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The Walking Dead - First Impressions

by Jim Zabek, 26 April, 2012

Developer: Telltale Games

The hot zombie franchise on the block is now on your desktop. But how true to the source material is it?

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Zombie Fever

The Walking Dead might be the hottest zombie franchise in history. Starting as a comic book graphic novel series, it was picked up as a TV series last year on AMC. Not knowing exactly what they had, the network only signed on for six episodes. Dramatic and explosive, the TV show was a smashing success, and the second season saw a lot more episodes. Some people may think that zombie-themed entertainment is about the weirdness of zombies or the gratuitous violence but they are wrong. Zombie shows are about the people. Survival is the context of sudden, horrific violence that keeps people on edge, but in the end, it’s really about the people and how they cope with the challenges of staying alive.

There are a good number of zombie games out there, mostly board games, but some for the PC too. The latest is the only game co-branded with the graphic novel and TV series: The Walking Dead from Telltale Games.

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Gameplay

The Walking Dead is first and foremost a game that stays true to the canon of the graphic novel. The TV series has chosen to depart from the plot of the graphic novel and has done well, but the game remains true to it in terms of both artwork and story. The player takes on the role of Lee Everett, a man on his way to prison for a crime we are unsure he committed.

 

The gameplay resembles an adventure game where the player explores the environment and people around him, and interacts with them. Often the interaction is done through QTE, or Quick Time Events. These resemble the multiple-choice selections often seen in computer RPGs, but with a twist: the choice must be made within a limited amount of time, often just a few seconds. Some of these choices can have a dramatic effect on the game’s outcome.

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The game has been released in a series of episodes – buying the PC version of the game for about $25 buys all episodes of the game, though only the first episode – lasting about two hours – has been released. More are planned, and players can check the status of the upcoming episodes within the game. The first episode lasts about two hours for the average player, and that’s about what it took me to complete.

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The game has been developed to work on both consoles and PCs, but it is clear that the console was the platform of first choice.Ppulling up the settings and examining the controls reveals an Xbox controller instead of keyboard and mouse. Most of the time I didn’t notice any problems, but there is a learning curve to properly and quickly respond to events and a few times I felt like the interface was working against me as the clock wound down. Once I was in a situation where I was attempting to help someone escape zombies and upon failing to save him was notified that I had made no choice – when in fact I was attempting to do everything I could to save him. Replaying the scene proved he would still die, but at least on the second go-round it was clear I had made the effort.

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Between the QTE and some unclear UI controls, the gameplay can lead to some frustration. There are no in-game player-driven saves, but the game does auto-save often enough that players shouldn’t have to replay too much of the game if they die or quit and return at a later point. Should you feel you made a wrong choice because of the interface, it is possible to quit immediately and reload, which should take you to an earlier point in the game without being too early.

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Wrapup

The Walking Dead is absolutely not a shooter-based game. There are a few times when the player will find himself in combat, and again the UI may at first get in the way of the action. But dying in the game will simply reload it, and whether the player succeeds by mouse clicks or proper placement of the mouse, it isn’t too difficult to figure out what buttons to use – even if the game doesn’t make itclear. And this ambiguity seems to be by design. I suppose the discovery of how to survive with a mouse is the intent – the learning curve for survival in a zombie apocalypse is hardly going to be less challenging.

Overall I love The Walking Dead. Playing it is akin to an interactive movie (or graphic novel). The QTE bring a sense of real emergency to the game and help replicate the thrill of suddenly being attacked by zombies. The lack of abundant guns means the player will have to think to survive. Further, there are some puzzle elements – discovering the location of keys to open a door stumped me until I had explored all options and then came back to reexamine people and objects a few times.

Grumpy Grog Says: The best game yet for feeling like yer about to be eaten by a horde of zombies!

Discuss it in our forums!

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