Telltale is one of a handful of developers who has earned my undying loyalty. You tell me they made a game, and I will immediately want to play that game. This is a team that decided it made absolute sense to develop an episodic series based on a relatively obscure web comic. You also have the successful revival of the Monkey Island franchise, three solid seasons of Sam & Max, and a Back to the Future series that is as satisfying a fourth entry as I could hope for. Then sadly we had Jurassic Park The Game, a rare misstep that seems to have generated a lot more ill will towards the company than is deserved.
I never reviewed Jurassic Park properly on this site so I’ll quickly summarize my thoughts here. Not the best. Story was vaguely interesting but the game play was boring and there were so many hiccups in the audio and visuals that I was expecting the game to collapse in on itself at any second. Based on how quietly it was slipped out the door, and the fact that they skipped the monthly releases and jus released them all at once immediately, I wouldn’t be surprised if Telltale just wanted to get this out and be done with it.
I am happy to report that not only is The Walking Dead a return to form for Telltale, but one of their best efforts to date.
Walking Dead the Game does not follow the story of either the TV show or the comics, but instead crafts a new tale that follows Lee and Clementine. The game starts out peacefully and leads to a fantastic introduction to the zombie situation. From there I won’t say anything else about the specific plot beats, but it does a great job of capturing the feel of the comics (which I will admit I am far more familiar with than the TV show) and also getting you to care about the two leads. The writing is across the board fantastic and I was genuinely concerned about making sure nothing happened to either character. The supporting characters are a little more one dimensional, but this is only the first episode after all so there is plenty of time to flesh them out further.
The game play borrows several elements from past Telltale titles. You have the exploration aspects of Sam and Max and Monkey Island where you have control of your character as you traverse the environment, conversing with the other characters and solving puzzles. The puzzles are straightforward for the most part, with the objective and the path to achieving it usually laid out very clearly. I recall getting stuck only once, and it was only because I needed to let the story progress further in order to get the item I obviously needed. So the puzzles are certainly not going to stump you or impede progress in any way.
The Walking Dead also sees the return of the quick time events that were so prominent in Jurassic Park, only here the execution of them has been vastly improved. In Jurassic Park I never felt like there was a connection between the buttons I was pressing and the actions that my characters were performing. Here everything feels much more in sync and these sequences can be intensely stressful as you attempt to aim a weapon perfectly at a zombie’s head in order to take them down, or try to save a character from an impending zombie bite. Consistently throughout this episode of The Walking Dead, I felt something in the QTEs that I haven’t felt in a while – genuine tension.
If there was one aspect of the game that absolutely needed to be highlighted though, it’s the decisions you are forced to make throughout the course of it. In many games the decision-making is very clear-cut, with one path clearly being the one of good, and the other being the one of evil. There’s never a grey area, it’s usually “Do you want to let your girlfriend live?” or “Do you want to shoot your girlfriend in the face and then eat a baby and laugh?” The Walking Dead says to hell with that and gives you decisions where both options are terrible. I’m serious; these are decisions that you are flat-out not going to want to make. And the icing on the cake? You have a very small window of time to decide which choice you are going to make! Multiple playthroughs of this game are definitely encouraged as these are decisions that drastically alter the subsequent story events, and I imagine that will become more and more prevalent as the series continues.
The first episode of The Walking Dead can be completed in a couple of hours and ends with a preview for the next episode that will have you ready and eager for more. This first taste shows great promise of what is to come. We have excellent writing that stays true to the source material, well fleshed out protagonists and a branching story that confronts you with some of the hardest decisions I personally have ever faced making in a game before. Unless things go to hell amazingly quickly with the remaining episodes, then we could be looking at the best release from Telltale so far. Don’t let Jurassic Park taint this, get in on this!