The Walking Dead: The Game - Episode 1: A New Day Preview
Fingers crossed for a black and white option.
With the upcoming release of The Walking Dead, developer Telltale Games has a lot to prove. Not only do they have to reestablish consumer faith in their products after the lackluster reception of Jurassic Park, but they have to create a game that appeals to both the audiences of the Image comic book and the wildly popular AMC television show. Beyond that, this is the first M rated game from the normally family friendly company. A lot is riding on this game, and it will be up to the fans to decide how well Telltale fares. So far, it looks like they have things well in (zombified) hand.
Based completely on the comic universe that was created by Robert Kirkman, The Walking Dead tells a story that weaves in and out of the narrative of the graphic novels. Taking control of new character Lee Everett, players begin the game during the very start of the zombie apocalypse (that would be during Rick’s coma, for you superfans). Lee is in the back of a squad car being taken to prison when things go to hell, as is so common in the world of The Walking Dead. From there, it’s a bitter, brutal struggle for survival as Lee meets other survivors, kills zombies in gruesome ways, and makes some hard choices.
“Choice” is a big theme in The Walking Dead, and the developers working on the game are taking this concept as far out as they can. From little things like choosing how to respond to an NPC in conversation to deciding who to save when you only have time for one, all of your actions branch the story across the five planned episodes. Not only do these decisions change how other characters react to Lee, but there will be entire story arcs and characters that aren’t there later on depending on how you handle things. Telltale is hoping to add weight to all of these decisions, which nearly guarantees that no two people will have the exact same experience.
To that end, The Walking Dead boasts a staggering amount of dialogue and scenarios. Lead consultant and Episode 4 writer Gary Whitta (known for writing the screenplay for the film, The Book of Eli) said in a recent podcast interview that the script for the first episode of the game was 600 pages. By comparison, the average movie script is about 120 pages. It’s a grand undertaking, and one that is being worked on closely with the lead writers and Robert Kirkman himself.
Beyond the large amount of player choice and a hefty script, there will of course be times in The Walking Dead when you need to deal with zombies. While the comic series has always focused on the human drama of the zombie apocalypse in a more grounded way, readers never forget that the undead are a constant threat. So it is with the game adaptation, where zombies can attack any time, even in cutscenes. Players have direct control of Lee, which will require quick reflexes to deal with vicious attacks. These are handled through Heavy Rain-like button prompts, but the player is given more agency here, especially when it comes to fighting off zombies. Fighting off one zombie early on with a hammer, for example, tasks players with actually aiming a strike to the head before hitting the button. The consequences for messing up can be dire, with Lee potentially dying in numerous grisly ways.
From a sheer production standpoint, The Walking Dead is looking quite nice. Eschewing the extremely cartoony aesthetic the studio is known for, Telltale has created a gritty comic book look for the game. It recalls the art of the series, albeit with a more emotive touch that comes from being in color and having animation. It sounds cliché, but it really does look like the comic book has come to life, which can be particularly terrifying to anyone that’s been following the series. Similarly, the score seems to evoke the emotions of the action perfectly, and the voice acting is similarly sounding pretty good.
The Walking Dead is slated to come out this week for PC, XBLA, and PSN, with an iOS version coming later on. The game will be priced at 4.99 (400 Microsoft Points) and PC gamers can order the entire season for 24.99 on Steam. Xbox owners will be happy to know that Telltale has found a way to release the subsequent episodes as DLC for the first episode, allowing them to release the rest of the season according to their timetable, and not subject to Microsoft’s strict XBLA release timeline.