Telltale's adaptations of popular entertainment franchises have met with mixed results so far, and the decision to make a series based on Robert Kirkman's zombie comics met with more than its fair share of scepticism. Fortunately, those doubts have been proven unfounded in an emphatic way. While it's certainly not a traditional adventure by any means, The Walking Dead is Telltale in top form, delivering what I’d consider their greatest success to date. Off to a short but fantastic start with a compelling script, a strong cast of characters with engaging personalities and a sense of survival that leaves you wondering what’s around every corner, the debut episode, A New Day, manages to build up enough curiosity and anticipation that you'll be left eagerly awaiting the next instalment.
Though based in the same world as Kirkman's books, the game tells an entirely new story with mostly new survivors. Players control a very unconventional protagonist in Lee Everett, a former college professor recently convicted of murder, who initially finds himself being escorted to prison outside of Atlanta in a police car. With no further backstory to go on, you engage in conversation with the officer driving, getting a demonstration of the multi-choice dialogue options that direct every discussion you’ll have. You can choose to ignore the officer’s idle chat by staring out of the window or you can pry a little further into Lee’s history. Notifications will pop up (which can be disabled in the options) that indicate when a dialogue decision has impacted a character's opinion of you, which may affect their interaction with you later.
From huge to small, decisions you make alter the experience, ranging from gaining trust and building friendships (or increasing hostility and suspicion) to simply discovering more information about people – including Lee, whose shady past may not be quite as cut-and-dry as circumstances may appear. In extreme cases, your choices will ultimately impact the lives of others, requiring decisions to be made within seconds. Whilst it’s a formula that’s been done many times before, particularly in RPGs, this action-consequence approach feels refreshingly tangible in The Walking Dead, aided by the grave backdrop of fighting for survival. Telltale even claims that decisions made now will matter in future episodes, creating a real sense of an evolving, personalised story dependent on your actions.
In the midst of Lee's conversation with the policeman, one such split-second choice involves screaming in various ways to draw attention to a person standing in the middle of the motorway. But you're too late, and moments later the car is careening off the road, rolling down the bank. Having blacked out from the crash, Lee regains consciousness to find that he’s still trapped in the back of the car. A short distance away, at the other end of a smeared blood trail, lays the officer with his shotgun nearby. Dazed and confused, Lee must free himself from the car and his handcuffs. Soon after, all hell breaks loose.
Movement is controlled using the WASD keys or joypad analogue stick to guide Lee around freely, while the other stick or mouse is used to look around. Simple clicks or button-presses are used to interact with relevant elements in the environment denoted by a hotspot. Unfortunately, these hotspots are often quite fiddly due to a misalignment with the actual objects they represent. It’s not intuitive to look for a hotspot to the right of a character's head when trying to talk to them, although this aggravation can be somewhat alleviated by enabling the hotspots to always show via the game’s options.
Injured from the crash, Lee hobbles over to the seemingly dead officer sprawled on the ground, which is when he finally discovers what we already expect. Not so dead after all, the officer is actually amongst the undead, lunging at Lee and knocking him to the ground, resulting in a frantic backpedal to his nearby shotgun. It's either you or him at that point, one of whom will come to a gruesome, grisly end. Make no mistake: this isn’t the family-friendly Telltale adventure we’re accustomed to. There are scenes of intense gore and violence, very often in graphic, screwdriver-through-the-eye-socket detail.
Close encounters with zombies are often presented in the form of a Quick Time Event, typically requiring you to press a single key or click an interactive spot before time runs out. It’s possible to die upon failing such an event, but these sequences never feel overly challenging or demand quick reflexes to succeed, instead simply functioning to add tension and suspense at critical moments, and doing so effectively. Those concerned with the addition of QTEs in general can rest assured that their appearances are sparse, with typically large gaps between them, at least in the first episode.
While seeking shelter in a nearby house, Lee encounters a young girl named Clementine, left at home with a babysitter by parents gone on vacation. Choosing to accompany you, Clementine plays a pivotal role in the story, introducing several choices that will impact the story ahead. Do you tell her of the unlikeliness of her family returning? Do you admit you're a convicted killer when she inquires about your history? All such questions will affect the way she perceives you in future conversations. There are no right or wrong answers, only options, each with its own consequences that you can't necessarily predict ahead of time. Although the main storyline will play out the same way, anyone wishing to revisit the game will find plenty of replay value in choosing different dialogue options and making alternate critical decisions.Continued on the next page...