The Walking Dead episode one: review

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The Walking Dead started off as a popular comic series, which quickly became even more popular thanks to the ongoing TV adaptation. Said TV series has already begun to deviate from the source material slightly, and now Telltale has released the first episode of their videogame tie-in – which, though offering a completely new storyline, remains canon to the world of the comics. How on earth do you successfully adapt a series so long on story and short on action to videogame form? The answer: exactly like this.

Players take control of Lee Everett, a convicted murderer who quickly finds himself free of the police car and handcuffs we first find him in (good news!), but only because the zombie apocalypse we all know is coming has finally arrived (bad news). Telltale fans who have played their previous games such as Back to the Future and Sam & Max will know what to expect… kind of. While the player has direct control over character movement, and scours the environment for objects to pick up and interact with, this is not a ‘walk and click’ game.

For starters, there are no puzzles to speak of. The closest episode one comes to offering a complicated puzzle is fiddling around with an old radio in an effort to get it working, which even includes finding and inserting two batteries which probably don’t have the same amount of charge. Never has a game filled with zombies made you feel quite so much like your dad.

"Get away! I'll kill you... again!"

The user interface is a little odd. On consoles the left stick controls character movement, while the right stick mimics a mouse by moving an on-screen cursor around; which feels rather odd, but proves easy enough to use. Highlight something you can interact with, and a maximum of four buttons will offer you various options (look, talk, open etc). While you may then suspect that the PC’s keyboard-mouse combo is the preferred system, there are also a few brief QTEs which sometimes include button bashing, which are definitely more suited to a joypad (the PC version even encourages you to plug one in). Neither system is perfect, but neither system ever comes close to ruining the experience, either. And oh, what an experience.

Surprisingly, the lack of ‘real’ puzzles is never an issue. In their place is Fahrenheit/Heavy Rain style micro-gameplay (perform small tasks one interaction at a time, or wander to the right place or pick up the right item to move play forward) and an emphasis on interacting with other characters. The Walking Dead has always been about human nature and how people act under pressure first, zombie attacks second – something the developers have understood, and captured, brilliantly.

In the first episode, which lasts just a few hours, you will already be tasked with making several choices which have repercussions further down the line. Some effects are short term, while others – as hinted at in the preview of episode two, which varies slightly according to your choices – are long term. This promises something that tends to be missing from Telltale games – replay value. Some of your responses to questions and situations will affect how much certain characters trust you, or what sort of person they think you are; though after just one fairly brief episode, it’s difficult to say how deep these effects go. More immediately visible consequences come from the moments where you’re forced to choose who will die, and who will live; and therefore continue the story with you.

This dyslexic zombie only eats people called Brian.

The writing is top notch, as is most of the acting. It’s not necessary to know the comics and/or TV series to understand and enjoy this game, but fans will be able to appreciate how it feels like The Walking Dead (which isn’t solely due to a few familiar faces making an appearance) – and how the development team has proven equal to the not-inconsiderable task of living up to the atmosphere and quality of the original story.

In theory, we should all hate this game. It’s a title from a puzzle adventure company with precious few puzzles; it carries the ever-hated QTE; it’s far removed from the level of interactivity that we’re used to with traditional videogames. The player is tasked with little more than pushing the story forward. Nonetheless, it’s nigh-on impossible to dislike episode one. The story you’re pushing is an excellent one, and you have more say in how it proceeds than is offered by almost any other title. It never pretends to be doing anything other than what it offers, and handles what it does wonderfully. Console owners can buy the first episode on its own; but once you play through it, there’s no way you’ll be able to resist seeing the series through to its end.

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Written by Luke K

He plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. He doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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