Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Review: The Walking Dead - A New Day

Ever since Deputy Sheriff Rick Grimes first left that besieged hospital, I’ve been hooked to the Walking Dead TV series. So news that Telltale Games was planning a video game version of the cult comic book had me positively salivating at the prospect. The game takes place in the same zombie-ravaged world but introduces a new cast of characters, environments and storylines to get your teeth into. There are some familiar faces packed in there too!

The Walking Dead: A New Day is the first of five episodes and introduces us to our protagonist Lee Everett, a felon who’s cuffed in the back of a police car and being whisked along the highway on his way to jail. The journey acts as a brief tutorial to the point and click control mechanic that proliferates the game. It’s a welcome throwback to the good old days and works remarkably well, providing an all together more sedate and thoughtful approach to the proceedings. Selecting certain areas of the screen allows interaction with objects or people, while dialogue options (set to a timer, so you’ve got to make decisions fast) mean you can affect the way the story unravels. People react to your responses, remember your lies or honesty, and judge your actions.

A collision during transit sends the car offroad and gives a dazed Lee the opportunity to shed those cuffs and escape. And he better be quick because it turns out he’s surrounded by the undead… and they sure look ravenous.

Brilliantly, you’re quickly drawn into the well-written story;  don’t for a second think that the slower pace of the gameplay is dull or removes the tension and fear that fuelled the TV show. Any serenity is quickly shattered when a zombie grabs you and you’re forced to react by kicking it away or shooting it in the head. There are some real leap out of your skin moments, and this helps create a fantastically believable world. The emotional pull of having to look after young parent-less Clementine or explaining your secret past to new-found friends reels you in and makes you care about their future.

The graphical style of The Walking Dead is equally superb – the cartoony, cel-shaded style looks great and the characters are detailed and well drawn. The lack of any real HUD helps to draw you in, as does the sublime voice acting which is thoroughly convincing and helps you develop opinions about the characters you fight, help or lose to the zombie pandemic. You only need to play for a short time before you completely forget you’re not watching the television!

The controls are simple – the mouse pointer used to highlight objects with the WASD keys moving Lee about the place. Occasional QTE pops up on screen when you need to free yourself from the grasp of the undead, for example. Besides various dialogue options, the game also poses a few moral choices as you progress and your decision then has a bearing on how the rest of the game plays out. These decisions carry over to subsequent episodes too so it’s important you always think out your actions and don’t act too hastily!

Although it's shortlived – shuffling in at only a couple of hours – The Walking Dead: A New Day is thoroughly compelling and keeps you gripped throughout. In fact, you’ll be so engrossed in the storyline and the plight of the characters that I’ll wager the majority of you will immediately choose to invest in the next episode to find out what happens. It’s certainly left me hungry for more. At such a reasonable price point, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t snap this up immediately. Stay tuned for a review of Episode 2…

Reviewed on PC