The Walking Dead: The Telltale Series—A New Frontier, Chapter One
The Walking Dead have been shuffling about in comic book, TV and game form for quite some time now. And fans of the different iterations of this zombie narrative can't quite seem to get a bellyful of it.
Although the stories have staggered in different directions, The Walking Dead concept sprang from the imagination and work of graphic artist Robert Kirkman. He started the half-eaten ball rolling with his comic book series back in 2003. In 2010, cable network AMC transformed those black-and-white horror comics into an extremely popular—and extremely gruesome—television drama. The series, now entering its eighth season, attracts more 18- to 49-year-old viewers than any cable or broadcast show.
In 2012, the franchise's popularity prompted Telltale Games to dip its slightly decaying toes into that same gooey source material. The Walking Dead: The Telltale Series—A New Frontier is now in its the third season of chapter-by-chapter narration. But we're going to focus (mostly) on the first of those chapters.
History for the Chewing
I give you all that Walking Dead history as a way of suggesting that Telltale's gamemakers had quite a bit to juggle as they dove into this gaming challenge. Not only does their work have to appeal to and appease a horde of faithful fans, it also has to effectively ease series newbies into the try-not-to-get-eaten fold.
This first chapter (based loosely on the first season of the show) laces us into the gore-smeared shoes of a young guy named Javier Garcia. In an opening flashback, we witness how the zombie apocalypse first hit his family: His recently deceased dad sits up and starts gnawing on any family member nearby. After that bloody turn of events, we jump to the present where a now-older Javier is on the run and looking after the last remnants of his formerly large extended family: his brother's wife, Kate; and a teen niece and nephew, Mari and Gabe, respectively.
They're on the road together, running from a huge herd of living dead that devours everything it encounters like a swarm of decomposing locusts. And as many folks have discovered throughout this series' multiple platforms, zombies can shuffle along pretty quickly for a bunch of broken and decaying corpses.
Javier and crew also have to watch out for living monsters that pop up in their path, too. Savage human scavengers have their own pack mentality. Amid one such encounter, Javier gets separated from his makeshift clan and comes in contact with the game series' central character: a tough-beyond-her-years 12-year-old girl named Clementine.
Together, Javier and Clementine must find a way back to his family.
And, hopefully, find them still alive.
From the Heart …
Frankly, that all sounds like pretty typical fare for a zombie story. But there's more going on in this surprisingly immersive game than you might think. Unlike your typical zombie pic, it's not really the action or the danger of the slavering undead that make this game involving. Rather, it's your emotional connection to the human characters you meet and the choices you're faced with.
That's why so much of the early gameplay is focused on deciding what you'll say in conversations. The things you say, the help you give, and the good and bad choices you make shape everything. What you decide to do determines what scenes you experience. In other words, every choice can change your relationships and the things that happen. Much like real life.
Also like real life, if someone you're dedicated to is suddenly hurt or killed, it hits you hard. And that drives you forward to right wrongs, to comfort, to care all the more. All in all, it's a very engaging gaming experience from an emotional and relational perspective.
… To the Brains
That said, however, it's just not possible to dismiss the game's violent, messy context. This is The Walking Dead we're talking about, after all. So when digital loved ones go down in this dystopian world, it's usually in horrific ways. Brains are binged upon, entrails are eaten, heads are chopped open. Shattered bones protrude. Guts and gore abound. It's all presented with something of a graphic novel feel to it, but it's gory and gruesome nonetheless.
On top of that, we hear misuses of God's and Jesus' names as well as a full lexicon of f- and s-word combinations. There are moments of drug use. Add in references to sexual proclivities and, well, you get a game that definitely earns it's mature rating. Not to mention that this is only the first several-hour chapter, so who knows how bad it will get as the story rips, tears and grinds through future chapters.
In the end, then, I have to say that this zombie game packs a surprising emotional wallop. But I'm sadly not surprised at all that it packs in plenty of brain-bursting, too.