Review: The Walking Dead Episode 1

Pointy clicky adventure games are great, but after this generation of consoles were treated to Back to the Future and Jurassic Park series something needed to change to keep things fresh. Luckily Telltale Games have become masters of their pointy clicky art, and have turned the genre on its head with the release of the first chapter in the Walking Dead series. Starting a grizzly tale of survival, with some tough decision making thrown in the hours about to follow will totally change your perception of what to expect from a game like this.

The issue with previous pointy clicky games is that once they’re done, they’re done. You wander round, find stuff, use it and have pre-set conversations that generally all end the same way. I still love them, I’ve loved them for years, ever since I first played Simon the Sorcerer complete with Chris Barrie’s genius voiceover. With The Walking Dead though we’re into new territory, gone are the basic conversations without consequences, gone (partly) is the idea that you can take your time without stuff passing you by, and gone are the easy nature of doing what the game has planned out – The Walking Dead is the Mass Effect of pointy clicky games.

With the storyline being half of the fun, I’m not going to ruin it for you, but this first episode sets up the series beautifully. Starting in the back of a police car you play Lee Everett, a maybe murderer (but maybe not) chatting reluctantly to the driving police officer. Acting as an introduction to the conversation system, this feels like you’re already making some important decisions and although this particular example turns out not to be the case you never quite know when you’re about to totally alter the course of the next few chapters. As soon as you find Clementine, a young girl who isn’t sure where her parents are, your decisions get all the more vital. All of a sudden it’s not just a big burly guy who can look after himself, you’ve got a little girl to look after and it’s quite impressive just how much difference this makes to your decision making.

You can also forget about the cutesy nature of most pointy clicky games – Telltale have taken a substantial sidestep away from their previous titles, and have done a great job of making you realise just how gnarly a zombie outbreak would be. Using a gorgeous cell-shaded graphical style you’ll be stabbing zombies in the head, slipping over on pools of blood and seeing zombies tucking into some previously-human meals. There’s a fair amount of swearing too, which again matches the situation perfectly but does drive home the point that this isn’t a game for kids; leave them in front of Back to the Future.

The voice acting is brilliant though, and makes the difference between this becoming just another adventure game. Each of the characters have been voiced to near perfection to the point where the loose facial animations don’t really matter – this isn’t trying to be LA Noire after all – and the acting adds a huge amount to the experience.

This first chapter isn’t all that long, which is a shame because it’s just enough to get you hooked into the story, and it’s not at all difficult (although a couple of moments where you need to act fast make life uncomfortable) but this is clearly here to set up the rest of the story. When you’ve finished you get a preview of Episode 2 which starts to make you aware of the consequences of your actions so far, and also lets you know how your key decisions lined up against everyone else who has finished the chapter. The nice things is you can have several saved games running along side each other, so trying out different decisions is fairly straight forward. Better yet, you can copy a saved game and rewind to a previous key moment to change the path you took. It’s a brilliant idea and suggests that Telltale Games are keen for people to see as many different storylines as possible.

Episode 1 does everything it sets out to do. It sets up the story perfectly, shows us exactly the quality that we can look forward to over the next few episodes and gives you the chance to set up your pathways through the future story. If, like me, you’ve been waiting years for a new style of pointy clicky adventures then sit up and take notice: this is the start of something special.

Reviewed on PS3

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