The Walking Dead: Episode 1 – A New Day
April 30, 2012 4 Comments
Warning: there will be major spoilers for the game in this review. Not for the TV show or the comic book, just the game. I figure everyone who reads me falls into two camps: those not interested in The Walking Dead at all, and those who already finished the game. But if you’re generally interested in the game and don’t wish to have this spoiled, I strongly advise you to read something else. If my personal recommendation is what hinges on your decision, I thought the first episode was just alright. Sorry if that’s not helpful.
Yea, yea. It’s not exactly an indie game. The thing is, I think I’ve found myself in a unique situation and I figured I should capitalize on it. According to my research, I’m the last standing regular gamer in North America who hasn’t watched The Walking Dead. That’s probably because my interest in zombies on film is nil. They’re all the same. Somehow a virus or bacteria spread by the bite of a slow-moving bipedal predator with no survival instincts causes the complete collapse of civilization in a matter of hours, leaving a rag-tag group of survivors to put aside their differences and struggle to stay alive. As far as end of world scenarios go, I just find it too implausible.
I don’t know how The Walking Dead television series (or the comic book, which the game is more directly based on) handles the initial outbreak, but the video game version makes the start of the apocalypse seem almost instantaneous. You’re a dude named Lee who is being transported to the state prison after being convicted of killing his best friend for sleeping with his wife. The game makes it pretty clear that you’re guilty of the crime, but the police officer who you chit-chat with in the opening minutes thinks you’re likely innocent, mostly because you didn’t deny that you did it. Well, um, that’s logical I suppose. Hey Brian, I don’t deny that I spread my ass cheeks and farted in your mouth while you slept.
You end up hitting a zombie, crashing the car, mangling your leg, the cop somehow becomes zombified in process, and the game properly begins. A sign that I wasn’t going to like the protagonist very much becomes clear early on when you reach for a shotgun and fumble putting the shell in it. This wasn’t user error on my part. You actually fumble the shotgun shell. As it turns out, Lee is a total stumble-fuck. There’s at least three parts in the game where he gets knocked dizzy from hitting his head on something after being startled by a zombie. Fucking guy reminded me of Norberg from the Naked Gun.
Telltale Games has as a reputation as the best makers of adventure games these days. I’m not particularly a fan of the genre, so their stuff usually has to be pretty good for me to get into them. Lord knows I’ve tried. The problem with Telltale is they’re a farmhouse for fan-service type stuff, so chances are a person’s enjoyment of their titles will be directly in proportion to how much you like the source material. For example, I thought Tales of Monkey Island fucking sucked. I never previously played any of the Monkey Island games, which was apparently a requirement to enjoy these ones. Judging by the way fans of the series reacted, I expected something special. Ultimately, I thought the puzzles were lame and the jokes were not funny.
On the other hand, I enjoyed their take on Back to the Future. Even with some writing assistance from the creators of the movie franchise, I figured it would come across like glorified fan fiction. Nothing could have been further from the truth. But, and this is a big but, I liked the movies enough that any decent continuation of the series would have been welcome by me. If I found the source material to be just marginally entertaining, I don’t know if I would have liked it so much. If only I had such an example to go off of.
Given my track record with Telltale, I didn’t think I would enjoy Walking Dead at all. My general dislike of adventure games combined with my lack of interest in the source material certainly spelled doom for the fifteen combined hours the series will eat up of my time over the next five months. But actually, I kind of dug what Walking Dead had to offer. Sure, Lee is a completely uncharismatic, boring lump of a man. It doesn’t help that the voice actor sounded like he was so fucking bored while reading the lines that he might just release live scorpions into the recording booth to liven things up.
I’ve discussed my hatred of Lee with others that have played Walking Dead, and what cracks me up is how all the fanboys make excuses for him. More than one person has described him as “soft-spoken.” Which is a polite way of calling someone boring. First-hand experience talking. When I point out that he’s a klutz, people tell me that it’s how someone would realistically behave in such a situation. I thought we chucked realism out the door when we started talking about zombies, but fine. So let’s talk realism. The dude has a very broken leg to begin the game. He enters a house and slips a little on a puddle of blood. Then he gets attacked by a zombie. While he tries to escape, he slips again on the puddle of blood, hits his head on the counter, and would be fucking zombie chow by this point. Instead, you can kick at the zombie with your non-broken leg and finish her off with a hammer. Oddly enough, he never learns the from this experience. When a zombie shows up, chances are good Lee will be scooting his ass across the floor.
“Hey, wait a second!” cries the fanboys. “He has a broken leg! You can’t expect him to fight zombies standing on that!” Why not? He gets around just fine when zombies aren’t attacking. He doesn’t even really limp. You know what? I don’t think it’s broken. I think the son of a bitch is milking it. Notice how it’s always somebody else doing the tough stuff when the zombies attack. I pull the same trick every time someone asks me to help them move stuff. “Oh, I would love to, but my old football knee is acting up.” Nobody says “why you lazy bitch!” At least at a volume higher than under their breath. I don’t deny Lee has a leg injury, but it only seems to bug him at the most convenient times. Well, unless the little girl he’s watching is being grabbed by a zombie.
Oh yes, the girl. Her name is Clementine. She has yellow eyes. So help me God, yellow eyes! Why didn’t anyone shoot her before the zombie apocalypse? If I give birth and the doctor says he or she has yellow eyes, I’m shoving it back up my uterus and taking a handful of morning-after pills. But she tags along and proves to be smarter than half of the adults, also known as “Steven Spielberg Syndrome.” As an example of what she’s up against intellectually, you meet a girl later in the game who is a good shot with a gun but can’t understand why a radio that has no batteries won’t turn on. She sits there fucking around with it, then you take it and discover it has no batteries. If ever there was a scene that called for the protagonist to absolutely bitch-slap the loving shit out a supporting character, this was it. Later, you find her the batteries and she puts them in backwards. You have to take the radio from her, turn the batteries around, and pull the antenna up. Unless an upcoming chapter explains that she recently underwent a full frontal lobotomy, I do believe that one scene completely destroyed any sense of credibility the writing built to that point.
Everyone is talking about the writing in this game like it was penned by Mario Puzo. I don’t get it. Maybe if you grade it on a curve, given how low the radio bit sunk the whole script, the rest of it seems sublime. But really, the cast is made up entirely of stock characters stumbling through one zombie cliché after another. I suppose the game did make a bold choice by having the star possess the agility of a drunken circus clown, but otherwise you have the gruff farmer, the asshole with a heart condition who makes people wait on him hand and foot, the loyal good ole boy and his wife, their hyperactive child with a decidedly trailer-trashy name (Duck. I’m not joking.), the tough as nails reporter chick with trust issues, etc, etc. I’m half shocked that at no point a shopaholic bimbo and a militaristic ex-jock didn’t show up, but I suppose we have four chapters left for that.
I did like the idea that, instead of playing off like a checklist of things to do, you get exactly one chance to make most of the decisions in the game, and the ramifications in conversations and actions will be felt in the upcoming chapters. You even get a couple of chances to decide if someone gets to live or die. At the end of the game, you are forced to choose between saving the reporter chick or a character named Doug. I liked Doug. He was helpful. He was nice. He rigged a universal remote to turn on televisions in an electronics store across the street from us as a zombie distraction. The chick couldn’t even grasp how batteries work. But, she had gun and Doug didn’t, so bye-bye Doug.
I suppose The Walking Dead must be pretty good as a game, because I’m very tempted to play through it again. I never do that, even if a game has multiple branching paths and endings. I’m actually curious how the game plays if I answer every question like I’m a total asshole. I do regret letting Doug die and I want to go back and save him. I’m a little curious if I can save the cop at the beginning of the game. I’m WAY curious if I can let Clementine die. Yes, the writing is mediocre, the voice acting is terrible, the plot is one giant cliché, I wish death on every character with as much hatred as my heart can muster, and I couldn’t give a squirt about the source material, but I still want to see what happens next. That has to count for something.
$19.99 was spent on a subscription to the series on PlayStation Network in the making of this review. Rats. I should have just bought it by the episode on Xbox Live because I just lost out on a chance to make a Microsoft Points joke. Silly me. Well, Sony hasn’t figured out how to properly set up their online store, so I’m linking to the Xbox version.