If you’re like me, you’re getting tired of zombies. Just in video games, the past six years have given us both Dead Rising games, both Left 4 Deads, Dead Island, the infestation of World War II (CoD: World at War) and the Wild West (RDR: Undead Nightmare), and a genre glut of brain-hungry undead hordes. I’d have a much easier time ignoring all these zombie titles, though, if they weren’t so darn good. TellTale’s new episodic series, The Walking Dead, does a fantastic job with the genre, and brings the one central element of zombie stories which most of those other games have yet to capture: good human drama.
You play as Lee, a guy in trouble with the law, as the zombie apocalypse begins. The game does a good job of slowly revealing Lee’s backstory, making you question some of his motives even as you guide him through interactions with other characters. He’s very likable–a necessary trait for a horror protagonist–but there’s clearly some shady business in his past. A bit of this is revealed through the episode, and more will likely be teased out over the course of the series. If you’re a fan of the comic or TV show you’ll recognize a few familiar faces and locations throughout, though you’ll see that this is a wholly original story. I was barely familiar with either piece of source material and still loved it, so newcomers shouldn’t worry about coming into the game blind.
The game plays similarly to TellTale’s earlier Jurassic Park title, which in turn took a lot of inspiration from Heavy Rain. Don’t worry if you didn’t like Jurassic Park, though, as the Walking Dead is a much more refined take on the formula. You’ll wander environments, solve a few puzzles, and engage in some quick-time action scenes as the episode progresses. These elements are mostly well-done, but there’s one specific sequence where the puzzles started to seem a little too adventure game-y, more fitting for a Sam & Max game than the more gritty Walking Dead.
The game features an attractive cel-shaded art style inspired by the comics, and the characters are expressive enough to bring the drama to life. The gore’s not over the top, but there’s enough of to remind you that you’re in a zombie story. The voice acting is also top-notch, with well-chosen actors in well-written roles. I played the PS3 version (which, incidentally, is $5 cheaper than either the PC or 360 version), and had no issues with slowdown, stuttering, or loading, all of which plagued Jurassic Park. I did have a problem at the very end of the game, however, when the choices you made over the episode are presented back to you: namely, that they never were. I’m not sure if this will affect the ability to carry my progress into the next episode, as I’m not sure if the game was able to make a “final” save. This issue has affected a few others on PS3, but doesn’t appear to be widespread. Just be aware of it.
You’re forced into some very tough choices throughout the game, fitting for the zombie apocalypse, and these choices will (hopefully) carry with you throughout the series. If I’ve got one major complaint against the Walking Dead, it only came after I’d finished the game and read about other’s experiences with it, as a few of those choices don’t seem to make too much difference in how events play out. They felt impactful in my initial playthrough though, and I suppose that’s what counts.
Even if you’re getting tired of zombie games, the Walking Dead is still worth checking out for its focus on storytelling and drama over violent action. The game’s filled with interesting characters and I look forward to seeing how their relationships play out over the course of the series.