The Walking Dead: Episode 1 Review
Without revealing too much of the story for you before you’ve even started to play, I can say that Telltale has done a tremendous job in this episode with capturing the tone and quality of the graphic novel. The darker setting and emotional character arcs inherent in the Walking Dead comics agre with Telltale and its writers, and while the story has its tough emotional moments, they largely manage to avoid being melodramatic or sentimental.
Telltale has also reworked The Walking Dead’s dialog choices to make them different from earlier games. You’ll still be asking NPCs questions to learn things about other characters and the situations at hand as you work through the episode’s story, but the dialog choices you make affect the way the story unfolds and how people treat you. The game features a branching story this time around, and dialog choices (as well as other choices) will carry all the way through all five episodes. In the first episode, there are at least two or three moments that might drive players to restart from the beginning to see how things play out.
Choices that matter work beautifully in The Walking Dead, made all the more poignant by characters that, even early on, are beginning to evolve and take on multiple dimensions. Almost immediately, Lee has to start thinking about how much information he intends to share with other characters, and those decisions, the game notes, are going to carry forward — but if you choose to lie, you’re going to need to be careful about how you do it, and not every character is easily fooled (or takes you at your word).
Of course, seeing as this is a game set in the zombie apocalypse, there are going to be some violent moments of near-catastrophe. Telltale draws on QTEs to make these moments play, but they’re simplified and often play more on careful timing of a single action than on hitting combinations of buttons in rapid succession.
What makes them work better than those in Jurassic Park is the slow-moving nature of the zombies. Rather than force Lee to narrowly escape certain death by hitting a bunch of random buttons in a row, usually players have to do things like locate a nearby shotgun shell on the ground, then find the shotgun somewhere else, then load it — all while a zombie slowly drags itself toward you. These moments manage to make simpler QTEs much more harrowing than in many other games that use them.
Given that it’s a point-and-click adventure title, The Walking Dead also includes several puzzles, and they manage to be smart and engaging without being esoteric. There are fewer, perhaps, than in Back to the Future and Jurassic Park, but they’re well balanced and help to keep a moderate pace — which makes moments of zombie mayhem much more intense and, often, unexpected. The biggest trouble with the puzzles is that they’re definitely pretty easy and fairly sparse; the only thing that’ll likely hold players up is finding the right objects in each area to solve them.