When I first heard that telltale games was developing an interactive version of The Walking Dead, I was quietly optimistic. The original comic created by Robert Kirkman has built a cult following over the past nine years, charting the story of Rick Grimes and his ragtag band of survivors. The recent TV adaptation helped it reach a global audience.
telltale has built upon this and is continuing in the spirit of the comic book and TV show, releasing the game through episodic content that will unravel the story on a monthly basis.
As with the comic book and TV show, the game focuses mainly on the relationships of the survivors, quietly ramping up the tension in the background before plunging them into a frenetic fight for survival, usually involving whatever weapons they have to hand. As far as I can tell, this is a prequel to Rick Grimes' story (he is still in a coma during the events of the first episode).
Visually, the aesthetic is spot on; you get the feeling that you're essentially watching the animated comic book (in colour). The cell shaded graphics lend themselves perfectly to the experience and the washed out sepia tones are a clear nod to the TV show.
Our protagonist, Lee Everett, is introduced in an intriguing way and his back story is only partly explained throughout the first episode. Right from the offset, however, you have total control over how Lee is perceived by the other characters in the game.
Dialogue is chosen through a text wheel and you will usually have the option to say something good, bad or indifferent. Responses are accompanied by a timer which runs down pretty quickly. This keeps the conversation pace up and encourages you to give more natural responses during difficult interactions.
The immediacy of conversations also mean that you can trip yourself up quite easily if you give contradicting answers, something which can impact the loyalty of other characters you meet. Obviously, the timer also gives you the viable option of saying nothing at all, which can be just as interesting in the heat of the moment.
Early on the episode, Lee meets Clementine, a young girl stranded in her tree house awaiting the return of her family. Lee takes Clementine under his wing, and the slightly contrived guardian/ward relationship is explored to good effect, with the player having total freedom in how they fulfill their role as protector.
On screen, action is handled exclusively by a context sensitive targeting reticule, which will light up with various options. This works really well in a console environment, however one gripe I found is that you're unable to invert the Y-axis, which makes for some clumsy targeting in tight situations.
It's also worth noting that the the game does not allow saves on-the-fly, so you can't go back and change decisions you've previously made. Again, this is no doubt a deliberate omission by telltale to keep gamers in the moment but shouldn't present any kind of problem as a full playthrough can be achieved in one sitting. You will also be presented with a scorecard at the end of the episode, marking you against your gaming peers in the decisions you made.
Aside from some very minor audio/visual glitches, this is a solid start for the series. The butterfly effect of the decisions you make now will no doubt be back to haunt you later this summer. Episodes will be dropping on a monthly basis and I for one cannot wait to see what the future holds for Lee and Clementine.
(Game reviewed on PS3)