- Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
- Developer: Telltale Games
- ESRB Rating: M (Mature)
- Genre: Action
- Pros: Strong storytelling, beautiful artwork, tough decisions, nail-biting action
- Cons: Some dry patches of dialogue, some obvious paths
The first of five episodes of "The Walking Dead," "A New Day," opens with the protagonist, a quiet man named Lee Everett, stuck handcuffed in the back seat of a cop car on the day the world ends. As you hit conversation cues (much of the game is built around your responses to certain questions or statements and how they will impact how other characters react to you), you see police cars and helicopters headed down the other side of the freeway. Something bad is happening. "A New Day" is a prequel to the action of the comics and TV show, explaining in some ways how the world succumbed to the zombie apocalypse. It will even offer back stories for some beloved characters, including how Hershel Greene and his family responded in the early days and where Glenn was before he popped up in Atlanta. But the foundation of the story is built on Lee and an orphaned girl named Clementine that he chooses to protect.
"The Walking Dead, Episode 1 -- A New Day" is all about choices. Readers of the right age group will get this reference -- the game often reminded me of "Choose Your Own Adventure" stories of my youth. Some are minor -- who you lie to about your past, how aggressively you respond to threats, basic conversational decisions. Some are major -- who you save and who you let die. All of these decisions weave their way into the fabric of the game to the point that it will impact future episodes. When you make certain choices like how you respond to Clementine when she questions how scared she should be, the game even warns you, "Clementine will remember that." It's daring to make a dramatic game where it's not your hand-eye coordination that determines its progression but human decisions like whether or not to lie to help a child avoid her nightmares.
It won't all be dialogue between Lee and Clementine. Often without warning, as is typically the case in the world of "The Walking Dead," you'll be forced into action. It's usually a case of hand-eye coordination in that you'll have to get the reticule that you use to initiate conversation or action with people on to the impending zombie as quickly as possible or face having your throat ripped out. These events are uncommon but often terrifying, especially as you get more attached to the characters and the game gets more intense.
There's a particularly engaging sequence in the mid-section of "The Walking Dead, Episode 1 -- A New Day" that perfectly captures both what works about this game and its few flaws. In it, Lee and two of his fellow survivors have to cross a motel parking lot to reach a door from which they can hear a woman crying. There are zombies strategically placed around the pavement and the game becomes a series of "search and find" moments. You move your reticule around the field of vision and, oh, look, there's a pillow that I can use to muffle a shot. There's a sparkplug that can help me. There's x, y, and z. The way the game lays out its puzzles in the first episode is a bit too simplistic and I wanted more of a challenge.
However, when you get to that boarded door and reveal the woman trapped behind it, you won't care how easy it was to do so because the storytelling, the screenwriting, is so engaging. The game's strength may not be in the action but the decision that greets you at that door is one of the most haunting that you'll make all year.
Graphics & Sound
"The Walking Dead, Episode 1 -- A New Day" looks beautiful, striking the right balance between feeling a part of Kirkman's visual world and charting its own path. The game has the feel of a comic book come to life and the voice work is much more accomplished than is typically seen in on-disc games much less downloadable episodes. The technical specs won't overwhelm you but when one considers the low purchase price ($4.99 an episode), it's remarkable that it looks and sounds this good.
"The Walking Dead" has become more than just a comic book and a TV show. It's a true phenomenon. And the video game adaptation of it could have been a complete corruption of the source material -- an action game where shooting zombies is more important than comforting survivors. Telltale Games has not only treated their inspiration with the correct amount of respect but added to its canon in their own spectacular way. The trend of notable downloadable games continues in 2012 (after "Journey" and "I Am Alive") and this is surely going to be one of the best.