Also available on: PSN (out now), Xbox Live (TBC), iOS (summer) Developer: Telltale Games Publisher: Telltale Games Genre: Adventure/Action
Given the phenomenal success of Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead comic series and the television show it inspired, it was only a matter of time before someone brought the property to video games. Few would have guessed that adventure aficionados Telltale Games would be the studio to take it to the new medium. The firm handled the likes of Monkey Island well enough, but zombie apocalypses are an entirely different beast.
While The Walking Dead: The Game doesn't shy away from such subject matter, it's a radically different experience to what zombie fanatics have come to expect.
Like many of Telltale's other releases, Walking Dead is an episodic affair with a strong character focus. Players will fire off more dialogue than they will bullets, but this plot-driven approach makes the game stand out among the crowd. The story takes more of its cues from Kirkman's comics than it does the AMC show, though fans of either will see a familiar face or two.
Episode one 'A New Day' gets things underway, and introduces the player to protagonist Lee Everett, a man with a shadowy past. The story begins at the advent of the zombie apocalypse that has caused Rick Grimes and his band of survivors so much grief, but shines the spotlight on a new group of characters.
Less than a handful of scenes in, our leading man encounters a lone child named Clementine, and takes her under his wing. It's the player's job to keep the pair alive throughout the course of the chapter.
The Walking Dead sports a similar interface to the rest of Telltale's stable, combining point-and-click commands with manual character movement and quick-time action segments. There are more action set pieces than we've come to expect from the studio, and fortunately, they are handled better than they were in Jurassic Park: The Game. The screen is filled with interaction points at all times, and these are the key to survival when a walker attacks.
If you're not scrambling for a discarded firearm, you're reaching for the nearest blunt instrument to take down your attacker. It's then a case of pinpointing the walker's weak point with the mouse crosshairs to deliver a satisfying coup de grace. There are also keyboard-hammering quick-time scenarios, which amp up the pace without ever innovating.
The Walking Dead really shines when it comes to the pivotal role that dialogue plays, and the way it shapes the outcome of the game. Multiple choice conversations have been around in adventure games since time immemorial, though usually with a single outcome and a clearly defined goal. In Telltale's latest, they have far-reaching consequences and determine the destiny of the main characters.
It works in the same way as a karma system, in the sense that the supporting cast will remember your responses to their questioning and act differently depending on how you answered. Within the confines of episode one, this is the difference between other characters treating you with hostility, or embracing you as a friend, but Telltale has hinted that the choices players make will have a significant impact on future chapters.
The level of inter-character drama and emotional depth this system brings is what makes the game worthy of the Walking Dead branding. This is what set the comic book and television series apart from most zombie fare, and it does precisely the same here.
Fans of the comic book will also appreciate the visuals. The developers may have dropped the black-and-white motif of the Image Comics series, but the cell-shaded graphics resemble hand-drawn artwork of the highest calibre. It has the look and feel of a comic book come to life, and runs smoothly on any reasonably powered machine, despite the occasional frame rate stutter.
If there's a drawback, it's the lack of traditional adventure game-style puzzles. Straying away from the clichés of the zombie genre works in its favour, but technically speaking, this is an adventure game and fans of Telltale's catalogue may feel somewhat disappointed. That said, this is a minor gripe when you take into account what did make the cut.
The Walking Dead: The Game is off to a great start with its first episode, and we're looking forward to see how Telltale develops the title over the next five chapters. It's the character depth and dramatic storytelling that makes this every inch a Walking Dead title, and a fan-pleasing one at that.