Normally, our reviews follow a traditional format, offering a single critic’s analysis of a game. With The Walking Dead: Episode 1: A New Day, the format felt forced. Not only does the game present players with a number of choices which have the potential to create a varying experience, but the title represents only the first installment in a larger series. What follows is a conversation between Robert “DesertEagle” Allen and Sean “SeanNOLA” Kirkland about their experiences with the inaugural installment.
DesertEagle: I’ll admit it- although I enjoyed Robert Kirkman’s comics, I lost interest after the midway through the first season of AMC’s adaptation of The Walking Dead due to a storyline that moved slower than a double-amputee crawler. Coupled with a general dislike for adventure games, I was initially apathetic toward Telltale Games’ acquisition of the property. Yet, after playing through the first episode, A New Day, I have to praise the studio. The installment is more about delivering an interactive, cinematic experience than sending players scouring for the individual pieces to activate Rube Goldberg-like device.
SeanNOLA: If you want to talk about Kirkman books that are more deserving of a TV adaptation than The Walking Dead, check out Super Dinosaur. Then again, you know how I feel about the undead; the mere mention of zombies makes me tired and agitated. I don’t really want to pass judgement on The Walking Dead game after just one episode, especially since Telltale has a tendency to run out of narrative gas halfway through a season, but I have to say that this is the best first episode they’ve ever put out. They definitely have me begging for Episode 2. What did you think about the interface?
DesertEagle: Using the left analog stick to move the protagonist around, while using the right stick to highlight objects usually felt instinctive. Of course, in those heated moments where a walker was about to make a buffet out of somebody’s brains, scanning the screen for an obscured pip point with the right stick while simultaneously pressing the “X” button felt clumsy. I’m assuming that Telltale was trying to convey the frantic anxiety of being attacked by a reanimated corpse. Speaking of quick reactions, what did you feel about having a limited time to deliver conversational responses?
SeanNOLA: I loved it in Alpha Protocol, and I think The Walking Dead does an even better job with it. Unlike AP, which gave you a limited time to essentially choose “good” “bad” or “aggressive” before automatically picking whatever choice you made the last time, Lee’s choices are always equally muddy. I like how the“good guy” choice wasn’t always mapped to the same button, so I really had to weigh all my options before committing. My only complaint is that sometimes I felt like I had too much time to make a decision, which took away some of the realistic conversational flow that Alpha Protocol had, but for the most part it seemed to be timed out properly. I think the concept of picking from a variety of different choices really fit well into this story too. Lee Everett isn’t really a hero or even your typical anti-hero – he’s just a dude who’s made some questionable decisions. I appreciated the choices that let me roleplay as that character rather than just trying to pick the option that gives me the most paragon points.
DesertEagle: I also appreciate how silence is always an option for Everett as well as how key decisions will telegraph (strategically ambiguous)on-screen messages much as “Hershel noted Lee’s reaction”. The Walking Dead’s true litmus test will be if these choices radically influence the series’ outcome, or just offer a Mass Effect-like rouse where decisions don’t carry much weight into the series’ finale.
I want to get your thoughts on the title’s aesthetics. I think Telltale put forth a virtuous effort considering the studio didn’t have the triple-A sized budget. I liked the game’s cell-shaded world and thought the characters articulated an impressive amount of emotion through a combination facial expression and solid voice acting. You?
SeanNOLA: I think it looks great! The cel shading captures the style of the comics without being too heavy-handed like XIII or Jet Set Radio. It was easy to look past the gimmick and getr lost in the picture. Telltale definitely has a cartoony animation style, which still comes through in some of the more exaggerated gestures, but they clearly showed a lot of restraint, and it paid off in a big way. As for the choices making a difference, there was already one choice (which I won’t spoil for the readers’ sake) that seemed to have a pretty major immediate impact on the story. I’ve only played through the episode once (I don’t think I’ll replay until the entire season is over) but I’ll be interested to see how that one choice changes your trajectory.
I ran into a few irritating bugs, for example when I tried to finish a puzzle out of sequence, I ended up being unable to finish that puzzle. The errors were never so bad as to discourage me from finishing, and weren’t as prevalent as the game-destroying bugs found all over Back to the Future. All-in-all, I thought it was a great experience. Like I said before, I’m a little wary, given Telltale’s track record of boring me to death after episode 3, but they never really hit the nail on the head as hard as they have with The Walking Dead, so I’m hopeful.