The Walking Dead: Episode 1 – A New Day.
Available: PS3 (reviewed) / XBOX 360 / MAC / PC / PS VITA.
Flesh… Sorry, fresh and back to form, developer/publisher Telltale Games bring us promises of blood curdling sorts. From humble comic beginnings, Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead spawned a huge fan following – spreading exponentially into a global pandemic courtesy of AMC’s successful TV adaptation.
Delayed from last year’s planned release, this highly anticipated episodic foray into the realms of the rotting brings to our attention convicted criminal Lee Everett, a man given a second chance at life… such as it is now.
Will the TV show actors be making guest spot appearances in their respective roles? Unfortunately not, however the newly assembled cast include some talent from Telltale’s previous games. Senior Director of Marketing Richard Iggo explains… “No, none of the TV show cast are involved in the game. We have a license directly from the creator of The Walking Dead (Robert Kirkman) based on the original comic books. Our game is in fact canon to the comic book universe. AMC has their own license with Robert Kirkman.”
Love working on The Walking Dead game. Perhaps my best game work on a great game! Zombies are the new vampires!
Representing Lee Everett is voice actor Dave Fennoy, who describes himself as “that Hulu guy” – modest, considering his work in a fair number of roles within the gaming industry: Metal Gear, Starcraft 2, Mass Effect 2. Plus various commercials, narration, TV spots (also movies such as Happy Feet and Ghost Rider).
Battle Club Gaming set scope and aimed to find out more…
Walking Dead looks to be a pretty big deal, with reviews scoring highly.
Yes, the Walking Dead game is getting great reviews, and I’m pleased to say that almost all the reviewers say one of the best features of the game is the voice work. They like the character development and the complicated relationships of the characters.
How did you become involved with the project, can you give us a little background history. Was there an audition process of any sort.
I heard about the project in the usual way a voice actor hears about a project. An audition. Opened my email one day and among the usual auditions for commercials, promos, and narrations was one for a game based on the TV show The Walking Dead. The instructions said they were looking for very natural reads as opposed to the all to usual cartoony reads. The character I read for was named “Lee”. I didn’t know at the time that he was the lead character in the game. Just did him they way I thought he should be done and got the call.
Had you worked with Telltale previously.
This is the first project I’ve done for Telltale Games.
Do you ever get to act and record alongside other cast members.
Game recording, although it falls under the animation umbrella is usually done differently than animated series. The typical Saturday morning cartoons or animated features are most often recorded ensemble, while games are usually recorded one actor at a time and The Walking Dead records that way, so I’ve not had the opportunity to work one on one with any of the other actors. I’d love to however, because there are some really great voice actors on this game like Melissa Hutchison and Adam Harrington.
Can you explain how the recording blocks are set up.
I live in southern California, so most of the time Telltale flies me up to Fairfax, CA where they record. The studio is owned and operated by Jory Prum who has, along with the Telltale crew developed a very good system of recording and cataloging dialog for games. The dialog director, Julian Kwaneski runs the sessions and sets off the context of my lines and often reads me in. He is also usually joined by at least one of the writers, Dennis Lenart, Mark Darin, Jared Emerson Johnson, and even Sean Vanaman has stopped by to direct. You might think that would be to many “cooks in the kitchen” but they all work very well together. They all work hard to make sure that though actors are recorded individually, it sounds as if they were recorded as an ensemble.
Do you record one episode as one script, how long would that process take.
Sessions are generally long, from 5 to 8 hours. There is a lot of dialog to record for The Walking Dead, more than for most other games that don’t concentrate as much on story and the interaction between characters. It usually takes a couple sessions to get an episode in the can, especially if there are rewrites and there often are, because Telltale does everything they can to make sure the game is the best it can be and sometimes that means changing and adding lines. Sometimes we record those rewrites and added lines from my home studio.
Any pick up left to do? Is work on The Walking Dead wrapped, done, & dusted.
We’re still recording episodes so yes, I’ll be doing more work on the game.
How does one let off steam after a hard day of zombie slaying?
Well this zombie slayer… by the way we call them “Walkers”… so this “Walker Slayer” needs a good night’s sleep and a few hours to rest my voice after a long session in front of the mic.
Any chance of another series of the game… A season two if you will.
Will there be a season 2? Good question. I don’t know. Probably depends on demand from fans of the game. But if there is, I’m certainly willing to reprise my role as Lee Everett!
Can you give us a cheeky sneak peek into Lee’s future, does he have any hidden secrets to reveal? No, don’t tell us!… Damn! Yes, tell us! We know Lee was convicted of murdering a senator…
Game fans already know that Lee is a former college professor on his way to prison for killing his wife and her lover when the zombie apocalypse happens. Other than that, what happens to Lee depends on how you play the game.
Do you get to play any of the characters you voice for work or pleasure, have you beheaded any undead or been eaten by zombie babysitters recently.
I’m almost ashamed to admit that I don’t play games… but, I love playing characters in games, and I’ve the good fortune of playing a variety of characters in a lot of games. Have I beheaded any of the undead or been eaten by zombie babysitters lately?… Only in THE WALKING DEAD!
Mr Fennoy sir, thank you for your time. Where can we see you next, what’s in the pipeline… any up and coming future projects you can reveal to us.
Well of course you can always hear me on Hulu. I do have some upcoming gaming projects coming up but most don’t allow comment till the games are released… so for now, keep playing The Walking Dead and remember ZOMBIES ARE THE NEW VAMPIRES!
Episode 1 – A New Day.
Of these five monthly releases let us quickly wash our hands in blood and delve straight into episode one. “A New Day” is dismembered into eight chapters with save slots extremely limited to a mere half-eaten handful. With no back tracking on any conversation, as per previous Telltale outings of futures past, this indeed becomes an immensely personal experience and lends well to replay.
From the start menu the player is given the choice of display style. Of the two available options ‘Minimal’ turns off hints, help and feedback notifications. For the purpose of this review, a first play-through via ‘Standard’ interaction assistance may well help Lee from becoming an early dinner for the undead (possibly).
Conversational quick time events are navigated with the four face buttons, giving players a brief (albeit decent) window of choice opportunities. The right thumb stick acts as Lee’s directional view (which initially is all he has) movement is guided via the left stick and gained upon the closing of chapter one. Don’t be surprised to see and hear expletives throughout the series and if you find yourself in moments of great panic, hit the start button to pause… then check pants for cake!
Chapter 1: The Long Ride Home.
As the drama begins, our hero (and possible murderist) Lee Everett is cuffed and in transit to West Central Prison with an unusually understanding police officer. While our custodian reveals his mind, Lee’s attention is distracted by the passing traffic. Unfolding events take on an urgency via the police radio – to which our empathizing friend curtly disregards.
Chapter 2: In The Yard.
From the second chapter onwards it’s important to remember Lee’s moral maze of events and decisions will be noted by the characters he interacts with. Cleverly, this is not quite ’cause and effect’ so early into the series. Plot built past transgressions will become evident within later episodes. Lee’s lies can be ‘stat tracked’ throughout his progression arc, a fact Hershel Greene will hint heavily at later.
Aside QTE conversations, the face buttons also broach interaction points i.e. views of interest, look/examine, item pick up/object handling etc and at this point start to come into their own, allowing Lee to fully affect purpose.
A cut-scene will prevent Lee from wandering around the streets of chapter two, leaving him a few minutes to ponder his current situation and his expelled thoughts of Bourbon result in a warm first sip of comedic taste. The prevailing mood darkens somewhat upon further inspection of the inner urban surroundings, amplified by a disturbing cut-scene, delightfully sinister atmospheric music and a pivotal plot clue is gained.
Lee discovers Clementine, an eight year old girl hiding out while awaiting her parents return from a trip to Savannah. Arguably it’s Clem who takes Lee under her wing during the dramatic end to this chapter. Here I achieved my first kill… this actually being Lee and like an idiot spent six minutes in a face kicking zombie loop before realizing Clem could help.
Chapter 3: Meeting Clementine.
The story expands here as the path splits – depending upon which option Lee and Clem take. Either way, Chet, Shawn and officer Mitchell are introduced as new characters. During my first play-through I opted to leave while it was still daylight and enjoyed some subtle vehicle theft with Shawn and Chet.
Alternatively, Lee and Clem can wait in the tree house until dark (maybe with Clem’s tea set to pass the time). Risking a venture into the night, both hear gunfire in the street and quickly take cover behind a car. Clem, scared and shaken asks Lee if they are going to die – prompting your response (if you choose to give any).
Actually it’s Andre… officer Mitchell approaching with Shawn. Chet also makes a brief appearance in this option (looking a little ill). Both day and night sequences are pretty short and ultimately lead down the same path.
Chapter 4: Hershel’s Farm.
The location changes with a journey to Hershel’s farm and some much needed wound care from the man himself. Here we meet other survivors struggling to reason and make sense of their recently witnessed horrific events. Kenny’s wife Katjaa overtakes care of Clementine for a short time as Lee explores the farm and chats with folk.
Notification pop up’s become frequent while in dialog, these inform if characters believe you or have made note of your given answers. This of course works both ways, Lee will learn certain facts about the people he meets.
Take in the lovely tranquil melody, the relaxing bird song, and pottering around the farm while you can. Be sure to take time out and catch the young Kenny Jr.’s quip to Shawn… pure hilarity. Idyllic as the farm may be it disguises the fact a tough choice lies ahead, there is no procrastination here. Lee and Clem must hitch a ride with Kenny and his family to Macon – a place all too familiar.
Chapter 5: Welcome Home.
Kenny’s Fort Lauderdale plans are on hold with the truck now out of gas, Duck almost becomes a tasty snack (again). Lee, now concerned with old and new strangers, falls from his charge of Clem somewhat to involve himself in this group’s fracturing panic. Bickering over the trouble magnet Ducky causes Larry’s heart condition to flare up and he needs medication. Tasks are in order here for Lee (some optional). As things calm, explore the larger location… noting the greeting cards.
Feel free to chat with your new friends – Glenn, Lilly, her father Larry, Doug and the crack shot, and dead aim Carley. Glenn plans a run out for group supplies and gas for the vehicles, Lee hands him one of Clem’s walkie-talkies. Locations have been pretty tight up until now, yet within the larger area of the store, I felt an unnerving sense of claustrophobia… not helped any by Carley.
Clem’s walkie-talkie kicks in with an urgent message. Glenn’s mission to restock has hit a snag, walkers have him pinned down at the Motor Inn Motel prompting action. With Carley’s help a daring rescue ensues.
Locating Glenn is not difficult, he mentions hearing a girl in distress in one of the upper floor apartments. Damsel shopping for Glenn is a hazardous business. I must admit I was a little nervous avoiding the walkers at the Motel, linger in sight too long and Lee is undead meat. Quickly make haste to room 9, the choice you make here will have lasting consequences. Glenn’s charming disappointment brings us closer to his innermost self if you refuse Irene.
Chapter 6: Brother.
Finding those pills for Larry has been on the back burner, hopefully he’ll understand given recent events… and Lilly does seem the reasonable sort. A distraction will be required, and with ‘Dorky’ Doug’s helpful assistance, Lee must grab the pharmacy keys to complete chapter six – this won’t be easy for him by any means.
Chapter 7: Doug or Carley.
As an onslaught of walkers threatens to overwhelm, these final store scenes judder and hang a little I noticed. Another death for Lee quickly approaches, Carley & Doug are caught by the walkers, as I fail to save either my penultimate thoughts are for Clem – who quickly disappears to safety without a word, damn… she never even looked back! Another tough choice is made here and a decision that will play into the next episode. As Lee helps the others make their escape Larry thanks him for finding those heart pills.
Chapter Eight: Safe… Mostly.
Back at the Motor Inn, Glenn has to leave for Atlanta and Lee bids him farewell. As we leave the survivors, chapter eight concludes with a preview of episode two’s “Starved For Help” and gives a friendly nod to the TV show’s ‘Next Time on The Walking Dead’ teasers, a nice touch from Telltale.
First play-through: Nice Lee, lovely Lee (with brosephs Kenny ‘Tasty Duck’ Junior & Doug).
Second play-through: Cagey Lee, surly Lee… but still a good guy (with Shawn & Carley).
Third play-through: You bastard Lee!!! (without mercy & alternate QTE choices).
I tested my third play-through using a Turtle Beach PX21 headset and adopted a higher appreciation for the sound work. Immediately offering me more depth within all aspects (voice, incidental and background) I caught many subtle details I’d missed previously.
The only real criticisms to level are minor, delays between QTE, on-screen action and cutscence transitions. Some chapters suffer more than others, obviously more noticeable in seven as the game fumbles around with a busy final store sequence. During the ‘rescue’ of Irene at the Motor Inn there’s a fair amount of pause as the game auto saves heavily outside of cutscenes, here I found waiting a little frustrating. I also ran into an odd voice glitch in the last chapter, Kenny speaking to Lee minus the sound.
It’s difficult to aim any further fault – aside odd character traits some people may find annoying i.e. Lee being extremely clumsy, or Carley knowing nothing about batteries. In contrast, all of the cast are (of course) upstaged by the amazing Duck! Seriously though, none of the issues I found were at all fatal.
Stylistically bringing to mind ‘A Scanner Darkly’ I quickly shook that off and found a really enjoyable single player title. I adored the ‘red tint panic hue’ that presents itself during dangerous times, it scared the hell out of me. You’ve heard this described as a two hour game, that’s a little conservative. I absolutely encourage replay and to use all three available save slots with differing event choices and conversational options.
Final thoughts? Telltale have given us a wonderfully structured and beautifully paced opener to the series. A sublime ‘point and click’ drama with praise indeed for believable and emotive character expressions. I’m blown away by just how much of an effort Telltale enthuses us with beneath the surface. Compound that with an appreciation of Charlie Adlard’s graphical style, a story to engage us, and a talented voice cast alongside leads Melissa Hutchinson and Dave Fennoy… PSN season pass please!
Score: 4.8 / 5
Special thanks to Dave “Dreadman” Fennoy AKA Lee Everett & Richard Iggo – Senior Marketing Manager at Telltale Games for their valuable time & contributions.
Many thanks also to Sara Thomas of Cope Management & Mark Yoshimoto Nemcoff for the connects.