Tuesday, 15 May 2012

GAME REVIEW; The Walking Dead - Episode One

Game review coming up just as soon as the world ends.

Another zombie game, you may cry. They’re a dime a dozen these days; but The Walking Dead, from Telltale Games (of Monkey Island fame) is different. In many ways, it’s a lot like the TV show of the same name (cue “So, a lot of standing outside a barn with zombies inside posing absolutely no threat then?” responses) and definitely not just another zombie game in the vein of Left4Dead. By that I mean there’s a lot of talking. A lot of it. It’s more like an interactive movie or cut scene than a game really. That’s not a criticism by the way; I love a good strong narrative led game. In reality it has more in common with Mass Effect, than Valve’s co-op zombie shooter, as it’s essentially an RPG, albeit a walk, point and click one. But with added zombie smashing. The choices the game forces you to make at certain points affect later stories, and even the choice of words that you use could come back to haunt you further down the line. 

The main thrust of the story is that your character, Lee, is being transported to prison for murder he may or may not have committed but unfortunately the zombie apocalypse happens, and he’s soon free via a car crash. Before long he meets a little girl, Clementine, who’s parents are likely dead and takes it upon himself to keep her safe. And most of the rest of episode one is Lee interacting with the people he meets. I know it sounds kind of boring, and it depends on the type of gamer you are whether or not you get any enjoyment out of it, but I loved it. 

You'll see a familiar face or two along the way.

Making decisions that will affect future episodes really makes you think hard about what will be best for your own progression in the game; for instance, at one point a reporter girl who’s good with a gun, and a nerdy guy I’d been getting on well with were both being attacked, and I could only save one. I chose to save the reporter girl because of her firearms skill. But I felt really bad about letting my friend get eaten. Although, earlier on in the game, I saved a 10 year old boy over a guy who could possibly have been good building defences, because well, you have to save the kid, right? I’m regretting it now. Again, it depends on how much you get invested in the characters that will cause said emotional response, but it’s a testament to the game that in less than two hours (all the length of time this first episode lasts), it had me feeling sorry that I’d essentially sentenced someone to death by zombie. 

Our main character, Lee, also has a couple of lovely emotional character beats. Arriving in a boarded up store that used to be owned by his parents, there’s a scene in the back office where Lee finds a photograph of them and the music swells, and I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. It reminded me of the scene in the pilot for the TV series where Rick returns to the legless zombie and puts it out of its misery; showing the real human cost of the zombie apocalypse really deepens the world and the emotional impact any further scenes have, especially SPOILER when Lee has to kill his zombified brother END SPOILER. And there’s a moment later on at a motel involving someone who’s been bitten that’s also incredibly engaging, so kudos to Telltale Games for that. 

However, if I ever feel like I want to save the nerdy guy and let the reporter get eaten, the great thing is that with three save slots I can start a brand new game and make completely different choices to those I made previously. So while in my original game, I tried to play the moral upstanding guy, as I do in all these types of games on the first playthrough, I’m probably going to be a right bastard on my second playthrough and just play for my own survival; no-one else’s. A nice little extra once you’ve finished the episode are the stats showing the decisions other people had made playing the game. Turned out 54% had saved the kid. They probably regretted it too. 

The art style in the game is nothing short of fantastic; it goes for the comic book-y cel-shaded look and looks incredible in motion, and gives the game a striking look and feel. It’s something I haven’t seen in gaming before, and really helps it stand out from the crowd. The voice acting as well is top drawer; even the little girl you’re looking after isn’t annoying. 

DIY gone very very wrong.
The action involving in the game is short but memorable; Bashing a zombie’s face in with a hammer, stabbing one in the face with a screwdriver, ramming one with a pick up truck. You don’t ever actually do any of the violence in a normal gaming sense, rather you just press a button and watch it happen but they’re gory and fun enough that it won’t bother you too much. Again, as said above it’s more about the story unfolding rather than the gameplay itself. 

Overall, it’s a short but wholly engaging two hours of gameplay and definitely worth your 400 MS points (about £3.50), and I will be picking up episode two (of five) the day it comes out, because I really want to see how the whole thing ends. 

Or how I choose to end it. 

4 stars 

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