The best part of The Walking Dead: The Game's first episode -- "A New Day" -- is the thing that will turn many people off: the talking. If you're looking for a zombie game to shotgun your way through or to entertain you with one-liners and cuss words, it's best to ignore The Walking Dead altogether. This is a deeply personal and emotional experience, and that's why it feels so right as a part of this franchise.
In the first of five episodes, you take on the role of Lee Everett, a man who may or may not be a killer. About the time Lee is getting transported to prison, the zombie apocalypse starts and gives him a "get out of jail free" card. For the next two hours, it's up to you to keep Lee alive and able to protect Clementine, the first grader in his care.
All of this is happening concurrently with the comic book series. Lee's story kicks off at the beginning of the end of the world, so Rick, the protagonist of the books, is snoozing in his hospital bed. This is a new, independent group of survivors -- although you can expect a familiar face or two as a crossover -- so meeting each other and figuring out how you're going to survive is the thrust of A New Day. Yes, there are action sequences (a lot of them, actually), but you'll spend the majority of your time making decisions and living with the consequences. See, developer Telltale Games has built a brand new adventure game setup for The Walking Dead.
Although you had to choose what to say in Telltale titles such as Back to the Future, you could double back in conversation trees and explore all the options. The Walking Dead removes that and ups the stakes. Here, someone will ask you a question and you'll have a limited time to pick one of four responses. Whatever you decide, you live with. Characters remember what you say and take note of your pronoun usage, demeanor, and so on. While this might simply be someone questioning Lee's story in this episode, Telltale says the way people perceive him is going to drastically affect future episodes. What if your squad finds out you've been lying from the get-go?
For now, this means I've got a reason to replay A New Day. As soon as I was done with my first playthrough, I jumped back in to make different choices. Twice in this episode, you'll have to choose one life over another, and I had to see how saving each person played out. With three save slots, you're encouraged to have different takes on the same story.
That's awesome and is something that guarantees I'm going to get a lot of playtime out of each Walking Dead episode, but it also pointed out how attached I had become to "my" story. The Walking Dead: The Game is a choose your own adventure zombie book, but when I started my second playthrough, I discovered I didn't want to make the other choices. I had built my Lee -- an honest, caring man -- and I wanted to see his story unfold. Going back and siding with a jerk in an argument or being mean to Clementine, that wasn't "my" Lee. In just two hours, I had become so attached to these characters thanks to their top notch voice acting and these deep conversations that wronging them broke my heart. That's kind of heavy for an adventure game, but it speaks to how well everything comes together here.
But enough of all that emotional stuff, you do bash the skulls of quite a few walkers in A New Day. Similar to the revamped conversation system, The Walking Dead uses a new adventure control scheme. You navigate Lee with one joystick and then move an on-screen reticle with the other (WASD and a mouse on PC respectively). Environments are littered with interaction points that you can hover over with the cursor and choose to look at for more info, open, talk to or so on. When a walker nabs you, it's a frantic button-tap followed by a kill using whatever you have around you.
As someone who was disappointed by Jurassic Park, I welcomed this new system. It's easy to get the hang of, and trying to target a slowly approaching walker is harder than you think (though it's easier with the mouse on PC), and the kills are gruesomely rad. Like, seriously, Telltale doesn't hold back on the blood and graphic violence, which is a very good thing.
That's another thing telltale nails -- the visuals. Being part of the comic universe, The Walking Dead has this cel-shaded look with thick black lines tracing vibrant characters and objects. It's striking and pretty. Plus, with the exception of a jarring camera cut or audio oddity, The Walking Dead runs really well. It's not perfect, but it's the best performing Telltale game with little slowdown and few stumbles.
There is a moment or two where something goofy breaks the Walking Dead's narrative -- i.e. an adult not knowing a radio would need batteries or how to put in said batteries -- and I know some adventure gamers will be disappointed to find that there really aren't many puzzles. But these are really trivial things when you look at the whole of what's a remarkable start to an enthralling, true-to-form Walking Dead story.