The Walking Dead Episode I: A New Day
Reviewed by Brandy Shaul
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2012-04-27 Xbox 360 Adventure M (Mature) Telltale Games

After a rather disappointing release in the form of Jurassic Park, Telltale Games has returned to form in The Walking Dead Episode I: A New Day, a game set during a zombie apocalypse that places more focus on the survivors of Georgia than on endless hoards of the undead.

This first installment in the episodic Walking Dead season places you in the role of a supposed criminal named Lee, who finds himself thrown into the origins of a zombie apocalypse while being transported to prison to begin serving his life sentence for murder. A horrible car accident leaves Lee stranded and wounded in the forest behind a suburban neighborhood and your journey begins to find food, safety, shelter and other survivors.

The gameplay is inherently "Telltale," mixing slow point-and-click adventure button pressing with a few quick time events and choose-your-own-adventure elements. The game's lineup of characters expands quickly, with a brave young girl named Clementine looking to Lee as a substitute father figure.

Other characters have their own agendas, and in the small towns of Georgia, some are already familiar with Lee's sordid past. Every character has personality and depth, and your choices when interacting with these characters forms relationships based on trust or suspicion that will carry on into further installments in the series.

Giving you more control over the story are the timed dialog options that allow you to form Lee's personality in a manner that suits your own tastes. He can be the caring, optimistic leader or shady and dishonest. Your actions can and will affect how others treat you, and furthermore how other secondary characters relate to one another. In a time of constant life or death scenarios, the survivors of the Walking Dead will often find themselves in conflict, and its in these loyal (or not) relationships that you'll find lines being drawn between groups.

While the gameplay here is the expected faire from a point-and-click adventure, asking you to pick up items and use them elsewhere or otherwise investigate the environment to advance your progress, the entire experience feels much more like an interactive film than a true video game - and that's a great thing. Whether you're familiar with the Walking Dead comics or even the massively popular TV adaptation, you can jump right in here and feel instantly connected to the characters and settings. The dynamic relationship between Lee and Clementine is a great backdrop to the rest of your character interactions, as Lee can work to find redemption from his past and the actions he's had to take even now to survive (allowing one character to die over another, for instance).

If you're looking for constant combat between zombies and survivors, this isn't your game, as the high-action sequences almost take a back seat to the relationships of the surviving characters. There are still moments of combat, as you'll be able to aim axe shots to a zombie's neck or head or use hand-to-hand combat to help a survivor escape a zombie's grasp, and you can "die" only to have to try the instance again. Still, the gameplay isn't difficult, but you will be rushed through many situations, given very little time to think about the eventual outcome. In this way, the gameplay is incredibly realistic, as Telltale does a superb job of forcing you to think as though you really are in Lee's shoes. Again, your choices are important and permanent and they will come back to haunt or help you later on.

If A New Day has a flaw, it's in the darkness of some locations that makes it hard to examine certain parts of your environment. The hand-drawn imperfections of the graphics are incredibly visually appealing, and the voice acting is just as satisfying, so luckily these dark spots don't have that great an impact on the rest of the experience as you can easily start a conversation and get drawn back into the story.

The Walking Dead Episode I: A New Day can easily be finished in a single sitting, but rather than feeling robbed of extra gameplay length, you'll likely come away incredibly satisfied with the time you've dedicated to the game thus far. While this initial release may not come with a great deal of replayability, other than to see what would have happened had you chosen to help other survivors live or perish, it's definitely a worthwhile investment as each future release will build upon a story that already seems simply too good to miss. Putting it bluntly, this is a tragic, desperate tale of survival and redemption that is well worth the $5 price of admission.