The Walking Dead: Episode 1 - A New Day Review
The Walking Dead the game takes place during the events that unfold in both the graphic novel and the AMC TV series of the same name, but features its own original story. This was both a good and an important choice for a couple of reasons. First of all, games that simply rehash the plotline of a movie or TV series aren't particularly interesting and the lazy storytelling is usually matched by lazy and unimaginative gameplay. The second, and in this case the more important, reason is that The Walking Dead's story and characters react to the choices made by the player. If you already know how things are supposed to play out, those choices become moot. If you were playing as Rick Grimes and found yourself in downtown Atlanta surrounded by a horde of zombies, would you choose to try and run or to crawl under the nearby tank? This being the first game in an episodic series, it's hard to tell just how much the story and characters will be affected by the player's choices way down the line. However, I can tell you that there are plenty of times you'll have to make a decision in the game and that your choices won't at all be easy to make.
The game takes place during the same timeframe as the opening of the graphic novels and TV series and takes place in Georgia as well, but it follows an entirely different band of survivors. You are Lee Everett, and as the game opens you find yourself in the back of a police car. You've been arrested for the murder of your wife's lover, but the outbreak that has turned millions of people into walking corpses also ensures that you'll never make it to that jail cell. Your newfound freedom quickly becomes a struggle for survival and you soon find yourself banding together with other survivors to help keep each other alive.
Lee is a complex character and a bit of an enigma, which is the game's way of letting you decide what type of person he is. Did he commit the murder? If so, was it justified? Does he hide his past from those he meets? Is he friendly and helpful or suspicious and aloof? The portrait that is Lee, and the answers to these questions, is supposed to be painted by you the player over the course of the game's five episodes, but you'll already begin making important brushstrokes in A New Day. Some of these will be applied through your actions, but others will be more subtly added during your conversations with other characters. At certain points during your conversations you'll be given a choice of responses and a limited time to select one - not choosing is valid as well, but will people find your strong silent type act a sign of strength or cause for suspicion? To the game's credit there are no obvious right or wrong, good or evil answers. Just as in real life you'll have to decide the best way to respond to a person based on your goals, their personality, and your relationship to him or her. Also, at key points in the story you'll be forced to make difficult choices and make them quickly. Life and death choices, and they're not slam-dunk, "let the evil jerk die" kind of choices either.
And, yes, you'll have to kill some zombies during your time in Georgia. There's no mistaking The Walking Dead for an action or survival horror game, though. You won't be cutting your way through swathes of undead hordes with a shotgun and a baseball bat. In your handful of deadly encounters with the undead you'll use quick time event button pushing and "drag the cursor over the zombie and select the item to use" techniques to dispatch them. The time that you have to act is very short and your reward for failure is death, so there is still some tension with these encounters. However, if you're looking for Dead Rising or Left 4 Dead here, you'll be sorely disappointed.
Another thing worth noting is that The Walking Dead is indeed at its heart an adventure game in the classic sense. Visit locations, walk around looking for items, figure out what to use those items with to advance the story. OK, it's not quite as old school as that, but you will be doing those sorts of adventure game things. The good things here, in my opinion at least, are that these elements aren't the game's primary focus, they don't require ludicrous leaps of (il)logic to solve, and they don't get in the way of the storytelling. In short, if you're an adventurephobe, don't let that stop you from giving the game a shot.
Walking Dead: Episode 1 - A New Day is a great opening chapter to the game and I can't wait to see what happens in the next episode. I'm also curious to see if it delivers on its promise that the choices that I've already made will affect the way the story unfolds from here. Even if the impact of these choices is minor, I won't be too disappointed. The game weaves one hell of a story and I want to see how it turns out.
Final Rating: 90%. A New Day dawns in console adventure gaming.