The Walking Dead is a franchise that is rapidly growing in popularity. Starting out as a modest, yet critically acclaimed comic book series (which has now just shipped its 100th issue!) it has spawned a successful TV show, and now, a videogame. Considering the world Robert Kirkman originally created is one that, as you may have guessed, is crawling with the nightmarish undead, at first ‘point & click’ adventure developers Telltale Games seem like an odd choice to helm the franchise’s video game debut. With recent titles such as the fun but flawed Back to the Future adaptation and the purely flawed Jurassic Park game, both of which adopt the classic “Take item A and rub it against item B” gameplay mechanic, it seems a strange way to approach a game that’s primarily about killing zombies, right? Wrong.
For starters, this game isn’t really about the zombies at all. They’re a constant presence, of course, and you’ll see your fair share of shambling corpses throughout, but their real purpose is to serve as an eternal threat towards the real stars of the game – you and your fellow survivors. You play as Lee, and as the opening credits play out, you find yourself in the back of a police car, on your way to prison. Without wanting to spoil too much, it transpires that you’ve been sent down for murder, and then, quite literally with a bang, you’re thrown into a zombie apocalypse. Lee’s story runs parallel to that of the comics – a smart move, allowing Telltale to introduce new, interesting characters, and generally take the game in their own direction. Very early into the roughly 3 hour episode (there are 4 more planned in total) you meet a little girl named Clementine. The relationship you form with Clementine quickly establishes the feel of the game: she’s vulnerable, and you feel a need to protect her. From here on out, you commence your journey together through a devastated world, meeting all sorts of characters along the way, including, in a nice touch for long term fans, some familiar faces from the comic series.
This is where the extremely smart gameplay mechanics enter the picture. The main bulk of the gameplay follows the usual Telltale imprint. You use the left stick to control Lee and the right stick to control a cursor over the screen, highlighting things you may want to interact with. This works quite well – I had no navigation problems, and interacting with specific objects when they were in close proximity of others was never an issue. The real meat of the game, however, comes when you’re interacting with other characters. You’re given 4 response options when someone is talking to you, and you must pick how you want to respond by pressing one of the face buttons, corresponding with the sentence you want to proceed with, similar to the Mass Effect series. Unlike Mass Effect however, the responses are never morally clear. There is no morality mechanic to speak of, and the game is all the better for it. People’s opinions of you will change based on what you say to them, and how you act around the group. Part of the genius of this is that characters will remember certain things you say. For example, in one scene, a character was enquiring about my past. Eager to hide the fact I was a convicted criminal, I told a lie. The character in question remembered what I’d said, and when he later quizzed me again, I tripped over my first lie and I was suddenly caught out, resulting in him instantly becoming a lot less trusting. This, mixed with the fact that Telltale have claimed that certain things you say and do will have huge ramifications on later episodes, is exciting stuff. You’ll also face a couple of life or death choices in this first episode alone, something that is made all the more difficult due to the believable, realistic characters you have to choose between. They genuinely feel like they could quite easily be real people.
Graphically, the game shares a lot with the comic book. It feels like an ode to Tony Moore’s original work on the comics, with characters and locations possessing a half cel-shaded, cartoony aesthetic, outlined by thick black stokes. It’s important to note that the cartoony looks don’t take anything away from the dark, gritty atmosphere, and instead add to the game’s unique feel. Zombies are rotten bags of gore, and the world ranges from blue, sun-filled skies, to claustrophobic, dark shop-fronts and narrow alleyways. It’s a great looking game, let down only by some jerky animations and occasionally slow lip-syncing.
It’s not particularly easy to find negatives with this game, as it’s a real strike of form for Telltale, however, dig deep enough and TWD has a fair few faults. As previously mentioned, animations could be smoother, and although the story is engrossing, the lack of actual puzzles is plain to see. Whilst there are times where you’ll need to get that grey matter working, nothing will ever stump you, taking away the satisfaction you normally receive when solving a slightly tricky conundrum. It’s all fairly obvious and lacks the challenge you may expect from a more traditional ‘point & click’. Overall, the positives far outweigh the negatives, and TWD excels in its objective, to deliver a character driven, engaging experience. It’s testament to the developers that for me, I found this to be the most interesting, exciting portrayal of the franchise to date, meeting and exceeding the standard set by both the comic and the TV show. Better still, the £3.99 ($4.99) asking price makes it an absolute steal, and the prospect of having a different story to your mates due to the outcome of your decisions really is tantalising. There’s no doubt this isn’t for everyone – those looking for a zombie shooter a la Left 4 Dead best look elsewhere – but those interested in a character driven, dramatic experience should get in line, as this is one zombie you won’t mind getting bitten by!