If you’re looking for a cinematic, story-driven experience then this is it. The zombies are secondary to human drama. Rating: 9/10. Buy from Amazon (affiliate link).
Telltale Games delivers, what I believe, is their best game till date. Episode 1 starts off brilliantly with an excellent script, interesting cast of characters with engaging personalities, and a strong sense of dread around every corner. It builds up the anticipation for the next episode, so much so that you’ll be left eager and curious for the next installment which comes out next month.
The Walking Dead: Episode 1 succeeds where most other games fail. It introduces numerous characters over the span of two to three hours. Unlike most games, however, you feel close to them, having understood their struggles, ambitions, hopes, dreams, and the realization of what makes them tick. They become “real” people with fleshed out personalities. Although the game doesn’t break new ground, it stays true to the things that make Robert Kirkman’s comic book series so compelling: human drama in the midst of horror and death.
The characters are all portrayed with what I felt were genuine emotions. They are all vastly different individuals that have their own motivations and bring something new to the team dynamic that works throughout the game. Staying true to Kirkman’s series, some of these characters will aid you when possible, whereas others seemingly exist only to make your life (and survival) that much harder.
Trust is an important aspect of the experience, and you’ll be seeing it in action from the beginning. You, as Lee Everett, a convicted murderer, will take on Clementine, a young girl who has lost both her parents. The game doesn’t sidestep any uncomfortable or awkward situations. In fact, it forces you to face them, thus letting you build your character the way you want. Characters will remember various things you say or do, and these memories, along with your actions, will have consequences throughout the other episodes that Telltale will release for this series.
Decisions play an important role in the experience. They are timed, so you’ll need to decide quickly. There are several parts where you will need to determine quickly what to say or what to do. This is most prominent in the sections where you choose which character to save. It works well within the series’ adventure-action aesthetic. Combat is sporadic and spread thinly throughout the game. Nevertheless, there is intense gore and violence that serve to add dread to an already challenging atmosphere. Close encounters are powered by quick time events. However, these sequences never feel overly challenging, but rather add tension and suspense at critical moments. In fact, they are some of the most effective scenes in the episode.
This translates to an experience more akin to an interactive movie than a traditional puzzle-based adventure title. There are, however, a few puzzles that involve exploring the environment, but they are all intuitive and make sense within the logic of a zombie-infested world. Some of you may find the lack of challenge disappointing, but I feel the game wants to work with you and not confront you over repetitive combat and inorganic puzzles.
The one place where the game deviates from Kirkman’s work is the graphics. It employs a cel-shaded style that works well. Although it doesn’t afford 3D models much detail, the zombies are disgusting, horrific, and abominable creatures, while the characters all have distinctive looks that build upon their personalities. Body language works well, too, though facial animation is somewhat lacking. There were audio problems initially, which were eventually fixed by a patch.
The Walking Dead: Episode 1 is a fantastic start to the series. It offers an engaging premise that builds on human drama. It has some of the best character development out there. Your choices determine the story and will affect the outcome of the episodes that will follow in the next few months. Keeping that in mind, the game offers some replay value in the variety of ways the story can branch out. You can also check how in line your choices were with others. As it stands, this is Telltale like we’ve never seen before – an ambitious project with a pinch of zombies thrown in for good measure.