The start of something special?
Telltale have been making adventure games for some time now. It’s clear that they want to evolve the formula and move beyond the genre’s rigid conventions and take things in a new and more exciting direction. Their first real attempt at this was last year’s Jurassic Park: The Game which ended up failing as both a traditional point and click and as a more action orientated modern adventure game. Thankfully they seem to have put that blunder aside and with the première episode of The Walking Dead, have crafted a piece of interactive narrative that succeeds in every way that matters.
Protagonist Lee Everett, escaped criminal, is a brand new addition to TWD universe. His story picks up just as the infection is beginning to spread and as such, is a prequel to the events of the comic books. Thankfully this tale does indeed sit in the universe of the source material and not that of AMC’s TV series. Having to interact with the majority of those characters would have made for a more horrifying experience than any amount living dead could possibly hope to drum up. Not being familiar with the books myself, it’s difficult for me to say exactly how closely it mimics them in terms of tone and characterisation but I can safely say that it’s grim, bloody and sweary.
Much of the gameplay found in this opening episode is fairly simple and straightforward. Even point and click tropes like the inventory and item combination have been thrown out in favour of a more streamlined experience. I never felt like this detracted from my enjoyment of the game although no doubt many rabid fans will complain of diluted and mainstream-ified mechanics rather than accept that these changes serve simply to trim unnecessary fat. I’m not for a second insinuating that tried and true adventure game design is outdated and doesn’t have a place in current development. However, in the context of how Telltale have assembled these pieces in relation to the overall product, they work very well indeed.
The only real issue here is one which has plagued Telltale releases for what seems like an eternity; the unreliability of their engine. The game looks fantastic, adapting an appropriate visual style that is reminiscent of the comic books but at the same time, carves out its own unique identity. The engine’s problems emerge when things start moving at a faster pace than what it was likely originally intended for, with occasional frame stuttering. There are a few audio bugs too, such as volume fluctuating mid dialogue or sentences being slightly butchered up with jarring clipping. Add these issues to the already inexcusably low bitrate dialogue and you end up with some relatively minor but noticeably distracting technical hitches.
Crucially though, the fundamentals are rock solid. Characters that are easy to care about, choices that seem to have significant impact, logic puzzles that stimulate the mind and action sequences that are easily the best Telltale have produced yet.
I’m already looking forward to Episode Two next month.