The Walking Dead has really been getting the star treatment over the past couple years. Just when you thought you couldn’t take any more zombies, AMC shoved an Atlanta-full down your throat. Initially, it was great. A few episodes in, however, the show was less about zombie smashing and more about boring conversations and emotional drama that has no place in the apocalypse. Admittedly, that was probably due to the enormous cost of keeping that many extras in zombie makeup for days on end. That’s exactly why The Walking Dead is a perfect fit for an adventure game. With The Walking Dead: A New Day, Telltale takes full advantage of the narrative freedom of the video game medium, doing things that just wouldn’t be financially feasible for a serial TV show at nearly every turn. The result was roughly two and a half hours of zombie killing, brain eating, and genuinely interesting character interaction. Narratively, this may be Telltale’s best work.
Admittedly, the only Telltale game I’ve ever finished was Back to the Future. While I played through for the story and loved every minute of it, I didn’t enjoy the puzzle solving as much. I understood why it existed. They couldn’t have the story without the puzzle solving or it wouldn’t be a game; it would be a movie. Telltale solved that problem in The Walking Dead by taking the story and making it the center of the gameplay. Don’t get me wrong, there are moments where you have to figure out how to use item A with set piece B so you can get to location C, but there are only a few and they always tend to have some sort of twist to keep things fresh. The rest of the time, however, you’re talking to characters via dialog trees. The interesting part is that your conversations directly influence the other characters in the game and alter the story line moving forward. Characters will get offended when you don’t give them a straight answer or they’ll remember when you helped them out of a bind, and that changes how they’ll behave towards you in the future.
TWD isn’t just a conversation simulator, though. There are zombies in it too! All the action in the game is either done through quick time events or very controlled environments, but to be honest, it’s not that exciting. It’s almost laid back. I only missed one prompt the entire game and that was intentional. There was never a time during the game where I felt my character was in any real danger and the QTEs only seemed to be there to make it seem like I was a part of the action, which was only there to justify the existence of the game. I should clarify that the action itself was exciting and made sense in the context of the story, but in the end I felt like I was part of an awkward three way between myself, the game, and the QTEs. One of us didn’t need to be there, I just wasn’t sure who. The exception to this were the two or three times during the game where I had to make a major choice quickly that completely altered the course of the story.
The idea, according to Telltale, is that all these choices, snap decisions, and interactions that your character experiences throughout the story will affect the overall narrative through all five episodes, a la Mass Effect. It remains to be seen just how well this will work until at least episode two is released and players can see some of the repercussions of their decisions. If it works well, it’ll give players a reason to play through each episode multiple times, creating ever more complicated webs of causality leading up to the final act.
The Walking Dead proves that Telltale can do exactly what their name implies. Their unique approach enables them to do something with a stale subject like zombies that movies, TV shows, and even books on the subject just can’t do: show you what it’s like to actually be a survivor; experiencing their choices, rather than just watching them. A New Day left me foaming at the mouth for more, which should be coming sometime next month. TWD premiers on PC/Mac today. $24.99 nets you a season pass, which gets you access to all five episodes as soon as they release. To put that into perspective, that’s the same price as Happy Feet Two on Blu-ray. Think about that.
This review is based on a digital copy of the game sent to SideQuesting by the publisher.