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

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The Walking DeadWhen the zombie apocalypse comes, there will be more than bloodshed. Society will crumble. Infrastructure that took centuries to build will be destroyed in days. And families will be torn apart.

When Robert Kirkman created the graphic novel series The Walking Dead, it was this post-apocalyptic world that he described. By putting his characters in extreme situations, he wove an intricate tale of personal development through adverse experience.

This powerful narrative has since been converted into a hit TV series by the same name, and (most recently) a videogame series.

Exploring The Walking Dead Universe

The Walking Dead videogame is set in the same universe as the graphic novel and TV series, but stars a different cast of characters. Episode One (the first of five) opens with the protagonist Lee Everett riding in the back seat of a police car.

Everett is the literary foil of Rick Grimes – the original series’ protagonist. Prior to the zombie invasion, Grimes is a police officer, whereas Everett is a convicted criminal. Grimes has a growing family, but Everett’s is in disarray. And without spoiling too much, the protagonists’ interactions with their respective families in the first episode are in stark contrast.

The Significance of Choice

One of the benefits of creating a new cast is freedom from the original story. Usually when a game is created from a previously written story, the player is expected to merely act out the events of the original tale. In The Walking Dead game, you are controlling a brand new character whose story is determined by the decisions you make.

Like the previous series, the story is primarily about character development and secondarily about action. While there are some puzzles scattered throughout the game, most of the choices you make will be in your conversations with the other characters (similar to questioning in L.A. Noire). Will you tell the truth or lie about your past? Will you be friendly or a jerk? Will you be loyal to your comrades or throw them out to the zombie hordes?

At the beginning of Episode One, there is a stern warning:

This game series adapts to the choices you make.
The story is tailored by how you play.

The decisions you make supposedly determine the events that follow. The concept is similar to a Twistaplot novel, but though it is a powerful concept, the success of the implementation will have to be proven in the future episodes.

Your first conversation seems to be more for practice than plot development. Depending on how you branch the dialogue, you will learn various things about Everett, but you never talk to this police officer again, so what you say to him doesn’t have any affect on the rest of the game.

Your choices in later conversations do have an affect on how the other characters talk to you, but the events of the game seem to remain relatively unchanged regardless of what you say.

Even when you have to choose whether to save one person or another from a zombie attack, there’s a 50/50 chance that your choice won’t change the actual events of the game.

As a character driven story, it could be that variations in the conversations are all that you can expect. This is still more interesting than a purely linear story, but even so, it’s a little disappointing that your control over the action in the game is so limited. Hopefully later episodes in the series will show more dynamic gameplay.

The Walking Dead: Game or Interactive Movie?

With such a heavy emphasis on characters and conversation, The Walking Dead is less about killing zombies (though there is a fair share of that) and more about Everett’s interactions with the other survivors he encounters. This isn’t another Dead Rising or Left 4 Dead. As a story-driven game, the number of cutscenes is reminiscent of a Rockstar Game (but without much “free roam”).

However, players can’t just sit back when the cutscenes start. Like the cutscenes in Uncharted, you might be called at any moment to choose what Everett should say or do. If you don’t respond within a certain amount of time, the opportunity will pass and Everett won’t say or do anything – a decision which may have consequences of its own.

Recreating the Visual Impact

The graphics in any videogame are important, but with the multitude of cutscenes in The Walking Dead, the visuals are even more important. As a recreation of a graphic novel, the cartoonish graphics are appropriately consistent. The images are striking and simultaneously dark – matching the content of the story. But though the style and mood are consistent, the awkward movements of the characters and environment in the game are far from discreet. The faces are convincing, but the posture and movements of the bodies especially are so bizarre that they break the mesmeric power of the story.

Lee Everett in The Walking Dead

Looking Forward to Episodes Two-Five (and Reviews)

Despite the graphical problems, the story of The Walking Dead is as powerful in Episode One of the videogame as it is in the graphic novel and TV show. If you enjoyed Kirkman’s dramatic portrayal of the zombie apocalypse, you are in for a treat with The Walking Dead video game. And if the future episodes are as good as the first, they are well worth the cost for the whole series.

Reviews of Episodes Two through Five will be released as the episodes come out.

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 Stephen Lee

In addition to being an awesome web developer, Stephen Lee, aka SLee, is also a video game junkie and intermittent blogger. Click here to find out how he plays so many games.