Robert Kirkman's sequential-art masterpiece is not only a great television show, now it also is the ultimate interactive motion comic in The Walking Dead: Episode 1 - A New Day (Telltale Games, rated M for mature, reviewed for Xbox 360, 400 Microsoft points, $5), a new, episodic video game that drips with human drama and occasional gore.
I'll get the zombified elephant out of the room quickly. This is not a third- or first-person shooter like those offered in classic franchises such as Left 4 Dead, Dead Rising and Resident Evil. Instead, developers finesse a tale of horror mixing emotion and decision-making that foreshadows the future of Sheriff Rick Grimes and the other survivors as seen in the comic and the AMC show.
Through a story that picks up right as the undead infection breaks out in the Atlanta area, history professor-turned-convicted murderer Lee Edwards is taken away in the back of a police cruiser just as the apocalypse begins.
A player controls Lee by using one analog stick in tandem with the controller buttons to interact with characters or grab items and the other stick to move within limited areas.
His escape from the cruiser leads him to find a feisty 8-year-old girl named Clementine. They team up to protect each other as they search for more survivors and look for safe harbor against the monsters.
It's not the typical Telltale Games' hunt, pick and click methodology (reference the stiff Back to the Future and dodgy Jurassic Park episodes). There's a glorious level of urgency and flexibility now in the player's hands.
Specifically, conversations not only determine how characters react in future problem solving and reveal their tendencies and back stories, but timed responses also are critical to how the story continues.
It took very little time for my panic mode to click in when deciding the fate of a child who might have been bitten by a walker. I read the answers too quickly as I watched the timer run down and sided with a pushy old man who wanted to dump him outside. I admit it; I just choked and actually felt bad about it.
My response had ramifications. It took some time to re-establish a positive relationship with the child's father, who happened to demonstrate some strong leadership skills.
Of course, Lee eventually will kill a zombie, but it is much more a calculated and stressful attack for the player as he, for example, targets shotgun ammo to pick up, clicks over to load a gun (don't drop the ammo or you'll have to click again to pick it up) and fires. You can bet that flesh eater wasn't just waiting around for me to shoot.
The wonderful use of cell-shaded animation makes every frame of action a near pop art masterpiece. Be it a rolling watercolor sky or the grisly meals of the undead or weather elements and varied locations, it's gorgeous.
Die-hards will love the illustrated takes on favorites, including Hershel Greene and Glenn, while new survivors such as Clementine come to life through beautiful detail (look at the eyes) despite the muted palette.
Truly a presentation for the fan of Mr. Kirkman's work, this experience gets to the roots of the comic book, offering full-color intensity that taps in to human flaws and desperation speckled with horrifying violence.
Now remember, this is only the first part of the Walking Dead game series. It's about three hours worth of nail biting for the player who will need to towel off after the experience.
And, much like a monthly comic book series (it's basically the same price), this first installment provides enough cliff-hanging reasons to come back and buy the next episode to appreciate this macabre story unfold.
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