Video Game Review – THE WALKING DEAD: “A New Day”

Aaron here! If there’s anything I have an unhealthy obsession over, it’s zombies. But lately, it seems as if they are everywhere. They’ve shown up in movies, advertisements, marathons, a recent episode of CASTLE and of course, videos games. Like any fan, I have tooled through games like LEFT4DEAD and DEAD RISING. And while both of those examples supplied some entertainment, there was something about the repetition and constant barrage of horde fighting that soon resulted in me throwing the controller to the floor in frustration or boredom…or both.

The recent shining light in the zombie world of entertainment, for me anyway, has been THE WALKING DEAD. I am a big fan of the comic book and that fandom seamlessly spilled over into AMC’s massive hit by the same name. And now, TellTale Games has gotten in on the action by delivering THE WALKING DEAD as it’s own video game series for PC, XBOX, and PSN. Episode One, “A New Day”, was released on April 27th and you can bet I jumped at the chance to play it as soon as possible.

Since I mostly play video games on my XBOX (each episode will be available for $5 or 400 MSP), I enlisted Massive Hysteria contributor Norvick to play through the PC version available on Steam ($25 for all 5 episodes). We both ended up having similar game play experiences. The only differences between us is that I prefer story and character to mindless zombie killing and he seems to sway more in the RPG style game play direction when it comes to video game playing. Regardless, in an attempt to not present you with a repetitive joint review (for the record, I loved “A New Day”), I’m giving Mr. Norvick the reigns here. Take it away, Allen!

Episode one of The Walking Dead games series, ‘A New Day’ and the following four episodes deliver an experience tailored by the decisions that each player makes, leading to multiple paths through the story. Players take on the role of Lee Everett, a man convicted of murder, now given newfound freedom and a chance at redemption in a world devastated by the undead. Intense life or death situations will force the player to explore the darker sides of human nature, and they will meet familiar characters and visit locations from the world created by Robert Kirkman, foreshadowing the story of Deputy Sheriff Rick Grimes in The Walking Dead comics.

Decisions made during the first episode may or may not have visible effects by the end of episode one, yet many decisions you make will resonate throughout later episodes, encouraging multiple play-through sessions of each episode, as well as the full season once available over the summer.

Norvick here! It’s true, unlike Aaron, I lacked the initial excitement to the idea of a WALKING DEAD video game. It’s not to say that the idea of a video game in that universe isn’t intriguing, it’s just at this point, the video game world is completely oversaturated with zombies. The formulaic story and game play devices can get a bit old. You can’t swing a cricket bat without hitting a zombie related item in the face these days. From as far back as RESIDENT EVIL to current hits like DEAD RISING and LEFT4DEAD, shooting zombies in the face has become old hat.

So this time, you get to do it as Rick Grimes from THE WALKING DEAD? Big flippin’ deal!

I quickly found out, you don’t get to do it as Rick. Egg on my face!

What did catch my eye (and interest) was the fact that the developers hired for this venture, Telltale Games, had taken the more narrative storytelling approach. Since these were the same developers behind both the acclaimed SAM & MAX and MONKEY ISLAND series, I wasn’t that surprised. However, I still wasn’t completely sold given the lackluster reviews for Telltale Games’ last big screen-to small screen venture, JURASSIC PARK. You might think the fact that Robert Kirkman was closely involved would make this crap-proof. If you watched the second season of the AMC show, you’d know this wouldn’t necessarily be true.

Once the game begins, it’s pretty obvious that this wasn’t to be an action packed roller coaster ride of blood, guts, and explosive zombie headshots. Instead, we are involved more in a “you control your fate” character based story that centers around Lee Everett.

The gameplay is pretty straight forward and while you are prompted with difficulty settings at the start screen, I found that playing with or without “clues” really didn’t change my experience much at all. Almost immediately, it’s apparent by the graphics the game is presented in that this story is based upon the characters and events originally presented in the comic book. This “virtual comic book feel” is reminiscent to the earlier issues of the comics penciled by Tony Moore. I found the throwback to the comic book in feel and look was a nice subtle reminder that this isn’t your regular everyday reality. Kudos should go to the voice actors as well as they contributed to the storytelling by adding to the dramatic tension and that is rarely seen in video games anymore. I’m pointing this out since the option to bypass cut scenes are not offered here so you’ll need to sit through every conversation in the game. Again, this is more about story than blowing heads off mindless hordes of the undead! Plus, every conversation is important since every answer you give may change the interaction between Lee and the other characters ultimately effecting each relationship made and thusly changing the trajectory of the story. The ability to make choices also presented themselves in your decision of who to save when being attacked by zombies and this also affects the trajectory of the game.

And yes, there is zombie killing but not in the sense most gamers are used to, which just might be a good thing if you’re bored of that “old hat” we discussed earlier. It did take some effort for me to get out of the “RPG mindset” from all the MASS EFFECT, SKYRIM, and FALLOUT I’ve been playing. But once you allow yourself immersion in the storyline and commit to the idea of who you want Lee Everett to be, that’s where this game succeeds. While at times, the graphics seem pretty neat, at others I was wishing for more realism. There were a few issues for me with regards to figuring out what to do next….damn pharmacy keys! But for the first installment of a five part episodic storyline, three hours of game play isn’t bad at all.

For those who are bigger fans of the comic book, this game will be exactly what you’ve been looking for. If you’re one that gravitates more to unloading unrelenting rounds of bullets into unrelenting hordes of zombies, then look elsewhere. I’m sure you’ll find many un-unique options to your itchy trigger finger’s liking.

Ultimately, TellTale Games’ THE WALKING DEAD: “A New Day” succeeded in keeping me entertained and for $5 and a few hours of my time, what more could one really ask for?

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