The Walking Dead Episode 1, subtitled “A New Day,” is the latest adventure game outing from Telltale Games, although the degree to which it is a game may be up for debate. You play as a felon named Lee who survives a car crash during the zombie outbreak. Lee meets up with a little girl, a group of survivors, and a few characters from the comic as he tries to find a safe haven.
There isn’t a lot of freedom in Episode 1. As one might expect in a zombie apocalypse, the majority of the game is spent barricaded in small areas with only a few rooms. This time consists mostly of talking to the other survivors and solving the handful of puzzles. The writing and voice acting are certainly up to snuff, so getting to know everyone that you’re stuck with is entertaining and feels worth the effort. I’m sure Mass Effect fans would be pleased.
The puzzles aren’t quite at satisfying, though. You basically just wander around in the couple rooms you have access to, pick up the two or three items that they game will allow, then find the one or two places where the game will let you use each item. It’s all very quick and straightforward, so perhaps puzzle isn’t the right word. Overall they mostly felt like they were just some minor roadblocks put in the way of the player to help prevent them from missing out on all of the dialog opportunities.
Players may also be put off by how much time is spent watching the game rather than playing it. The entire story is only about two hours long and you will often spend several minutes at a time having no interaction with it. At other times you’re picking dialog options during a conversation or walking around a room in search of the one object that will trigger the next cut scene. Much of Episode 1 feels more like a semi-interactive episode of The Walking Dead than a full game, though it’s certainly a good one. There are several moments where the game indicates that your decision will be significant later, but that is something that cannot be judged until future episodes are released.
Some of the game’s best moments are when Lee is forced into a confrontation with a zombie in close quarters with no particularly apt form of defense. Through mashing quick time events and rapidly searching the environment for something that can be used the game does a great job at capturing the desperation such a situation would bring about.
There are also some engaging scenes where Lee and his companions are trying to figure out how to clear an area of zombies without being seen. These parts are mostly just more of the same linear and simple problem solving that happens behind the barricade, but the context serves to make the activity more interesting. My main issue with these segments is that they seem to require the zombies to be nearly blind to an extent that doesn’t quite match up with the source material. I mean, since when does crouching in a clearly visible manner behind some bars make you invisible to zombies?
Visually, Episode 1 is a mixed bag. The hand-drawn art style matches the comic in a novel way, but the textures don’t render at very high resolutions. Characters look fine, but there are some rather distracting moments where the camera zooms in on a low resolution texture in the environment as you move to pick something up. It’s just strange to suddenly see something look so pixelated in an otherwise heavily stylized world. Aside from this small issue the game looks great.
While I do criticize Walking Dead Episode 1 for being shallow and less interactive than one might expect, I did enjoy it quite a bit. I found myself caring about the characters, the zombie scenes were sufficiently tense, and I’m genuinely looking forward to future episodes. This may not be a great title for everyone, but fans of both the comic and the show should be pleased with the experience.