The Walking Dead debuts with a strong story, but the gameplay doesn’t keep pace

It’s pretty much universally acknowledged that Telltale’s Jurassic Park games were terrible. They were really nothing more than poorly implemented quicktime events. The story was ok, but slogging through the gameplay wasn’t worth the story bits you got out of it. Suddenly all of the announced games in Telltale’s line-up were called into question, and enthusiasm was tempered. Would they have time to avoid similar pitfalls and right the ship? Now we have an answer with The Walking Dead. That answer is…. mostly.

The Walking Dead is following the same model as most of Telltale’s other offerings. They sort of pioneered the episodic model (or at least made it work) and they’re not going to change anything about that now. Episode 1: A New Day took about two hours to complete, and runs concurrent to the storyline of the comic book of when it all first went to hell in a hand basket.

You play as Lee Everett, newly convicted murderer (though maybe not actually guilty). The game starts with you in the back of a cop car, being driven out of Atlanta and towards jail. While the old cop behind the wheel yammers on about various inane topics, you start to see more and more cop cars with their lights on screaming towards the city. It’s a fantastic opening sequence that gives you a feel for how the conversations will work (as you pick what you want to say), and gives you a nice sense of place since you know the world is falling apart, but the character doesn’t.

The game is mostly a point and click adventure game, with some enhancements and a bit of action thrown in. You’ll still mouse around the environment looking for things to interact with, as well as engage in conversation trees. Unlike the old school point and clicks, though, you routinely have direct control over your character to move around the environment, which is a nice change of pace instead of just clicking to move.

In addition to the adventure elements there are some quicktime-style events, though they’re restrained and usually only pop-up when you have a zombie to deal with. So it’s a punctuated spike in action, which is pretty much how a zombie grabbing you would go. Tense to “ZOMG!”, then back to tense. It works surprisingly well, and shows you how Jurassic Park could’ve have been done better.

 Episode 1 - A New Day

Mostly though, the point and click stuff is really easy and straightforward. Only once was I not 100% sure what I needed to do right away, and that one time it took me about 2 minutes to figure it out. This isn’t a brain-buster by any stretch, and mostly ends up feeling like guided interactive fiction rather than a full-fledged game.

While the gameplay sort of shambles along, they do manage to tell a good story. You’ll bump into a few characters from the comics in your travels, but what’s presented here is a side story to the main tale that’s told in the books. You exist in the same world, but you’re doing totally different things. The characters are well developed for the most part, and while the voice acting isn’t going to wake the dead, it gets the job done.

 Episode 1 - A New Day

One of the nicer elements is that you’re routinely asked to make decisions and say things in conversation that will change how characters treat you. Messages like “So and so will remember you were loyal to them” or “Person A will remember you yelled at them” will pop up occasionally and will help tailor how people respond and act around you. You’ll even need to make choices with sometimes with deadly consequences that can alter the game as you play.

While A New Day felt a bit short at two hours, with the overall story being episodic the length will probably be fine in the long run. In a really nice touch, after the episode was over I was treated to a “next time on The Walking Dead” promo that was cut like a TV show teaser, with bits of action and conversations cut together to get you excited for what’s next. Effectively done.

Tellale seems to be at a real crossroads these days. They’re telling good stories, but the gameplay lags way behind. I’ll follow the series to see where the story goes for sure. The best I can say for The Walking Dead, at least after this initial episode, is that the lackluster game bits don’t drag down the story bits to the point that it’s not worth playing.

[While available on multiple platforms, our review was constructed using the PC version]