Despite not being a huge fan of point-and-click games, I am a huge fan of AMC‘s The Walking Dead, itself based on a graphic novel. So when a point-and-click adventure game was announced as an episodic, downloadable title based on the hit show, I felt it was a mixed bag. On the one hand, the license has been given to a genre that has never particularly interested me – on the other hand, it’s developed by Telltale Games, the founder and master of the modern point-and-click. Considering the level of quality demonstrated by most licensed games, I’d rather have a great point-and-click than a poor full release, and so far that is the case.
I feel compelled to give a primer on both adventure games and The Walking Dead for the uninitiated. The former is a genre of game that is, essentially, less game and more story. The style is often very cinematic and, in the case of Telltale, presents the player with a relatively linear experience dotted with the occasional decision, many of which will impact future events in the series (á la Mass Effect). There is little real gameplay to be had, however – often the player character simply walks around static set pieces, interacting with nearby characters and objects, and occasionally collecting an item for possible use in the future. The Walking Dead series is a popular show on AMC set around the ubiquitous zombie apocalypse, specifically following the adventures of a small group of survivors led by a former sheriff. It combines the dread of the zombie with the drama of the human, and quite effectively.
Telltale’s The Walking Dead takes place just before the events of the first season of the show, or at least Episode 1 does. Telltale’s adventure games are released episodically, generally a month or so apart. So far we can expect around 5 episodes. Fans of the show will see a few familiar faces, but knowledge of the show’s events are not required to fully enjoy the game. Episode 1, A New Day, features Lee Everett as the player character, an educated man with a prestigious career who nonetheless finds himself on the precipice of hopelessness even before the zombie apocalypse begins. I will speak no more of the story’s events, as they are crucial to enjoying the game.
As for what you can expect for downloading this game (a paltry $5, by the way), you will get a masterful point-and-click in the unadulterated style and quality of the original show. The game is not a graphical powerhouse by any means, even on an HDTV, but what it lacks in pizzazz it makes up for in heart. The voice cast and writing are excellent, as is the ability of the game to pull you into its universe and make you a part of the experience. The decisions you make as you stumble through armageddon are usually painful and will have consequences on future episodes. One change I highly recommend you make is to turn off the Story Notifications in the options menu before you begin play. If you do not, you will get a pop-up each time you make a serious decision, which in my opinion makes the experience less cinematic. Thank you, Telltale, for making this an option. Besides the weak graphics and the short playing time, my only complaint is that screwing up a decision and getting a game over can set you back quite a ways and force you to trek back through unskippable cutscenes. I do like the statistics you get at the end of the episode though, where it shows you what is essentially an exit poll of other players’ decisions.
While A New Day has not exactly converted me to the cause of point-and-click adventure gaming, it has convinced me that Telltale knows what it is doing, and I will have no problem downloading the next episode on the first day it’s released – a lot more than can be said for most licensed games.