The Walking Dead Episode 1: A New Day Review
Zombies, as depicted in almost all forms of fiction, are simple creatures. Featuring great strength, limited intelligence, and (in most cases) limited mobility, their sole objective is to consume the flesh of the living. For this very reason, I don’t find zombies themselves all that interesting.
It’s what happens around the zombies that creates fictional magic. From The Night of the Living Dead, to Abraham Lincoln: Zombie Hunter, to Plants vs. Zombies, creators have found a number of different ways to leverage their simplistic traits into amazing experiences. For The Walking Dead Episode 1: A New Day, the zombies are a catalyst for a far more interesting tale of human survival under apocalyptic circumstances.
You assume the role of Lee, a man who finds himself in the back of a police car, when a stray zombie on the highway proves to be a sign of terrible things to come. As you try to get the hell out of dodge, you run into a number of strangers who are trying to do the same. What happens from there is largely dependant on how you interact with these newfound acquaintances.
Created by Telltale Games, their take on the franchise plays out more like a graphic novel than a video game. Much of your time will be spent watching the story unfold through cut-scenes, which are done in a way that feel like you’re watching the comics come to life. When you d get to take control of Lee, you’ll influence where the story goes through your interactions with the world and its characters in a way that blends elements of Telltale Games previous efforts, alongside influences from Heavy Rain. Save for a clunky sequence in the back half of the episode, where the game requires you to complete a very specific – and not necessarily logical – series of actions, the game flows nearly as smoothly as a great television show.
Almost every you take (or don’t take) matters. Underlying the game is one of most complex relationship systems I’ve experienced in a game before, where even the most granular choices can impact future outcomes. For instance, a character may catch you lying, or sense your doubt in a particular statement. By default, you’re made aware of this occurring through a notification system at the top of the screen. Some may take issue with the game breaking the 4th wall in this manner, but you can easily turn it off in the options. I preferred to play with it on, just to see all of the nuances the game is tracking. Though I’ve yet to play any of the other episodes yet, I’m assuming all of these decisions will have ramifications in future installments.
All of the small, and large decisions you make help tell one of the most dramatic tales I’ve ever experienced in a video game. During the ‘slower’ points, the game kept things interesting though bits that help develop the characters you’re with. In its most dramatic moments, you’re put on the spot to make hugely impactful decisions with outcomes that genuinely dropped my jaw.
In a medium where zombies are almost always relegated to bullet fodder, the first installment of The Walking Dead sets a new precedent in the category. The story it tells here is as good as one you’d find in the comics or the television show, translated into a style of gameplay that works perfectly for the subject matter. By the end of the first episode, I actually had to take a minute to gather myself, and think through everything that just happened because of how profound the experience was on me. When I calmed down, and finished reflecting on it, I immediately bought episode 2 to keep things moving forward.