|The Walking Dead - Episode 1: A New Day
Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, PC, Mac
As you'd expect from things that multiply rapidly and are hard to kill, zombies have completely infested video games. Nazi zombies! Space zombies! Plants Vs. Zombies!
But it's hard to complain about an abundance of undead when we live in something of a golden age of zombie entertainment, be it the Left 4 Dead video games, Max Brooks' World War Z novel or Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead comics and their TV show adaptation.
As the current poster, uh, monsters for zombie fiction, it's not surprising The Walking Dead's titular horrors have made the trek from comic books to television to video games. But rather than being adapted as an action-heavy shooter or survival-horror saga, The Walking Dead is being given a video game treatment faithful to its roots.
Developed by Telltale Games, the same folks behind Back to the Future: The Game and the modern-day Sam & Max series, The Walking Dead is broken into five episodic chunks. The first of these, called A New Day, is available now for download on Xbox Live, the PlayStation Network or for PCs and Macs via www.telltalegames.com, with each roughly three-hour episode selling for $5, or via a "season pass" for $25.
Acting as a parallel storyline to the early issues of the comics, The Walking Dead centres around Lee Everett, a fugitive and involuntary caregiver who must try to keep himself and his young ward Clementine safe in the opening days of the zombie apocalypse. From Hershel's farm to a barricaded drugstore to a motel that becomes a temporary haven, Lee and the group of survivors he bands with (including, for this first episode, earnest young Glenn) are as much a danger to each other as the zombies are to them.
With its comic book-style art and simple controls, The Walking Dead has its roots in point-and-click adventure games, while adding some light action sequences and lots of interactive dialogue. It's this dialogue that gives the game much of its tension, as players must quickly choose how to respond to questions asked by other survivors.
Will you be honest, and let the others know you're an accused murderer who escaped police custody? Will you give a zombie-bitten woman a gun so she can kill herself? When the ravenous undead are about to chomp two people and you can only save one, who will it be? Characters will remember your choices, and how you act towards them and others will affect events in later episodes.
Although it's less puzzle-focused than a typical adventure game, The Walking Dead - Episode 1: A New Day is thoroughly entertaining, often palpably tense and occasionally heartbreaking. If this first instalment is any indication, it could be a perfect companion to the comic books, the TV show or both. I'm already hungry for Episode 2.
Bottom line: This first episode of The Walking Dead game captures much of the tension and interpersonal drama of the comics and TV show. Can't wait to see where it goes from here.
More episodic games
Chopping a video game into episodes like a TV show or comic book series can be a great way to release bite-sized, affordable chunks of gaming, as long as audiences like the first part enough to keep coming back. Here's a look at three other games that have tried the episodic approach.
Back to the Future: The Game (PC, Mac, Wii, iPad; 2010 - 2011)
Episodic gaming is the hallmark of The Walking Dead developer Telltale Games, and the studio divided Back to the Future: The Game into five chunks. While it received generally above-average reviews, some gamers who were put off by the simple puzzles in Episode 1 didn't bother coming back for the rest.
SiN Episodes (PC; 2006)
What was envisioned as an ambitious nine-episode sequel to the futuristic shooter SiN stalled out after just one release, 2006's SiN Episodes: Emergence. The development studio was bought out and the remaining eight episodes - which would have been released over a four-year period - never materialized.
Half-Life 2: Episode 1 to 3 (Xbox 360, PS3, PC, Mac; 2006 - ???)
Game creators Valve Software decided to make the sequel to their 2004 blockbuster Half-Life 2 in three parts. The first two, released in 2006 and 2007 respectively, have had massive success. But even patient gamers are getting tired of waiting for Half-Life 2: Episode 3. Gordon Freeman, where are you?