Review by MTLH
Intriguing but short.
The Walking Dead is an acclaimed comic book series which has been going strong since 2003, spawning a television adaptation and a line of action figures in the process. Off course, there was bound to be a game although I was surprised that it would be developed by Telltale Games, well known for their episodic point and click adventures. Somehow I figured that a zombie apocalypse would have lent itself more for a survival horror game.
On the other hand, I wouldn't have played it otherwise. Being aware that the comic exists and knowing roughly what it entails without ever having read a single issue, it was that odd pairing that convinced me to give the game a try. A New Day is the first episode out of five which will be released monthly in the course of 2012.
Telltale tried to go for something visually different with Jurassic Park, foregoing the cartoon style of Sam & Max and Back to the Future in favour of something more realistic. They continue this trend with The Walking Dead, in a certain manner at least. In an attempt to stay faithful to it's comic book roots, the game goes for a comic style look. This approach mostly amounts to texturing the environments and characters with a drawn look without going quite all the way. This is a pity as it leaves the implementation coming over as a bit half-hearted.
On a more positive note, the animation is quite good with especially facial animation forming a highlight. The scenes are also well directed, lending the game a cinematic flair. There is a tangible sense of place too and a suitably oppressive mood throughout. All in all, the episode looks good enough but could have done with just a bit more polish.
The soundtrack is mostly ambient which suits the tone of the game fine. Sound effects are generally functional although the squelching noise heard when a zombie is hit by something is effectively gross. Voice acting is great though, sounding very convincing.
A New Day starts when a police car veers of the highway and crashes, leaving convicted murderer Lee Everett to face a zombie onslaught while having to deal with his fellow survivors.
The story is A New Day's strongest point. The actual plot itself is pretty straightforward, with Lee travelling from one location to another while picking up survivors as he goes along. Most of the characters are fairly well developed and their interactions and subsequent tensions are quite believable. It's how Lee deals with them that forms the core of both the plot and the game. During conversations he has a few possible responses and a limited time to give one. Depending on what he says, and occasionally does, the attitude of the others towards him can change as does the course of the plot to a certain degree. This can lead to characters being openly hostile towards Lee or befriending him and can also change who lives and dies. These choices don't drastically alter the outcome of this particular episode but it can be significant over the course of the season, or at least that is what Telltale promises.
Despite the focus on narrative, A New Day can still be labelled as a point and click adventure. There are environments to explore, objects to pick up, people to talk to and puzzles to solve. There are only a few of them however and most are based around Lee's inventory. This system is furthermore streamlined to the point where the game tells you whether an object can be used in a certain situation by indicating it with an icon. This leads to situations where you might know the solution but still need to find a way to trigger it and this system leaves practically no room for experimentation. Those puzzles that don't revolve around the inventory are dialogue based, but these can hardly be classified as puzzles really, and there is one bigger conundrum which revolves around taking down a few zombies. It's this last one that actually satisfies the most even if it's quite straightforward to solve.
A New Day also adds a few action segments into the mix. In these, Lee has only a short amount of time to use an item or perform an action. These situations usually revolve around attacking zombies or saving someone from an attack. Failure can lead to death but in that case the game starts again just before the failed segment. I usually don't like these kind of gameplay elements in a point and click adventure but in this case I'm willing to make an exception seeing that they are integrated surprisingly well.
The best thing that can be said about the controls is that they work. The game offers the use of the mouse and keyboard or a gamepad. It's telling that, at least initially, the control menu exclusively showed a picture of a Xbox 360 controller which may account for a scheme that doesn't seem to favour the freedom offered by a mouse. Be that as it may, both methods suffer from the same sense of clunkiness. Lee is controlled directly and a pointer is used for interaction. Whenever an action segment pops up, the game prompts which buttons to hammer. Again, this scheme works but it never feels smooth. For example, during the episodes' one big puzzle Lee must travel between several hiding places. This is achieved by positioning him on several predetermined locations, a method that feels very constrained.
A New Day isn't a long game, even by episodic standards. It feels like an introduction and appears to be intended to set the scene for the remainder of he season. Even so, with a runtime of just over two hours it's far too short. The main culprit seems to be the lack of genuine puzzles. I'm willing to believe that this short duration will be compensated when viewed in the context of a complete season but I hope this lack of longevity won't become a trend. On the other hand you could always play it again while making other choices, I suppose.
Even though I had little to no knowledge of The Walking Dead prior to playing this episode, that didn't harm the experience at all. I did get the feeling I was missing out on some things intended for those in the know but my enjoyment wasn't affected by this at all. What did sour it was the lack of genuine puzzles. The few present where integrated quite well into the overall plot, a feat in itself, but there where just too few. That sense of integration also applies to the action segments and for once they aren't a source of frustration. One intriguing aspect of the game is how choices can affect the course of the plot and that is also where the focus clearly lies. So A New Day is a good start to the season although a bit more substance wouldn't have gone amiss.
Overall: a 7,4.
Rating: 3.5 - Good
Product Release: The Walking Dead: Episode 1 - A New Day (EU, 04/24/12)
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