Friday, April 27, 2012

Review: The Walking Dead: Episode 1

First thing's first: I've never seen any media for 'The Walking Dead' before, including its comic book and TV series iterations.  

Now, I know I'm probably one of the marginally few gamers out there who hasn't seen the award-winning zombie-apocalypse series.  Friends and co-workers alike have tried to get me to watch it.  "It's even on Netflix for crying out loud!" they proclaim.  And I mean, it's not like I have anything against zombies.  I read "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" last year, and I loved every page.  Shawn of the Dead? Easily on my top 5 favorite movies.  I just haven't gotten around to watching or reading 'The Walking Dead.'

But now, I think I just might.

Because after playing through the first chapter of Telltale Games's episodic The Walking Dead series, I'm left with a fervent desire to get to know this franchise better.  The first of a five-part series, The Walking Dead: Episode 1 is an incredibly well-crafted adventure, in terms of production value, gameplay and atmosphere.  You control a new character introduced to the franchise by the name of Lee Everett.  When the game opens, he's sitting in the back seat of a police car as it's driving down a freeway in Georgia.  You're not initially given an explanation as to why he's been arrested.  After a few minutes of conversing with his arresting officer, Lee notices a strange figure walking down the middle of the road... 

Telltale Games's The Walking Dead series serves as a side story and prequel of sorts to the comic book series of the same name.  As such, the art direction is decidedly cell shaded--with a healthy dose of realism added in. The result is a unique graphical style that lends itself to the comic book and live action TV natures of the franchise's other mediums.  One thing I positively loved was how animated each character's facial expressions were.  Because of how each character model is drawn, their emotions come to vivid life as they try their damnedest to survive.  This goes hand-in-hand with a statement from TWD creator Robert Kirkman regarding how the video game series will "focus more on characterization and emotion than action."

You can truly see the terror in their eyes.  Bravo, Telltale.

Gameplay in The Walking Dead is well done.  The user interface is sleek, and most of it can be hidden so as to enhance the game's realism.  It's accurate to think of the game as a hybrid of survival horror and adventure, with a dash of action and an ever so slight pinch of hidden object puzzle.  In fact, the experience is largely cinematic.  Most of the game is spent interacting with the characters that Lee encounters.  As such, every decision you make carries weight--not unlike, say, Mass Effect.  There are a couple points in the story where you're given a direct, mind-crushingly challenging decision to make that will have immediate and game-altering effects.  The survival horror portions of the game are legitimately frightening.  I'm not a fan of the genre and I still genuinely enjoyed having the beans scared out of me.  I likened the sequences of the game where you search for supplies to a hidden objects game--even more so when the UI is hidden.  

Gameplay is sort of like an interactive movie...but in a good way.

The production values in The Walking Dead are fantastic.  The aforementioned beautiful graphics and art direction, the stellar voice cast and general 'the world is about to end' atmosphere provide an excellent and compelling--if short--experience.  For only 400 Microsoft points (or $4.99), this is a steal.  Upon completing the first episode, you're given a short preview for Episode 2.  If the first episode is any indicator, Episode 2 will be another epic ride.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a zombie-related TV series to start watching... :)


  1. Good review - I liked that you mentioned right off of the bat you were not someone who followed the series. I've never read the comic, and I've only seen a few episodes on TV. I liked what I saw, I just don't really watch a lot of TV - usually that's time better spent playing video games.

    This one looks pretty interesting to me though, and I have to say that your review has given me even more reason to do so, though I'll probably hold off for a bit. How do you feel about the episodic format? I have never really minded it in downloaded games, but I know it really irks some people to have to wait to keep playing a game, or that in the end it comes out being as expensive if not more so than if it had just been a single release.

  2. Once again, thank you Chalgyr, and totally agreed on time being better spent on video games than TV. :)

    Personally, I'm a fan of episodic gaming. The way I see it, is that episodic games give you something to continually look forward to. Back in 2009, when Final Fantasy IV: The After Years was being rolled out, I had a wonderful time completing each episode while eagerly awaiting the next. I see The Walking Dead the same way. The first episode ended on a cliffhanger, and I've read around the net that we have a month to wait to see what happens... :(

    I suppose it does end up being as expensive as a regular retail title. I think the experience you get is enhanced by having to wait to see what happens instead of being able to plow through it in a matter of days.

    1. One aspect to episodic gaming I like, is that there is potential for developers to read what people liked and didn't, and perhaps gameplan accordingly. They're obviously not going to change around entire engines, but if certain scenes, bits of dialog, puzzles, etc resonated especially well or poorly, they can make note of it for future releases - it's all a bit more fluid that way.