Review - The Walking Dead

Leave it to Robert Kirkman to somehow make zombies super popular, despite an overall sense that their popularity in pop culture is waning. The Walking Dead continues to wreck sales in comics, is one of the highest rated shows on AMC and is now becoming a video game.

Telltale Games has just released the first "episode" of The Walking Dead, called "A New Day." After playing it, you come away fairly certain that the characters involved wish it was a different new day.

Omnicomic played the Xbox 360 version of the game provided by Telltale Games.

The series puts the player in the role of protagonist Lee Everett, a former college professor turned convicted felon who is on his way to prison. He's having the typical cop/prisoner banter (depending on the player) until one of the walking dead choose to stand in oncoming traffic, causing them to crash.

Lee survives (again, depending on the player) and encounters Clementine, an eight-year-old hiding in her treehouse in a Georgia suburb. It's strongly implied that her parents are dead, making Lee an unassuming caretaker of the young child as they both fight for survival.

The gameplay is point and click with some free movement sprinkled in. For the most part, you're put in a situation with the relevant tools to get out of it in front of you (or they become accessible after a certain locale is visited). You probably read "point and click" and thought that maybe the game plays like King's Quest and its ilk. It does to an extent.

For example, there's one part of the game where you need to break a padlock on a gate. This requires an axe. That requires a trip to a hotel, where you're required to kill a few zombies as quietly as possible. In all of the above situations, you're given on-screen instructions, asking if you want to view elements in the setting or interact with them.

There are a few spots where you can walk around, but those are mostly the spots where you're exploring the environment. There wasn't any combat where you moved freely and had to fight, a testament again to the point and click aspect. It doesn't play like Left 4 Dead in that regard; combat with zombies is very much orchestrated.

In situations where you do have to take down a walker, things get a little more exciting. You're given an on-screen reticle that you have to move over the zombie in order to use the weapon du jour. It seems like the game requires you to aim at the head, but there was maybe on or two instances where my aim was a little low and the zombie still died.

Lee encounters other characters in the game and their importance to both Lee and you as a player depend on the dialogue choices you make. This is where the moral compass aspect shines, really engaging the player. Just about every scenario where you're given a chance to respond to a character conversation, you're given four response options. One is paragon, one is evil, one is neutral and one is silence. The way you respond shapes how that specific character will interact with you in the future (both in this and future episodes).

The beauty of the system is that different conversations have different time limits in which you can respond. There are some where the timer moves slow and some where it moves fast. It's great because it doesn't really let you belabor your response. It forces you to go with a gut call. How you react to a character plays a part in relations with that character later on. Side with the character and they remember it. Side against them and they remember it too.

The choices lead to branching points in the storyline. There were two instances where you're forced to pick one person to help while the other will die. Your choice will affect how both parties involved will treat you. It's a great concept, but it has its limits. For instance, there was one scenario where I saved one and the other died. I reloaded and tried the opposite, thinking that if I saved person A then I would get help saving person B. The story still played out according to a preset plan, which cheapened the notion of choice a little.

The Walking Dead does a phenomenal job capturing the feel of the comic. There's a pervasive sense of despair and distrust. There's little optimism in this world and everyone is scared. It works great and adds a tension to the game's atmosphere. You don't get the sense that there are an overwhelming number of zombies, but by the end of the episode it's pretty clear things are getting worse fast.

The art also adds a lot to the feel of the game. It looks like a comic, looking nothing short of amazing. The characters have great illustrative detail and at times playing felt like reading a comic. One minor gripe is that the game is really dark. It's obviously a sinister setting, but it's dark to the point where you can't make out some of the scenarios at all. It made finding some of the solutions to the puzzles slightly difficult.

"A New Day" gets the player involved and introduced to the world of The Walking Dead. It's a great translation in terms of atmosphere from the comics and show and the art is fantastic. It's really short though (about two hours of gameplay) and it's not as decision-oriented as you might think. Still though, it's worth checking out and has an intriguing story going for it. It plays like an interactive movie.

The Walking Dead is available on platforms now.