I can’t stand zombies. Zombie movies are boring, and games with zombie antagonists are a dime a dozen. Between Plants vs. Zombies and Left 4 Dead, I think we’ve hit our zombie quota for the foreseeable future. I’m ready for something new.
I know that’s tantamount to geek heresy, but I want you to understand where I’m coming from when I tell you that despite my zombie fatigue I loved the first episode of The Walking Dead game, and I think you really ought to play it. Regardless of whether you’re a fan of the AMC television series, the comics or completely unfamiliar with either, this game is worth playing if you love a good harrowing adventure.
And adventure is exactly what you’re in for if you shell out $5 for the first episode, titled A New Day. See, Telltale Games (of Sam & Max fame) developed The Walking Dead as a game spanning five monthly episodes that tells a new story in the Walking Dead universe while staying true to the grim tone of the comic books. But don’t let Telltale’s history of creating point-and-click adventure games like Tales of Monkey Island and Puzzle Agent fool you into thinking The Walking Dead is just a series of logic puzzles. You’ll spend some time fixing radios and finding keys, but the constant pressure of surviving in a post-apocalyptic Georgia makes even simple problems feel challenging and meaningful to overcome.
While you must solve simple puzzles in order to progress through the game, you’ll spend the lion’s share of your time guiding protagonist Lee Everett through tense verbal exchanges with other survivors. Naturally, these conversations are interspersed with frenetic attempts to fend off undead attackers by quickly clicking them before they can take a bite out of Lee or someone he cares about. These action sequences are easy to complete successfully, but the time limits (smash the zombie before it gets you!) make every encounter feel tense and thrilling to play.
But zombie attacks aren’t the only reason to think fast in the world of The Walking Dead. Lee Everett has a complicated past, and you choose how much he shares with other characters by selecting his responses from dialogue trees that sprout up throughout every conversation. Most of these choices have timers, and if you run out time Lee is left speechless, so playing through tense conversations really feels stressful because you risk slipping up and saying the wrong thing. Let another character catch you in a lie, and they’ll hold it against you throughout the rest of the episode (and presumably the series). Choose to save one character’s life at the expense of another, and the survivor will support you throughout the rest of the episodes while the dead character disappears from your game.
Watching your choices change how the story plays out is the best part about playing The Walking Dead games, but know that no matter what choices you make, bad things will happen. The world of The Walking Dead is grim, and you will have to make decisions about which characters live and which characters die. Diehard Walking Dead fans will recognize a few characters that Lee meets along the way (Glenn makes a cameo in A New Day) and explore a few landmarks from the comic series, including Hershel’s farm in the first episode.
The Walking Dead game pays further tribute to Kirkman’s comics by emulating the pencilwork of Charlie Adlard, the current artist of the Walking Dead comics. But where the comics are stark black-and-white affairs, the Walking Dead game is full of colorful characters and lush, vibrant landscapes. The game’s camera is fixed in place during every scene, and while that occasionally makes for some frustrating navigation problems it also ensures that Lee navigates through scenes like a protagonist pacing through panels of a comic book. Playing through The Walking Dead feels like flipping through the pages of an action-packed Choose Your Own Adventure comic book, and I think fans of Kirkman’s work shouldn’t miss this experience. But even if you’ve never seen an episode of The Walking Dead HBO series or flipped through one of Kirkman’s books, you should check out The Walking Dead game because it features an engaging cast of characters and a geniunely emotional narrative. The worst thing I can say about this game is that we have to wait a month to play the next episode, and five months to see how the story ends.