Hot! The Walking Dead: Episode 1 – A New Day Review

Few games have made my abject indecisiveness so glaringly obvious.  Yes, there have been times when I’ve spent hours vacillating between different options when given free rein to customize a video game character before even stepping foot into the actual game world (e.g. Bethesda’s Skyrim).  But never have my decisions (or lack thereof) carried so much weight into the events and character interactions of a game like it has in The Walking Dead: The Game.  While Bioware’s Mass Effect series did a great job of adding more gravity and persistence to in-game decision making, Telltale Games takes it one step further and makes choice, and their corresponding ramifications, the crux of their game.  How does the game fare?  Quite well, actually.

The video game takes place just as the zombie outbreak is spreading and is the first episode of a five episode series released for the PC, MAC, Xbox 360 and the PS3.   While the game does not tie directly to the plot of the comic-book series nor the television series, it takes place in the same universe.  Series fans will be pleased to know that both Glenn and Hershel make cameos and it’s nice to be given some additional insight into each of these characters’ backgrounds and motivations within the game.  You play as Lee Everett, recently arrested for allegedly having killed a state senator whom he caught sleeping with his wife.  Yup, that’s some pretty serious sh*t, but compared to what’s about to happen, it’s no worse than kicking a puppy.  The game begins with you in the back of a police squad car on your way out of Atlanta and this is where Lee Everett will be, jarringly, introduced to the zombie outbreak; this is also where you’ll be first introduced to the games’ dialogue tree and how your choices affect how others respond to you, which I’ll go into detail a little later.

If you’re familiar with some of Telltale Games’ other point-and-click adventures (e.g. Back to the Future: The Game) then you’ll immediately feel right at home. Players will move Lee Everett through an environment while interacting with different objects, items, and other people using a cursor.  Clicking on certain objects will initiate a quick cutscene and/or some internal monologue about the object in question.  Some items can be picked up and placed in inventory for use later, which is good, since some of these items are required to progress through the story and get out of “hairy” situations.  You’ll also find a few harrowing moments in the game where you’ll need to “click fast on your feet” to avoid certain death.  Be sure to “gird your loins” before jumping into this game.

Clicking on certain people in the environment will initiate a conversation and the game’s dialogue tree.  You’ll be presented with a few dialogue options, including an option to remain silent.  Yes, even during a zombie outbreak will you retain your Miranda rights.  Keep in mind that there is no right or wrong answer; how you decide to interact with people is entirely up to you, however how you decide directly affects the events of the game and how other characters interact with you.  Should you be completely truthful in the hopes of gaining the trust of others or should you fib in an attempt to protect yourself and those around you?  These are some of the choices you’ll be faced with during the game and, again, the type of “Lee” you’d like to be is up to you.  Additionally, there will be a couple moments in the game where you’ll have to decide between the lives of two characters.  Wait, did I mention that you’ll have limited time to make any of these decisions?  Yes, much to the chagrin of my psyche, Telltale Games added a timer and you’ll have to make some of these decisions quickly and decisively and live with the consequences throughout the entire series.  Talk about gravitas.

Like any good zombie or horror flick, there are some incredibly graphic zombie killings, ample moments of tension and anxiety, and the unsettling feeling that something might happen when nothing actually does, giving the game more opportunity to catch you off guard.  Expect it to do so quite often.   But what the game does so well is explore not only the physical vulnerability of the characters but also the emotional and psychological vulnerability of the characters when facing a life-altering, post-apocalyptic event.  Few, if any, zombie games explore group dynamics the way this game does.

Naturally, as a testament to my indecision, I’ve played through the episode quite a few times to see different decisions play out.  You get three save slots and I’ve finally settled on one particular play through that I’ll take into the next episode, I think.   After completing the first episode, you’ll see a brief preview of the next episode in the series.   What’s really cool about the preview is that it changes based on the decisions you’ve made and the people you’ve decided to save.  A nice touch to an already engrossing episode and I look forward to battling both the zombie outbreak and my indecisiveness in the coming episodes.

RB Score: 9/10