What’s your zombie plan? If you don’t have one, then you’re completely screwed when the dead, reanimated corpses of your friends and neighbors inevitably come to munch on your brains. For those of us with a little foresight, however, gaming gives us a lot of ways to practice putting our plans into action; zombie games are everywhere, and it takes a lot to rise to the top. The Walking Dead, the latest episodic adventure from Telltale Games, does an admirable job of differentiating itself.

If you’re not familiar, The Walking Dead was originally a comic series created by writer Robert Kirkman and artist Tony Moore. It follows Sheriff Rick Grimes and other survivors in the post-zombie-apocalypse world. The comics are immensely popular and also spawned a TV show loosely based on the series. The Walking Dead game, however, goes back to the series’ roots and treats the comic series as canon, both in story and art style, absolutely nailing it on both accounts.

The game puts you into the role of Lee Everett, a convict on his way to prison when the apocalypse hits. Throughout the game you’ll meet many other characters and have to interact with them, both through dialogue and choices you make. Be careful what you choose, however, as your decisions will affect the rest of the game in more than just a superficial manner. Every line of dialogue you pick has the potential to change the story perrmanently, which adds a level of intensity.

In addition, many of your answers to questions are timed, adding to the tension. Action sequences do not rely on Quicktime Events (QTEs), instead having you search your environment quickly to find a solution to the walking corpse headed your way. Sometimes that solution is a gun or weapon; sometimes the answer is a bit more subtle. Once you have a weapon, you’ll have to click on the highlighted part of the zombie to attack. The action is frantic and maintains a good feel of improvising, never quite letting you get comfortable. Movement and exploration is handled largely through the genre-standard point-and-click. Some larger environments, however, require the use of WASD to move around and explore your environment. During some of the action sequences, the controls can be a little frustrating, as the clickable areas on some objects are quite small, and finding the right spot in time can be difficult. Overall, however, the controls work well and fit the style of the game perfectly.

Graphically, The Walking Dead is impressive. The cel-shaded style is rich and detailed, and instantly reminds of the comic series it is intended to emulate. The environments are interesting and encourage exploration, providing subtle clues that you can follow to see what to do next. Character’s faces are expressive, and serve to visualize the voicing quite well. The voice acting is absolutely top-notch, and makes all the difference in selling the characters as real people. The main character especially draws you into his story, slowing letting details slip about his past. Telltale does not hold back on the gore in this game. It would have lessened the impact of the visuals quite a bit if they had.

Difficulty in The Walking Dead is not all that high; most of the time it just requires you to figure out who to talk to and what to say to get to the next section of the game. There are action segments mixed into the puzzle-style gameplay that keep it exciting, but the core game is about your character and interactions, much like the comic and TV show.

The true difficulty of this game is not in pushing the right buttons at the right time; it’s the emotional aspects. The game connects to the player on a very visceral level, and making snap decisions that can lead to the death of a character in the game is difficult. Being forced to kill a character that you’ve come to know is heart wrenching, as well; and that’s how you know it has acheived its purpose. You’ll get to know the characters, and feel a connection to them that’s not present in most games.

The Walking Dead is not your typical zombie-slaying game; and if you go into it expecting that, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Instead, it is a character-driven story that you get to take part in, crafting a character and interacting with those around you. Telltale succeeds in creating a deep and interesting world here, with characters you’ll remember and decisions you’ll love to hate making. It’s rare that a game can make you really care about the people in it; and Telltale does so beautifully. If you’re a fan of the series (comics or TV), then you need to check out this game. Even if you’re not familiar with either, The Walking Dead is something that you should experience.

Here’s the Rundown:

+ Solid Storytelling immerses you in the experience
+ Stellar Graphics put you into the world created by Robert Kirkland
– Minor gameplay hiccups interrupt gameplay
– Not as many puzzles as you might like

9 and 9.5 represent the pinnacle of the genre, a game that defines what that genre should be about. These scores are for games that you not only feel would be worth your purchase, but you would actually try to convince your friends to buy them as well. 

The Walking Dead: Episode 1 was developed and published by Telltale Games. It was released at an MSRP of $24.99 for the full five-episode season on April 24, 2012. A copy was provided by the publisher to RipTen for the purposes of review.