Electronic Theatre In-depth Review: The Walking Dead: Episode 1 – A New Day

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Rating: 5.0/5 (2 votes cast)

Electronic Theatre ImageIn recent years Telltale Games has developed a reputation for pushing the envelope with episodic content. Having practically rewritten the rulebook on both console and PC, the studio was never going to be content with simply expanding on the warmly received Sam & Max, Monkey Island and Wallace & Gromit point-n’-click series. Having walked the line between casual and core for so long, it was about time that Telltale Games made an effort to merge the two. And in The Walking Dead: Episode 1 – A New Day, now available for PC, Xbox 360 and PC, Telltale Games hasn’t just managed to break the rules of defining ‘casual’ and ‘core’ content; they’ve done it with style.

As would be expected, The Walking Dead is set to be delivered episodically. Gamers who jump in at the start and stay on board for the whole ride will eventually end-up parting with just as much of their hard earned cash as a full retail release, but The Walking Dead has those high end production values that you would expect of a disc based product. This isn’t a flash videogame forced onto the digital distribution services, nor is it a toned-down console action title; The Walking Dead is a productElectronic Theatre Image suitable for retail release but presented in a bite-sized fashion. This is Alan Wake and Alone in the Dark delivered in the way their developers had always intended, on digital platforms that have evolved enough to bear their weight. Not only is The Walking Dead making waves on the retail front however, but it’s also a pretty darn innovative videogame experience in its own right.

The Walking Dead: Episode 1 – A New Day begins rather calmly with our unfortunate hero, Lee Everett, in the back of a police car having been convicted of a violent crime. His innocence is open for debate according to his police officer chauffeur, with Everett’s responses not only building a character portrait but also offering the player the first taste of choice that the videogame will tend. Depending on your chosen responses your escort will respond in a particular manner, potentially altering the path of the conversation altogether. Of course, as you progress through the videogame such decisions will be weightier than simply that of your relationship with an ill-fated officer of the law, having a bearing on not only the plot but also the gameplay.

Of course, exactly how the repercussions of your actions will play out is hard to judge in this first episode alone. Though more immediate than Mass Effect, one of the most significant hooks for The Walking Dead is just how much variation can be established across all five episodes. This is no easy task for Telltale Games, with the Electronic Theatre Imagepotential branches for narrative structure meaning tying-up loose ends can be a nightmare, but based on this first instalment you’d be a fool to bet against them doing it, and doing it well.

More traditional aspects of The Walking Dead involve the third-person camera, direct avatar control and inventory system. The video game offers two difficulty settings; the Standard mode which offers hints regarding interactive objects and major choices, and the Normal mode which is designed for gamers who like a challenge. The Walking Dead: Episode 1 – A New Day still uses the basic rules of a point-n’-click title, with objects in the environment used to both present and solve puzzles. The difference here is in the way the player is given a striking amount of freedom to explore. While still using predetermined camera angles, The Walking Dead: Episode 1 – A New Day opts for a Resident Evil style automatic positioning as opposed to a side-on view, revealing new areas for those who take the time to stroll into every nook-and-cranny.

One of The Walking Dead: Episode 1 – A New Day’s greatest strengths lies in it’s art design. The player is lead through the videogame by developing relationships with the characters, recognising stereotypes and individuals and picking from amongst them who is their favourite, or who would be more valuable in the next zombie attack. This command of emotions is created by some fantastic facial expressions, believable voice acting andElectronic Theatre Image some genuine comedy moments despite the horror. The suspension of disbelief created by Telltale Games is arguably equal to that of Heavy Rain, a videogame celebrated for its ever-so-slightly real-life adjacent plotline, and yet here we’re fighting-off a zombie horde. To say that The Walking Dead: Episode 1 – A New Day is a landmark for story delivery through interactive mediums is a significant understatement.

As the first episode of a five part series, The Walking Dead: Episode 1 – A New Day is a relatively short experience. A single playthrough will take an evening – two at most – but there are of course multiple paths to take. This isn’t the point of The Walking Dead series however; as with the aforementioned Mass Effect and Heavy Rain, The Walking Dead is all about making choices under pressure and living with the consequences. The Walking Dead: Episode 1 – A New Day may only be a taster of what is yet to come, but with that there’s no denying that Telltale Games has whetted our appetite for a fresh, unique storytelling experience.

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