Rather than follow characters from the popular AMC television series, this story instead follows a new side character named Lee Everett. He’s off to jail after committing a heinous murder, and while chatting with the officer going into town, he finds himself in a car accident caused by a wandering zombie. It isn’t long before he’s barely escaping the wrath of the undead and hiding in a house. Soon after, he finds an unexpected ally — a kid by the name of Clementine who only wants to be reunited with her parents. Promising to help her, Lee and his young new charge set out, running into a slew of survivors and, as you may guess, hordes of the undead.
The first episode sets the stage for the other four to follow, and Telltale does a remarkable job with the storytelling. Throughout your journey, you’ll have a number of decisions to make, starting with the tone of your conversation (rude, caring, however you choose) and eventually leading to life or death decisions over certain folks, like deciding who to help when zombies break through a fence and get a hold of two different people. Your decisions actually affect your actions over the course of the game, to the point that you’ll be curious to run through it again just to see how things end up.
In addition to decision-making, The Walking Dead also features some interesting action elements, as you’ll tap buttons in quick-time events to avoid being eaten and occasionally use weapons, like a spark plug or a shotgun — whatever's in reach. You’ll need to react quickly, or you or another member of your party will be finished, forcing you to start all over again. While not all of the control aspects are perfect (occasionally you’ll need to roam your cursor around to find items), they’re quite effective and set the tone for the future chapters that are coming.
For a downloadable game, The Walking Dead resembles some of Telltale’s finest efforts to date. The zombies look fantastic and really set the mood for the terror that awaits you throughout. The locales are splendid too, ranging from a darkly lit house to a garage that serves as sort of a home base in the second part of the game. And the character models look convincingly real, even as they get into arguments over what seems like the feeblest of things. This is a spectacular effort, and we can’t wait to see how the other games fare.
Likewise, the audio is top quality. The music cues are executed very well, right up there with the television series, and the voice acting really goes a long way to validating the characters. You can hear the fear and tension in each of the characters — even the new ones that are introduced over the course of the game. There are even a few cries of anguish for good measure.
If you’re a fan of the TV series or just need a good survival horror game to shake off the less-than-quality efforts you’ve been playing as of late (cough cough Operation Raccoon City cough cough), The Walking Dead: Episode 1 is a great buy. For five bucks, you get a great two-hour precursor for bigger chapters to come, and one you can replay just to see who stays on your side and who doesn’t. It’s just as good as the show, and fans know that’s really saying something.