The Walking Dead: A New Day Review – Short But Captivating

(Reviewed on Playstation 3.)

Whether it’s the popular comic book series or the gripping TV series, The Walking Dead (TWD) has quite the following. Therefore, it makes sense that Telltale Games would want to work its brand of episodic magic on this source material to bring yet another series; this time in a game format. While the game ends up in the point and click format the developer is known for, it feels and ‘plays’ more like a visual novel. A gripping story with some tense moments and an accurate visual rendition enhance this minimal experience well, even if that comes at the cost of a fleeting adventure. Luckily, its unique and deep-seated choice element makes it all worthwhile in the end.

For followers of the series such as I, the game will take a path unknown by not following Rick and the gang. Instead, we get a whole new story with Lee Everett. As this is a story-driven game, I’ll keep this as spoiler free as possible. Lee is a man down on his luck; so much so that a zombie apocalypse might just be the thing he needs to get out of his current predicament. Soon enough though, his past will inevitably try to sneak up on him on his quest for survival. Along the way, he’ll quickly be faced with the current state of the world and he’ll need to make some gruesome decisions.

The atmosphere of constant dread is combined expertly with Telltale’s usual vibrant colors and heavy cartoonish vibe. This mixture creates an ambience that both ends of the fan base, Telltale and comic book enthusiasts, can enjoy. Heavy use of black lines and exaggerated traits of facial expressions help to create a climate where players can get attached, which gets accompanied by some muted yet chilling soundtracks. More audible strong suits are performed by the audio cast, even if not perfect due to dialogue or screen glitches that can break a scene at any given point. It seems the strain on the engine is a bit too harsh and periodically these errors will pop up and freeze the screen or let dialogue fall seconds behind characters’ facial expressions. You could technically close your eyes and still be in the scene, but given a zombie outbreak can happen at any point, this is not always a good idea.

You see, TWD likes shuddering players with its gameplay from time to time. Even if this is a point and click at heart and players will spend a large time sleuthing, talking and solving simple puzzles, every now and again a zombie will polarize the scene into a struggle for life. Since this is a minimal experience, sudden actions such as these follow that same line and only offer a limited amount of interaction, usually involving aiming the crosshair to deliver a critical zombie blow. Still, by severely hindering players in either troubled vision or by only giving you a split second to react, it keeps the urgency to an all-time high, which helps to create the sense of panic of the ongoing apocalypse. Everything runs on a timer in TWD; think too long and it’s over. Even if in reality deadly situations will be rare; it’s the feeling of undergoing a near death experience that keeps you locked in and hands out free adrenaline spikes that keep you on your toes.

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This urgency pours all the way down into the game’s conversation options. This is an end of the world situation after all; thinking about anything too long might mean someone out there is lunch while you were dillydallying. A timer is set underneath the four speech options and that can get annoying when there’s some delay on the prompt. When the glitches start popping up, you might have a split second to react, though the prologue prepares for that very situation. More often however, the timer merely acts as a tie breaker that urges players to decide before it’s too late.

To top it off, virtually every decision will drastically shape the story to come. TWD isn’t like most games that give some perfunctory one-liner about choice-based gaming; it’s the real deal. There are even slight alterations to the story on a wide variety of choices made. Characters remember choices, weigh your decisions and form alliances or start a suspicion based on your every action, which can also be seen on screen if you choose the prompted game mode. This does wonders to prolong the experience of this otherwise short title. More so, making critical decisions will shape the entire story going forward with its other episodes. If one character dies, it’s not coming back (as a human) in other episodes. And sacrifices will be mandatory, so don’t even think about keeping all your buddies under guardianship. Some will die.

The Walking Dead Telltale Games

Unfortunately not all decisions are equally valid, though they do retain their sense of being critical each and every time. Replaying the game and going the different routes reveals just which choices are actually sound and which things will be hard-scripted to fit the whole. It does break some of the game’s magic, but it offers a completely different experience in the end. Though Lee is an extraordinary right hand man, helping whenever he can, there are a few moments where you can choose to reveal his dark side. Most conversation options are either dismissive or helpful, but the odd crisis will let Lee lose some of his cool and sometimes it’s even possible to be just plain vicious. Yet, the gripping dialogue and believable characters make it very hard to be uncharacteristically mean to the set archetypes the game presents. Additionally, a shroud of mystery surrounds all characters, even Lee, which adds another touch to the immersion. Just small history fragments here and there are detailed; just enough to dangle itself in front of you and compel you to want to know more.

There are a few crucial downsides to this saga however. First off, the elusive gameplay might not appeal to everyone. In all, this game finishes well within the 3 hour range and during that period no real brain teasers are presented and a lot of time is spent being an observer more than a participant. TWD is minimal, that much is certain. Secondly, this also means that the game doesn’t pose any challenge other than the psychological conundrums it staves itself on. Easy and short aren’t very good game points. Lastly, not every character reaches their high point. In particular, a little girl’s key element is cut down to such simplified extent, possibly to present a state of shock, that all dialogue she has are barely cognitive one-word sentences. Accurate as that may be, it doesn’t make for a gripping experience to only hear “Oh” or “Ok” come from a key character.

While The Walking Dead’s first episode “A New Day” doesn’t have the bulk it needs to be appealing to all audiences, it has several elements that make it a unique and unforgettable experience. In particular, its genuine atmosphere and critical choice system build an excellent foundation heading forward to other episodes. Playing one way will yield drastically different results in other episodes, which means The Walking Dead is more than meets the eye. If you’re still really skeptical, perhaps you could wait for the next episode to soar above and beyond. People who are less die-hard and would want to dive into an adventure are definitely on the right track choosing for this superb narrative.

Overall
Graphics Sound Gameplay/Fun Story
7
8.5 8 5.5 10
 
The Walking Dead: A New Day is an episodic tale that will appeal mostly to those in need of an excellent story. The word "minimal" here is certainly, for good or bad, the appropriate term along this short but captivating experience with unseen choice-based elements. If you need to participate to actually enjoy a game, this might irk you. To others, its astounding immersion will make this a unique, moving adventure that will be remembered long after the credits roll.

1 Comment

  1. Josh May 7, 2012
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    Awesome i want it for XBOX LIVE

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