. It’s a extremely simple formula which works fantastically well. The first chapter of Episode 1 introduces the player to the games overall tone and feel. The section in the police car allows the player to get a grasp to the controls and conversation systems utilized by the game. It’s a great example of a tutorial implemented in disguised fashion, that allows the player to naturally learn the game instead of being clobbered around the head with instructions. Veterans of the genre may feel like the game is ‘holding their hand’ a bit too much, thankfully the option to turn off the HUD and indicators allowing for a more traditional point and click experience.
Conversation trees work well and differ from time to time, given the situation Lee finds himself in. General chat with characters allows the player to take their time with what they want Lee to say, this results in the player learning more about the cast of characters . Some conversations come with a time limit for Lee to answer within, these conversations normally arise in the more intense and pivotal moments in the games. Lee’s replies to certain questions will be remembered by the characters he interacts with, which can change their opinion of you as well as alter the storyline in future episodes.
Thankfully the conversations are mostly interesting and engaging. Characters feel fleshed out and well written, the result of which is a believable cast of characters. The voice acting is also worthy of note with dramatic scenes being handled well and conveyed effectively. The only weak spot comes in the shape of one particular child character who comes off feeling rather two dimensional. While it’s not a major gripe it does stand out at times, especially during the previously mentioned dramatic scenes.
Character relationships play a vital role in the games experience (again much like the comic and TV show), due to the quality of writing and voice acting, interaction and relationships feel very natural. Lee’s role in the game (avoiding specifics to stay away from much hated spoilers) comes off as how a normal every day guy would deal with things. The bond Lee forms with some of the cast is especially strong, this allows the player to care about what happens to the characters in the game. There’s no mere cannon fodder to be found within the cast.
Given that the world is engulfed in a zombie apocalypse, Lee is at times required to fight off a zombie or two. Combat in point and click is a bit of a sticky subject which more often than not can fail. Thankfully Telltale have installed an effective system which ramps up the intensity of coming into contact with the undead. When under attack Lee (at least early on in the game) can scan the area for a weapon while pushing back the oncoming undead. The first and second chapter of the game show cases this mechanic brilliantly. The sense of desperately searching the environment for anything to fight back a a zombie is truly exciting. Combat is also well handled late on in the gamer when a mixture of puzzle solving and strategy comes into play.
The highlight of Telltales first episode of The Walking Dead is the decision making. Lee will be required to make some tough calls (much like some of the decisions featured in both the comic and TV show) which have a huge impact on the game. These decisions range from hiding Lee’s murky past to weighty decisions which result in a character either living or dying. All the decisions feel like they carry big consequences to them, this requires the player to think things over before making their decision.
The strong writing of the game’s script perfectly compliments the sections in which hard decisions must be made quickly. Panic and self doubt both creep in during these sections allowing the player to feel invested in their choice and feel responsible for the outcome of their decision. It’s a neat trick that Telltale have used very well to make the story and characters immensely engaging.
The presentation of Telltales recent games is where things have gone a bit pear shaped. The Walking Dead is, for the most part, the exception to the rule. The cell shaded visuals suit the game almost perfectly, allowing the game to look similar to its source material. Characters are detailed enough with all the features we’ve come to expect. Eyes carry a strange attracting quality to them that plays a part in conveying the emotions of the characters surprisingly well. Facial animation on the whole is to a high standard, lips are perfectly synced with speech. Characters move in a natural way with smooth fluent animation.
The aesthetics of the undead horde are both effective and well detailed. Telltale may have had issues animating models in their previous games but this time around they have done a great job in animating these shambling corpses. Environments look fantastic thanks to a great use of colour and shadows. At times the visuals look straight out of a comic book panel. Cel shaded visuals may not be to everyone’s taste but you would have to a fanatic hater not to enjoy the visuals on offer from The Walking Dead Episode 1.
The first episode of The Walking Dead is a extremely enjoyable experience. The point and click gameplay flows perfectly throughout. The combat sections truly make the player buy into the sense of panic and vulnerability of Lee as he tries to survive the zombie apocalypse he finds himself in. The key to success of Episode 1 is the quality of the games characters and Lee’s interaction and bonding with them. Conversations never feel like a waste of time and learning about each character in genuinely interesting. The decisions the player makes throughout the game truly carry a sense of weight, this instantly makes the player think about their choices and the poetical outcome of them. Add to this a number of engaging and intense sections that will have you hooked and what you get is nothing but a quality story telling experience.
The Walking Dead doesn’t make the player feel like they are playing through a set story, instead it allows the player to feel like they are playing through their own tale set in the Walking Dead universe. Fans of the comic and TV show will be able to appreciate what Telltale games has crafted. A number of familiar faces from the comic and TV show appear, in some cases adding a bit of back story and reason to their attitudes and motives.
The Walking Dead is simply a fantastic story telling experience. It’s a great sign of things to come from Telltale and a exciting prospect to see how decisions made in game carry over from episode to episode. The minor flaws of one annoying character and a few bad camera angles do not detract from the experience on offer. Well polished and compelling, The Walking Dead is certainly worth the time of anyone who enjoys great video game experiences.
Good: Great art style, interesting characters and intense scenes
Bad: Minor niggling issues but nothing major