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Monday, May 28, 2012

Review: The Walking Dead ep. 1 (Xbox 360)

Bob Kirkman's The Walking Dead has had a good deal of success on pretty much every medium it has infected. Comics, television, and now video games.

I have to say, I wasn't really a fan before I fired up the new video game incarnation of the fiction from Telltale Games. It's not that I had anything against TWD at all- far from it -from what I've seen of the comics and TV show, it looks like it's really well done. My issue is with zombies in particular. I just find them... well... a little boring.

Many of the classic horror staples (vampires, werewolves...) have found their way into my DVD collection over the years, but zombies- meh. Even though I'm a big fan of games like Resident Evil, it's not because of the undead, but in spite of them. There's just something about the makeup of these particular monsters that makes me relegate them to second fiddle. But I digress, and I don't want to get too stuck in past assumptions because this little gem of a game has changed my mind.

Someone's at the door
The Walking Dead doesn't so much take the 'in your face' approach to the risen dead (although they sure do get in your face at times). Instead it focus on the men and women who still live- and have to make a whole lot of very tough decisions to make sure they stay that way.

For fans of the series (either one), there'll be some things that you'll probably recognize in the game and a lot that you won't. That's because the game takes place before the main story does. It's kind of a prequel and that means that it's the beginning/midst of the apocalypse when we first join Mr. Lee Everett.

Lee is in the back of a squad car after being sentenced for a murder. Did he do it? Who did he (maybe) kill? These questions are left murky (quite on purpose) as the story starts, since character development and making choices are a huge part of the experience. And anyway, it all becomes moot when the radio kicks up about a 'riot' in the city and cop cars start screaming in the opposite direction of the cruiser. Then it all comes crashing down when the car plows into a zombie, or walker as they're known in the game's universe.
Lee's a picky guy

It's when Lee first awakens from the crash that he discovers that the world he knew is gone, and what's left in it's place is a living nightmare of blood, death, and things that shouldn't exist. Right from the jump (even in the prison-bound police car) you're hit with choices. Dialog, action, everything except locomotion (which is handled in a more traditional action game fashion- with the stick) is played out by hitting a button next to a choice of what to say.

It's not quite as easy to make a measured choice as you might think though. Each button press is timed according to what's happening at that moment. In this way, the game forces you to make some very quick decisions at times and emphasizes split-second thinking. It does a good job of pressuring in that way and definitely fits the theme of the game.

Options range greatly from quiet and reserved to angry and accusatory. All of it is well written and makes sense depending on what kind of Lee you're playing as. In The Walking Dead, what you say and what choices you make (such as who to save when the 'trouble' hits the fan) matter here. Much like in games like Mass Effect, the adventure tailors itself to how you play. It's really cool and Telltale promises that each episode (there'll be five eventually) will be linked in this way.



Now you might be saying 'this sounds like a lot of... stuff for a game with zombies in it, where's the action?' It's here, don't worry, but this is an adventure game at its core. You have to remember that, because it basically means that there's no Dead Rising-esque mass zed slaughtering to do. Instead you'll be running/escaping from herds of the horrid things and getting up close and personal with one or two when they have to be offed (which is very satisfying by the way). All of this further adds to the choking atmosphere of the game. It isn't action packed and it's not trying to be- from what I understand, it wouldn't be very authentic if it was.
Relationships and choices are huge in TWD

The audio/visual presentation is top notch here too. The graphics have a cel-shaded look and maintain a comic book like feel throughout. It's extremely effective and loaded with detail. Most of the locations featured in The Walking Dead are just day to day places and things (like a family home) and the look of the game makes that particular element of zombie fiction stand out in a very good (and very disturbing at times) way.

As far as the vocal work and music- it's solid to great. The music is good, not anything that you're likely to remember, but good nonetheless. The voice work on the other hand, is excellent. All of the characters, even down to the minor ones, sound great. It's always nice when a game gets this particular element 'right' as it can really help to pull the player into the story- The Walking Dead nails it. To the wall. With a high powered nail gun.

Episode one of The Walking Dead is subtitled 'Brand New Day', and that's exactly what the game represents for adventure gaming. The genre just keeps on evolving since its triumphant rebirth at the hands of some very talented developers, Telltale included. Their newest effort really represents some of the freshest ideas that the company has brought to the classic, formerly 'point and click' style. It's actually exciting, which is not a feeling that usually comes up when talking about the genre.

Back to back walker wackin'
For fans of the Dead, this one's a no-brainer. A terrific game that successfully grabs the source fiction by the throat and bashes its head in with a hammer. For adventure game and/or zombie fans, I think you'll find plenty to enjoy here as well since there's so much of what makes both things endearing to those who love 'em.

Not a fan of any of the above? Well... I still think The Walking Dead is a game that you should at least look into. Again, I'm no zombie fan and I've never followed the comic book or the TV show at all, and I still had a blast with the game. While it's true that I do have a massive soft spot for adventure games in general, I also know a well made title when I see it. Oh, and great storytelling? That's something that's always worth your time.

- Jason M







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Review: The Walking Dead ep. 1 (Xbox 360)
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