Telltale has a high pedigree for their games and they don’t disappoint with The Walking Dead Episode 1. This “game” tells an intriguing story that rivals the narrative told in the comics and television series. More and more we’re seeing licensed games actually turn out good (Batman Arkham Asylum) and this first episode in a planned five part story continues that trend.
You play as Lee Everrett, a convicted felon who may have murdered someone in the past. After the police car you’re riding in crashes you find yourself in the home of a little girl who is waiting for her parents to come home from their vacation. Lee learns some insight into whether the girl’s parents are alive or not and the player has the choice to shed some light onto the situation for the girl or not.
It was surprising to see this little girl character not be as annoying as you would imainge. Everything from her stereotypical character to her voice should be nauseating. Instead I felt a great sense of dread, worrying about the moment the little girl realizes her parents may be dead and now she’s stuck with someone who may or may not have killed a non-zombie person in their past.
Let’s also tackle one of the biggest hurdles you may have with this piece of software. It isn’t really a video game in the traditional sense. There are few instances where you can outright lose and get a game over screen, and all of those scenarios are easily avoidable to the point that you may play through the whole game multiple times and never see a game over screen.
The Walking Dead is a much simpler point and click adventure game than those you’ve probably played before. Quick time events are used liberally throughout the game’s two hour campaign but are paced well so you never really notice it. At the same time these events never post any real challenge and you’re usually more concerned with which side character lives or dies in these pivotal moments.
You’re going to have to choose and quick. There will be many moments during the game where you’re forced to choose who lives. Zombies will be attacking two individuals and you can only save one. Choose which one to rescue and then live with the consequences of such and see how the story takes a different turn.
There are instances where choosing to save one person will result in both endangered characters dying anyway and that is a major let down as all of the characters are developed pretty well. That is a testament to the writing in the game that characters who are only on screen for fifteen minutes before paying the ultimate price actually hit the player emotionally as a big loss.
One issue with the game is if you play through it saving the characters you were attached to most is that playing through it a second time to see what happens when those characters die isn’t very fun. I saved the journalist at one point in the story because I thought she had good potential in the plot for the next four episodes. And who wants to replay a game to see what happens when a child is eaten by zombies anyway?
A particularly gripping moment is when Lee Everrett and gang hide in the pharmacy Lee’s family use to run before the zombie outbreak. Lee must search the place for something to heal another character but he lacks a way to get into the room with medical supplies. Lee then finds an old friend outside the pharmacy. This friend has been turned into a zombie and Lee has to interact with them in an emotionally brutal way.
Lee’s family isn’t confirmed to be dead in this episode, nor is the little girl’s parents. I would guess that each of those reveals coming in different episodes in the future, with Lee’s situation being resolved first.
I’m hoping for Telltale to do something truly unique with Lee. Chances are they will eventually reveal the circumstances of Lee murdering a senator and those circumstances will not make Lee look as bad as a cold blooded killer. I think there is great potential if they reveal that Lee did something genuinely bad when he killed that person and leave little means to redeem him other than helping the little girl.
Think of it like the television show Dexter. Dexter Morgan is a serial killer, but he kills bad guys. He has a code to control his thirst for blood and that prevents him from hurting any innocent people. The writers of that show have established that Morgan isn’t a monster who murders people at all, but instead is a likeable anti-hero despite doing something most would deem unredeemable.
I hope this is how Lee’s backstory plays out. But I’m expecting something along the lines of “it was self-defense”, or something to not make him look too bad. Can you imagine the twist if the character you play as for five episodes of this game series ends up being a filthy, good for nothing murderer? It would be interesting to see how players react to that if it plays out that way.
One last issue with the game is length. You can buy the episode for $5 and it will net you two hours of game play on a single play through. It does have replayability in that you will want to go back to see how the story plays out if certain characters die instead of others. You will feel like you’ve got your full money’s worth out of it but it doesn’t stop the nagging voice in the back of your head that says you wish the game was a little bit longer.
If you can tolerate The Walking Dead being full of quick time events and being very short you will witness an engaging story with great character development. Telltale plans to release four new episodes near the end of each of the upcoming months. You won’t regret watching The Walking Dead episode 1 by Telltale, but you may find better games to play.