Games based on TV shows generally aren’t the most well-thought-out titles. Think back through all the turgid, broken messes we’ve endured: those early Simpsons efforts, that shocking X-Files: Resist or Serve disaster, a million terrible Star Trek spin-offs that should’ve been burned at birth. And how could we forget the horrific Xbox version of ‘X Factor’, where you had to beat Simon Cowell’s smug orange face to a bloody pulp with a rubber hose? Actually, that might just be a dream we once had...
Well, The Walking Dead isn’t just a game based on a TV show, it’s a game based on a TV show based on a comic book. It should by all means be terrible, and we’re certain that some people will think exactly that. But if you’re up for a gutsy, surprising interactive drama filled with tense action scenes, The Walking Dead will satisfy your hunger (for brains).
Same ol’ zombies
Call it weariness at the abundance of zombies in popular media, or call it pure fat-arse laziness, but we’ve never bothered watching The Walking Dead. However, we have read the first graphic novel that the series spins from, and can safely say that this episodic adventure game is lovingly loyal to the source material, right down to the gore-encrusted cel-shaded graphics.
Episode One (A New Day) introduces our brand new protagonist Lee as he’s being escorted out of town in the back of a squad car. It’s obvious all is not well from the number of helicopters and emergency vehicles tearing around, and sure enough a horrific accident earns Lee his freedom. The phrase ‘out of the frying pan’ is all too apt, however, as he has to evade a legion of undead walkers by teaming up with a bedraggled band of fellow survivors.
So, tell me about yourself
Controls for the most part are simple: you look around and interact with the environment using the mouse, and occasionally manoeuvre Lee using the W, A, S, D keys. You have the option to make hotspots glow when your cursor swings near them, and we highly recommend using this feature as they can be incredibly hard to find otherwise.
Anyone hoping for a brainless action shooter will be sorely disappointed by The Walking Dead: Episode One’s thoughtful approach to the genre. Like the source material, this game isn’t about the zombies - it’s about the survivors, and their fraught relationships as their worlds collide and collapse. You’ll spend a good chunk of this episode conversing with others, finding out little snippets of information as you struggle to survive.
This means plenty of dialogue to sit through, sure, but for the most part it’s well written, well acted and utterly engrossing. As an example of human drama, The Walking Dead is one of the best we’ve experienced in game form. To keep the conversations even more interesting, there are timed sections where you have just a couple of seconds to choose your response. If a character’s pissing you off, you can either try to talk them down calmly or really let them have it. Your responses actually affect how the other characters act towards you, not only in this episode but also throughout the rest of the series, so tread carefully.
Of course, we also start the game knowing absolutely nothing about our main man Lee, except that he was arrested for a crime he may or may not have committed. It’s strange steering through conversations about yourself when you have no idea who you are, but the game does a good job of revealing tiny morsels to keep you interested, without revealing too much at once.
Of course, Walking Dead isn’t just nattering on as you await the end of the world. Occasionally you’ll have to fight your way out of trouble, leading to some memorable and horrific quicktime scenes. Often this involves clicking hotspots as quickly as possible, but occasionally you’ll have to choose between a couple of different actions, or pound the Q button as hard as you can to keep a zombie from clamping its jaws onto your face.
These action scenes are easy enough to survive (we didn’t die once in the entire episode) but that doesn’t make them any less tense. One early example has you fumbling for shotgun shells as a mutilated zombie crawls up your legs, which had us shrieking like a 13 year old at a Justin Bieber concert. Tension is further heightened as some of the NPCs can actually be killed depending on your actions. It’ll be interesting seeing how the series pans out considering players will end up with different bands of survivors, an ambitious game mechanic that we really hope doesn’t collapse in future episodes.
Episode One even throws in an unexpected stealthy section, which has you sneakily taking out a car park full of zombies to rescue a trapped girl. You can only manoeuvre around by clicking (you don’t have the freedom to fully sneak around sadly), but you’ll need to peek out from cover to check the coast is clear, and hovering too long means you’ll be spotted and ripped to shreds by the hungry walkers. Taking out zombies with nothing more than a screwdriver is a nail-chompingly terrifying experience...
The Walking Dead is one of the best spin-offs we’ve seen for a long time, boasting top-notch production values, and Episode One does a great job of introducing the intriguing cast of characters. Some players will be put off by the lengthy scenes without any action, but this makes the dramatic moments all the more potent and we can’t wait to see how our actions affect the rest of the game. Bring on Episode Two...