It’s like Resident Evil, Mass Effect, Heavy Rain, and Sam and Max all mixed up into one.
One of my favorite PC gaming genres was the adventure genre. It didn’t matter if it was the old-school text-based adventure games like Zork, the early graphic text adventures like Sierra’s King Quest or Space Quest, or the simplified point-and-click style of LucasArt’s The Secret of Monkey Island, I loved the quirky puzzle-solving nature of the adventure genre. Unfortunately, it was also a genre that only lasted up until the mid-90s before it fell into obscurity.
A group of ex-LucasArts employees formed Telltale Games, and in 2005 released one of their first games, a series based on the comic book character Bone. They attempted to resurrect the adventure genre, and the following year they brought back the the popular and witty duo of Sam and Max, in Sam and Max Save the World. Rather than make a full-fledged sequel to Sam and Max’s last game in 1993, Telltale did something different: they released the game in a 6-part serialized format that ran from October 2006 through April of 2007. Each episode was released nearly a month apart.
For years, Telltale continued to dominate the the modernized adventure genre by bringing back the beloved LucasArts property The Secret of Monkey Island, introduced the world to Nelson Tether’s Puzzle Agent, brought the Aardman stop-motion duo of Wallace & Gromit into a digital adventure format, and continued to release new Sam & Max “seasons.”
Some gamers felt that the cute, family-friendly style and Telltale signature gameplay had begun to wear out its welcome and began yearning for something different. Telltale heard the call and answered with a more-mature adventure series titled Hector: Badge of Carnage, starring a foul-mouthed, alcoholic Irish detective (or simply “an Irish detective” — Oooh! *rimshot* — Sorry, Barry) with promises of darker and edgier games based on the Jurassic Park and The Walking Dead franchises.
I’m pleased to say that, at least with The Walking Dead franchise, Telltale Games delivered!
The Walking Dead comic book series has been around for a long time, and has been most-recently been brought to mainstream attention as an AMC television drama. As a big fan of the television series, with some knowledge of the graphic novels (limited to the first dozen or so issues), it’s obvious to see the game’s influence skews heavily towards the comic series thanks to the game’s polygonal-yet-sketchy cell-shaded visual style.
The characters almost look like comic book characters, who have come to life and jumped out of the frames of animation and into a zombie-infested 3D world.
The game takes place just before the comic book and television show, as the characters are first introduced to the fledgling stage of the zombie apocalypse. You assume the role of Lee Everett, a man with a mysterious background. We are introduced to Lee as he’s being driven to prison in the back seat of a police car, after being found guilty of murder.
The answer to the joke “Why did the zombie cross the road?” is answered when the police cruiser smashes into the undead, curtails off the road, and crashes. It is at this point where the player assumes control of Lee with the goal to survive.
The Walking Dead is an interesting mix of genres, and shockingly it’s not heavy on the action, although there are some pretty tense timed events that will get your adrenaline going. Much like the comic book and the television series, the game tells a tale of survival where the focus is on the humanity (or the lack thereof) of the survivors during a zombie apocalypse.
Like most adventure games you’ll spend time exploring environments, looking for key items to use to get to the next area, but the decision you make will also change the course of the game.
Like Mass Effect, the game offers a conversation tree, and based on your responses, you can alter game’s path. For example, you’ll be given the choice to tell the truth or lie, or take sides with a particular character. Your choices and loyalties are noticed by the game’s characters, and are noted at the top of the screen, and may come back into play in later parts of the game.
Also like Mass Effect, you carry the heavy burden of putting the lives of the game’s characters in your hands. In at least two instances during the first episode, you will be faced with the decision of who is to live and who is to die. The results, as expected, will change the direction of the game.
The Walking Dead is a mature-rated game, and doesn’t shy away from the use of bad language, including an excessive use of the F-bomb, as well as heaps upon gobs of blood and gore. You’ll witness some rather gruesome zombie head bashings, a suicide, and the bloody demise of victims at the hands of frenzied zombies.
For the most part, you’ll spend your time solving riddles by finding important items that will move you along to the next area. While the game isn’t action-oriented, there are some instances of Heavy Rain-like quicktime events where you’ll need to think and act quickly or become a zombie meal.
The Walking Dead does a good job of focusing on the humanity during the zombie apocalypse. The character development is very good, and you’ll quickly grow to like the main character Lee Everett. The other personalities you’ll meet along the way are also really well-developed, and you’ll grow to either love or hate some them (and you may even get to choose their fate), and you may change your mind completely about them once you learn more about them and their past.
The Walking Dead: Episode One took me less than 4 hours to complete, but I had an absolute blast playing it. As a big fan of the adventure genre, I liked the spin that Telltale took with The Walking Dead, and felt that it was a fresh and unique take on the genre.
It is the first of five episodes to be released about a month apart, and is available on Xbox Live Marketplace, the PlayStation Network or for the PC through a service like Steam. Each episode will run you $5, or you can purchase a season pass for $20.
Dan: The PC version is pretty much identical, with obvious differences in how controls are handled (the alternate use of WASD or the Arrow keys for movement will be a happy change for left-handed gamers). There’s a cool feature where upon completion of the episode and the credits, you’re shown a tally of the percentage of people who made each choice. Interestingly enough is that over 70% of the PC players chose a particular person, where every other measured choice was roughly 50/50. It’s disappointing that the only Steam Achievements available are automatically received for completion of each chapter and the game, so replayability is limited to making different choices to see the outcomes.