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PC/Mac Game Review: The Walking Dead – Episode One

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Telltale Games do point-and-click adventure/puzzle games brilliantly.  From Sam & Max to Monkey Island and even to Back to the Future, they have shown that they have a certain perspective on the genre that is unparalleled by other developers.  What their recent game, Jurassic Park, showed us is that they aren’t necessarily as good with action-oriented fare.  Their latest game season is The Walking Dead, and as the just released episode one shows, it’s a sometimes uncomfortable hybrid of puzzle and action.

With a great cel-shaded style, The Walking Dead game takes place in the same universe as the comic/television show, but features a different character as the lead.  Playing the game you will meet familiar characters, but the game doesn’t center on them.  Instead, one plays as Lee Everett, a man convicted of murder who manages to get out of custody when the dead begin to roam the Earth.  His goal (and therefore yours) is pretty simple – survive the zombie apocalypse.

While the first episode has a truly interesting story to tell, it all too often opts to focus on telling that story rather than allowing the player to feel as though they have agency in it – all too often it feels like you’re along for the ride, not controlling the action.  Part of this is because some of the cutscenes play out too close together and run for too long and the player gets to do too little between them.   This issue is made worse when the actions that the player does get to take solely involve quick-time events like pushing a car or repeatedly striking a key (or series of keys) in order to put down a walker (zombie) for good.

To be fair, I have never been a fan of quick-time events in titles – I love button-mashing in a fighter, but not in other genres, genres that ought to ask the user to perform certain tasks by utilizing some sort of thought process.  In my estimation, the use of QTEs ruined Telltale’s Jurassic Park and they don’t do The Walking Dead any favors either.

Fortunately, said events are not the only type of play present in the game.  When the game does stop the QTE nonsense and the cutscenes, it reverts to classic Telltale puzzle form. 

In these moments, it’s outstanding.  Here, you are given a group of people to talk to, things to pick up, and problems to solve.  And, it’s wonderful.  There aren’t enough of these in the first episode of The Walking Dead, but maybe as the season continues more will be present.

It must also be noted that The Walking Dead promises to have the game change based upon decisions players make.  These decisions are generally in the form of how you choose to have Lee answer questions (whether to lie or tell the truth, be nice or rude, etc.).  What is unclear after episode one is just how much the game is going to change based upon the choices one makes.  Just having the first episode to go by, differences seem to revolve around whether people give you angry looks and act badly towards your or are nicer – it doesn’t seem to affect what actually happens in the story itself.

As with any season of a Telltale title, a final judgment cannot be rendered on simply the first episode.   What we are given with The Walking Dead are moments of brilliance and moments of boredom – it remains to be seen just what the rest of the season will look like (four more episodes are scheduled to be released between the end of June and end of December).

The Walking Dead is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Strong Language, Blood and Gore, Intense Violence. This game can also be found on: Xbox 360 and PS3.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.
  • http://gamelicker.com Michal

    You are right that some scenes last for too long and players get bored. On the other hand the game is very entertaining, zombies look scary and it is not easy to get rid of them. The first episode of many games is usually better than the second one. It is because of the simple fact that while the first instalment of a game is usually made for players (nobody can tell whether the game will be a success or not) any subsequent episodes are made “for money” (game creators already know that the first instalment was a success and just want to milk gamers a bit more).

  • Stephen

    Michal, your analysis of diminishing quality in sequels is interesting. I would agree that it’s common with games (and movies, books, or any other cultural product) for the original to be better than subsequent titles. (Of course this isn’t always true – Halo 2, for example, has been a favorite for many gamers for almost a decade.) But your explanation of why this may be true is not very clear.

    In any case, with The Walking Dead being released as a series of video game “episodes,” this situation is different than the sequel syndrome you describe. TellTale isn’t waiting to count their cash before they make the next episode. I would be surprised if all five episodes haven’t been created already; they are just drip-releasing the episodes to maximize the buzz around the series.