The Walking Dead: Season 1 Episode 1: A New Day
First posted on 30 May 2012. Last updated on 01 April 2014.
The Walking Dead: Season 1
The season is comprised of 5 seasonal episodes and 1 DLC episode:
- Episode 1: A New Day
- Episode 2: Starved for Help
- Episode 3: Long Road Ahead
- Episode 4: Around Every Corner
- Episode 5: No Time Left
- DLC Episode: 400 Days
In Image Comics' The Walking Dead, writer and creator Robert Kirkland chronicles the exploits of police officer Rick Grimes as he struggles to find his family and other survivors in a post apocalyptic city of Atlanta that has been infested with zombies. Despite being well received by comic fans, the comic series did not achieve mainstream recognition until the release of the critically acclaimed television adaptation of the same name. When Telltale Games first announced the development of an episodic game series based on the comic, some critics had doubts that a generally high-octane comic could be effectively represented as an adventure game. Having now played the first episode, however, I am pleased to report that Telltale Games has risen to the challenge to deliver a unique, refreshing, fun gaming experience—with zombies!
The story in the game actually takes place prior to that in the comic. Whereas the comic starts at an indeterminate time into the zombie infestation, the game series begins on ground zero. The player takes on the role of Lee Everett (the game's main character) who, after having been convicted of the murder of his wife's lover, is being transported to a prison just outside of Atlanta. When a zombie appears suddenly in front of the police car causing it to crash and killing the police escort, Lee decides to escape to search for help. Wounded, Lee soon comes across Clementine, a young girl hiding from the zombies, who just wants to find her missing parents. Lee and Clementine decide to team up. Working with several other survivors they meet on the way to Macon, Georgia, they attempt to escape the infested city.
The game is story and dialog driven, with only few puzzles and quick time events scattered throughout. Still, it retains its adventure roots by allowing the player to move Lee freely and by maintaining an inventory system that the player can use. Apropos to a dramatic and tense situation in which trust is crucial and mistrust can flare in an instant, the response Lee gives (which the player can choose) can have an immediate effect on how other characters perceive him. Telltale Games has introduced the concept of "timed dialog"—the player has a finite amount of time to choose even the most seemingly innocuous of responses. It is worth noting that, outside of a few instances, none of these dialog choices are actually incorrect to the point that game progress can be hindered. If a character is angered by the player's response, that character will still assist Lee in the same way as if the character is pleased by the player's response, albeit with very minor dialog changes. For example, early on, the player has the option of having Lee claim to be Clementine's babysitter or neighbor in front another character. That character may appear to be a little more suspicious if Lee claims to be the babysitter rather than the neighbor but will still give him a ride out of town.
Telltale Games has also introduced the concept of "difficult choices"—specifically pointed out to the player after the choices are made—which have the theoretical potential to change the game. This is theoretical because, except for a choice of which character to rescue at the end of the game, none of these difficult choices have much of an impact on the rest of the game. As a test, I have played through the episode again and have purposefully made polar opposite choices. Barring the ending, the events unfolded in the game are nearly identical—small changes in dialog but little else. However, once presented with the option to choose which character to save and which character to sacrifice, I realize that this choice mechanic can have the potential to truly change how the story unfolds in later episodes. For now, however, only time will tell.
The game shares from some of the same flaws as the developer's more recent releases. There are instances of graphics hiccups and the occasional occurrences of desynchronized audio and video. The lack of lip-syncing is particularly noticeable due to the fact that the game sometimes tends to freeze the animation (but not the audio track) as it loads subsequent scenes. The problem is not nearly as prevalent as in Jurassic Park: The Game—though I have encountered it in repeated replays, albeit different parts, of the game. My biggest gripe with this game, however, is the control interface. Actions are mapped to specific keys, but the fact that certain actions can be mapped to the same key creates an awkward double tapping movement that sometimes does not register. For example, early in the game, Lee knocks on a door looking for survivors. There, the player has an option to knock again via the same key or to tap the key multiple times to make him actually open the door instead. I am puzzled by this design choice in the PC version, particularly as it does not exist in the console versions of the game at all.
For fans of The Walking Dead comic, the game's story can technically be considered as canon: in the first episode, a couple of characters from the comic play supporting roles—namely, Glenn and Herschel, who both assist Lee in their own ways while still staying on the path on which they need to be to fit seamlessly into their appearances in the comic. These characters are certainly welcome faces, and they act like their comic counterparts. Even for gamers who are not familiar with the comic (like me), they blend nicely into the tapestry of the game and stand on their own as characters, with no hint that they are present for fan service and little else.
For Telltale Games, The Walking Dead hearkens back to the days when the developer's passion for the subject matter shines through brilliantly, and the resultant game is all the more engrossing because of it. The Walking Dead Episode 1: A New Day is a great start for a series that has the potential to be among the developer's best work.