How Telltale's The Walking Dead: A New Day Changed Interactive Storytelling

The Walking Dead Episode 1

Walking Dead: A New Day is part one of a series of thrilling games that revolves around the story of a convict, Lee Everett, and the young child under his protection, Clementine. Oh, and did we mention they are trying to survive in a world overrun by the undead? As you may have guessed from the title, this is a zombie themed game, and it is quite unlike any other zombie themed game you have ever played.

What is the Walking Dead?

For those unfamiliar with the series, the Walking Dead is a successful comic that was released several years ago. It gained a cult following and it is still ongoing. The series gained further fame when it was adapted for a TV series, where it gained a vast amount of fans from outside the comic book community. As the TV series is an adaptation of the comic, the stories of the two are pretty much the same (though as expected, the TV version has taken a few liberties with the story).

Telltale Game’s Walking Dead: A New Day is the first part of a series of games. Instead of following the story from the comic book, the game is about events that happen alongside the comics/TV series. This allows the game to exist in the accepted continuity of the other media. Some characters in the comic or TV show appear in the game, but the player’s interactions with these characters are limited, thereby allowing the canon to proceed without the player’s in-game decisions causing contradictions to the events of the comics or TV show.

This was a very wise move from the developers –as creating an all new storyline that happens alongside the comics makes the game unpredictable even for fans who have read all the issues or have seen all the episodes. And that is a key factor in the game, not knowing what will come next (short of reading a guide of course!).

The New System

When you start out this game, the first thing that the game tells you is the basics of controls. And this is important for players to remember. Interacting with other characters and the backgrounds is crucial to the story. Thankfully, the interface is easy to figure out and the controls are intuitive, making it easy to grasp and master.

The tutorial is also part of the opening narrative –and both of which you should be paying attention to. It is pretty obvious that the player character, Lee is being transported as a prisoner in the back of a police cruiser. While the officer is a little vague at first, carefully choosing your questions will allow you to gain more informative responses. Do not take too much time though, there is a limited amount of time for the NPC to wait for a response. If you do not make a choice, the NPC will assume that you would rather keep quiet instead of saying something (so do not dally unless you really intend to keep mum). This sets the flow of the NPC communication system of the game –you have to choose wisely, and also fast.

Into the Frying Pan

It does not take long for trouble to hit the fan and for things to start getting chaotic. The police car eventually crashes and Lee will have his first fight against a zombie. And this is where the fun begins –here players learn about getting items, moving about, and most importantly, dealing with the undead. And once you get past that, the rest of the story truly unfolds.

Before Lee could even come to grips with the situation, he finds himself helping out Clementine (well, a little bit the other way around) who has been left alone in her home. Knowing that her parents may possibly be dead, Lee takes it upon himself to ensure her safety. And thus begins your adventures.

Familiar Sights, Familiar Frights

If you are a fan of the series (which is quite likely), then you will appreciate the fact that the first major location you visit is a key place in the comics and the TV series: Hershel’s farm. And from this, it is easy to figure out that the events of Episode 1: A New Day is set before the events of the comics –as Rick has yet to arrive in the area. This not only provides fans with a bit of good fun, but also ties up the continuity of the game in relation to the comics.

Later on, the players also get to meet Glenn –one of the Atlanta survivors who has a knack for scavenging materials and also, being able to get out of dangerous situations. Glenn sticks around Lee and company for a bit, so you get to interact with him a lot.

The visuals are loyal to the comic book designs –though instead of being in black and white, the game makes use of cel shaded visuals. This is a smart move on the part of the developers, as the black and white colors would not have worked well with the 3D character models. At the same time, the cel shading provides a level of depth and detail that could not be achieved on the same dramatic intensity had it been rendered with regular textures.

Why We Love It

In terms of events, the things that happen at the very start of the game are hardly unpredictable –most of us who have seen horror movies would already know well enough that the police would hit a zombie at one point. And that the dead officer sprawled on the floor will be rising up as one of the undead. But that is hardly an issue –the game presents itself in a very real and sordid fashion.

Lee takes the crash badly, and limps from his wounds, and moves about slowly with very visual representation of being dazed, hurt, and disoriented. Characters wince, slip, gasp, lean, and perform a variety of context and event based reactions that make them feel all too real. Even being able to grab a shotgun does not provide the player with a sense of strength; and it is this open vulnerability of the characters that makes you want to care for them more.

Of course, despite the saying that a picture paints a thousand words, nothing delivers a narrative more than the game’s script. And the script unfolds itself into one of the most convincing and dramatically appealing voice acting work ever made for a game. Every single character you meet in the game delivers their lines of dialogue which such emotional weight that it is easy to immerse one’s self into the experience of playing the game. It makes you want to treat every single character as if they were a real person, or a real companion, or even, a real friend.

And the game’s biggest power is that it will use those bonds to create some of the most intense moments you can form in a game. We will say it straight out, NPCs will die –it may seem harsh, and it may seem cruel, but that is the bare reality of a world overrun by zombies; it is hard to define anything as safe, and every decision you make can have a lasting impact.

The Player Decides

The difference between an audience member and a true game player is that a member of the audience does not get a say on how the story proceeds. Even in games, while it is up to a player’s skill for the story to reach a conclusion, it is rare that their in-game actions truly affect the outcome of events.

This is what makes the The Walking Dead episodes truly different. Depending on your actions, your words, and other decisions, the world and the characters around you will react differently. And there will be plenty of occasions where the player’s decisions would determine the outcome of some critical events. It is possible that an NPC would live, or die, depending on your choices. And believe us, those are not the most morally challenging decisions you will have to make in the game.

Telltale makes no reservations about placing Lee in dilemmas that will make you question and rethink your own principles about life, morality, and survival. Oh yes, the game spans five episodes, so just because you made a decision that did not seem to have any immediate ramifications in the current episode, there are some situations that would certainly affect things that would happen in the later episodes.

Conclusion

The visuals, gameplay, dialogue system, narrative delivery, and overall composition of The Walking Dead: A New Day is more than enough to earn it top ranks. It is structured and made in such as way that it is both a complete experience and yet still a teaser of more things to come. The fact that it is the first of five emotionally thrilling and overwhelming episodes of human conflict and drama in a world of zombies makes it a very iconic must-own title for everyone.