The Walking Dead is TellTale Games’ latest venture into interactive story telling. As the first part to a 5-game series which will be ongoing this year, Episode One – A New Day, pits you against – ahem – the walking dead in a story inspired by the comics written by Robert Kirkman of the same name.
A New Day places you in the role of Lee Everett, a man who is on his way to jail; leaving the city of Atlanta behind him. You don’t know anything else about Lee, including why he’s on his way to jail, but for the most part, this makes the game work. See, like other TellTale adventures, this is much more of a story medium than an actual game, but more than a simple point-and-click adventure.
As you drive away from the city, you start noticing that something is happening back there, as dozens of cops and armed forces drive past you while the officer driving you insists on telling you about his life. Luckily, you’ll quickly crash – in a great point-of-view shot from inside the car, reminiscent of a crash in the movie Let Me In – causing you to land in the woods where you break free from your handcuffs and experience the zombie madness firsthand. This story takes place at the beginning of this outbreak, which is technically going on before the comic books start, but fortunately A New Day stands on its own and you don’t need any prior knowledge of the canon (or the tv show) to enjoy this game.
The Walking Dead looks great. While the TellTale Games engine is aging, I haven’t found a better game of theirs to use cel-shading to their advantage. Given the Walking Dead’s origin, it just makes sense. You feel like you’re in a comic book. The movements, scene cut-aways, effects, and sound all complement the game. TellTale tends to make their games cartoonized, and while that may have been an issue for some in their previous endeavor, Jurassic Park, it doesn’t bother me here. However, I will say this game is surprisingly bright. Rarely have I ever had to decrease the brightness setting to add a horror vibe to the game. You may want to consider following-suit, since the jump scares may seem out-of-place without it. But this game isn’t necessarily out to scare you. No, it’s meant to introduce you to Lee and the people he meets, and more importantly, create your own Lee.
The choice system in A New Day is simple, but promising for future episodes. There are “difficult” choices you make throughout the game. At certain points you will be tasked with choosing someone to save and someone to sacrifice. Or you might be tempted to lie – careful, though, you might be caught later. If you have hints turned on at the beginning of the game (optional), you’ll be notified when such a decision was made. Personally, this kind of took me out of the experience. I was so immersed in the story, being Lee – my own Lee – and reacting to the people I’ve met, that those points remind me I’m playing a game. Nevertheless, it gives you a clue on how certain parts of the story will play out in the future. However, my largest pet peeve with this is that when you finish A New Day you’ll be shown a custom teaser for Episode 2 which all but tells you exactly how each decision you made will play out. It is counter productive, and not only are you reminded it’s all a game, but it lessens the importance of the choices I’ll make during Episode 2, since I already know what some characters will do. My suggestion would be to not watch this clip, and instead add to the mystery that makes this episode so great: you don’t know what will happen, why it’s happening, and what you’re going to do about it.
The voice work is top-notch in A New Day. The characters sound believable and you easily connect with them; particularly Lee, who wins you over as the protagonist of this story, and Clementine, the young girl who tags along with you. Sound is so important in video games because it places you in the right setting. The zombies sound like what I want them to sound like, but it’s the silence of the game that really works. Early in the game you’ll hear a series of voicemail messages left for Clementine and you’ll be hard-pressed not to be empathetic. Speaking of Clementine, I am happy to say she is not dumb. There are too many games where the young child sidekick is more of a detriment than an asset to the story, but she is quite the life saver. Literally. Sadly, the TellTale engine is showing its age and you will hear breaks in dialog every now and then. It’s not a large problem, but after so many similar games, you’d think TellTale could prevent such an important issue.
I’ve used the word “game” somewhat loosely in this review. You see, there really isn’t much gameplay in this. Yes, the choice system works, and there are quite a few bits of action, but it’s really all narrative. I argue there is one true puzzle in the game. Well, there are two if you count this ridiculous quest to find batteries for a girl who doesn’t know radios use them, even though said girl is a radio reporter. Setting that aside, the action bits were fun, and you definitely get a few good zombie kills in there. I played on a PC, but I feel like some of the button-tap sections followed by a trigger event could get old on a controller, along with the quick-time aiming.
That being said, what A New Day does, it does well. It succeeds in hooking me into the story with great writing, personable characters, and exciting climax. Though it shouldn’t take you more than a couple of hours to play through, you’ll be tempted in multiple play sessions where you might choose to save someone else. I, for one, played it twice and it’s worth it seeing the game from a different perspective. Unlike a lot of morality meters, the choices in this game aren’t “help this person” or “kill them, ruin their family, and steal everything they have ever owned.” The choices are believable and come down to a matter of how you want Lee to be, and by extension, how you want to see the story play out. You may be learning about Lee Everett as you play the game, but it’s really a choose-your-own-adventure story, and one that will captivate you to play them in sequence as the rest of the episodes are released.
While there might not be much of a “game” in A New Day it successfully makes me want to play the rest of the Walking Dead series. TellTale Games has created a fun, rich story that you add to with each choice you make as you discover more from Lee Everett. However, the style of game will be a turn off to many. It’s slow at times, and if you’re not already somewhat into TellTale Games or point-and-click adventures, I can’t say this title will win you over (unless you’re a huge Walking Dead fan). For what it is, it’s worth the price of admission, and if anything at all, you might enjoy playing this more than watching the show – I know I do.