Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Walking Dead: Episode Four - Review

*Read this review as it originally appeared in the October issue of Adventure Lantern.

If you've been keeping up with Telltale's The Walking Dead series, either playing it for yourself or merely reading reviews, then you should have a pretty good idea of what to expect in Episode Four: Around Every Corner. The style of gameplay remains just the same as all of the previous episodes, so there's really not much for me to talk about on that front, and not much else has changed since the last episode except for the continuation of the story. Which, if you have been keeping up with the story, is all the reason to get Episode Four. The rest of my quick review continues after the jump.

After taking to the road in Episode Three, Lee Everett and his band of survivors arrive in Savannah, Georgia, hoping to find a boat, while the young Clementine hopes to find her presumed-dead parents. As the group searches for a salvageable boat, a mysterious voice contacts them over Clementine's walkie-talkie, a shadowy figure stalks them throughout the city, and they get a taste of the dire measures society has taken to survive in Savannah.

As the penultimate episode in this five-episode series, Around Every Corner succeeds in ramping the stakes up higher than they've ever been before. By now you might be wondering if Telltale have shown all their cards, but they continue to surprise me with unexpected twists in the story which demonstrate that literally no one is safe going into Episode Five. As such, this episode sets up for a very dramatic climax as I anxiously await the finale.

Gameplay-wise, the bulk of the experience is still comprised of making decisions in dialogue, but there are a few decent moments of problem-solving this time around which help lend some more interactivity to the experience. There's one stealth sequence, for example, where you have to get by a group of zombies without alerting them, and doing so requires you to think and explore different options, rather than simply clicking the one available action. This sequence is somewhat reminiscent of navigating the motel parking lot from Episode One, though still not quite as good.

Also continuing a trend I noticed in the previous episode, Episode Four features a fair amount of active shooting sequences, the kind where you have to aim with the mouse and shoot down oncoming zombies much like a shooting gallery. This kind of gameplay is certainly appropriate for a zombie-survival game, but it feels like this is Telltale's way of responding to the lingering complaints regarding the series' relative lack of interactivity. Rather than being a proper solution to the issue, it feels more like a tacked-on distraction, but at least they haven't sold out and turned the whole game into a first-person shooter.

Meanwhile, the decisions still don't feel quite as branching as any of the decisions from the first two episodes. The further you get into a series, the harder it is for the developers to keep track of so many branching paths, so it's understandable that things are becoming a little more streamlines, but at the same time it feels like the decisions don't really have as much impact on the actual story. For the most part, they just seem to offer different role-playing options -- and they do a fine job of that -- but unlike other episodes I felt little incentive to replay this episode to see the different outcomes because different outcomes didn't seem readily apparent.

But the whole reason to play The Walking Dead is for the story, and in that aspect, Episode Four: Around Every Corner certainly delivers.