Zombies are well and truly in vogue right now, with US television series The Walking Dead leading the pack with its harrowing story of a group of survivors in the Deep South. The video game tie-in was almost inevitable, but surprisingly Telltale Games’ adaptation is a very enjoyable (though not perfect) affair.
You play Lee Everett, a man who, considering you begin the game in the back of a cop car, clearly has a dark past. When the crap hits the fan – and a zombie hits the front of the car – Lee finds himself fighting for his very survival in a world full of walkers.
The game wisely takes its influence from the original graphic novel rather than the TV series, and the cel-shaded graphics (though not completely glitch-free) fit perfectly, but this is more about establishing a tone than being loyal to source material – you may come across the occasional familiar character, but they’re mostly original creations.
And they’re very well-created, too. Lee is the perfect form of antihero, flawed but ultimately good like any decent human being, and it’s easy to find yourself supporting him. The people you act with are also incredibly diverse; some are nice, some are arseholes, but all of them feel like real people, so interactions are an interesting treat rather than tedious chore. Early on you encounter a young girl called Clementine, hiding in a treehouse waiting for parents who may never return. It’s a heartbreaking experience, and as she becomes your companion throughout the rest of the episode you forge a real, almost fatherly bond with her.
Gameplay is a basic Monkey Island-style point and click affair, where you move Lee with the left analog stick and highlight objects with the right. It’s disorienting at first, but it’s easy to get used to and proves very versatile, even if it isn’t particularly challenging.
The real crux of playing comes from the decisions you are regularly forced to make. You can shape conversations à la Mass Effect, and occasionally you’ll be forced to make decisions which can radically alter the story you play, including who to save and who to leave to turn into a shuffling, man-eating mess. The first episode establishes these mechanics well, but it’ll be interesting to see just how important some of the decisions actually are as the rest of the story unfolds.
The Walking Dead isn’t a perfect game; some might find the gameplay too simple, the glitches haven’t all been ironed out, and at only a few hours long it stops abruptly just as things pick up. But it’s also an engrossing story, filled with well-rounded characters, and gives you a huge amount of freedom to play the story you want to play. Fans of the series will not be disappointed, and since you can download all five episodes ahead of time for just £15.99 on the PlayStation Network, it’s well worth a look.