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Zombie zappin': 'The Walking Dead' video games takes best of TV series

By Ryan Smith

For RedEye

11:23 AM CDT, May 4, 2012

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Season 2 of "The Walking Dead" may be buried, but zombies are crawling back into pop culture in video game form with a new video game series. Fans worried that the game, which came out April 24, might resemble a Southern fried version of "Call of Duty's" goofy Nazi Zombie mode should fret not. RedEye played through the first of five planned episodes ("A New Day") and found it to be so good we've come up with five reasons why even non-gamers need to pick up a controller and embrace it.

A playable comic
The good news: there's no need to worry about thumb strain. "The Walking Dead" game is less a trigger happy shoot-'em-up style of "Left 4 Dead" and more like an interactive comic book, from the emphasis on dialogue all the way down to the hand-drawn style art. It also serves as a sort of prequel to the show and comic, taking place in Atlanta as the first horde of the undead rise and walk the Earth. The cast, however, is full of fresh faces with the exception of guest appearances from Glenn and Hershel.

Unique hero
"The Walking Dead" often strolls through morally ambiguous territory. The game doubles down on that murkiness by forcing you to play as Lee Everett, a former University of Georgia professor turned convicted criminal looking for redemption during the zombie apocalypse. And while the AMC TV series doesn't know what to do with T-Dog, the only major black character, Everett stands out as one of the few African-Americans to play a lead role in video games.

Kid isn't a total idiot
It's not often people root for a zombie to eat the brains of a small child, but that's how frustrating Carl can be on the TV series. If Rick Grimes' slack-jawed son isn't out wandering on his own and almost getting bit by a zombie, he's literally setting them free to kill other major characters. In stark contrast, 9-year-old Clementine from "The Walking Dead" game manages to be the anti-Carl--resourceful and brave, while still managing to act like a little kid. She also wears a normal baseball cap, not a big, stupid looking Sheriff's hat.

Make your own decisions
The characters in "The Walking Dead" constantly face tough decisions, and the game is centered on those heart-wrenching choices. The most intense parts of the game happen in choose-your-own-adventure moments where Everett must decide in a split second which companion he wants to save from certain zombie death. It's nerve wracking, but completely affecting.

Oh yeah: zombie killing!
Sure, "The Walking Dead" game has a ton of dialogue, but it's not exactly a post-apocalyptic version of HBO's "Girls." You still have the opportunity to shoot, stab, punch and wrestle with multiple dead, decaying "walkers." You know, if you're into that kind of thing.

REVIEW
The Walking Dead: Episode 1--A New Day
PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC
3.5 stars out of 4
Zombies might be the main attraction, but the heart of the first episode of "The Walking Dead" video game is unquestionably the non-dead characters--especially the odd couple of Lee and Clementine, a felon and a brave little girl, respectively, who form a bond in the wake of the zombie apocalypse. In terms of game play, "Walking Dead" feels like a throwback to the old days of point-and-click adventure games for the PC from the '80s and '90s. The game remains fresh because it eschews constant action for slow-building suspense--a rarity in video games. The controls take some getting used to, and the animation tends to hiccup, but overall "The Walking Dead: Episode 1" stands out as a triumph that makes the long wait for Season 3 of the AMC TV show a little easier.
Ryan Smith is a redeye special contributor.