The Walking Dead: Episode Four Ė Around Every Corner|
Based on the Eisner award-winning comic book series with an AMC television adaptation of the same name, The Walking Dead is an episodic horror action adventure game in five parts by Telltale Games (of Sam & Max fame), taking place at the onset of the zombie apocalypse and preceding the events of the comics and TV show. Episode 4: ďAround Every CornerĒ is the penultimate episode of this arc, and Iím genuinely sad that itís almost over. Itís been one hell of a ride, and Iím consistently amazed that itís only been getting better with each episode. At this point, though, itís getting incredibly difficult to discuss the games and how excellent they are without spoiling the whole thing, precisely because of how much the The Walking Dead experience hinges on the compelling storytelling and characters. Iíll do my best, though.
As with the previous episodes, Episode 4 involves fewer typical adventure-game puzzles and more tension-building timed conversation replies, consequence-laden plot choices, and fast-paced action sequences, whether itís frantic button mashing to help Lee escape from a walkerís grasp or honest-to-goodness FPS-style controls to make proper use of a found firearm. Thatís rightóEpisode 4has an improved control scheme over the last couple of episodes, and whether it reflects main character Leeís increasing target-shooting skills or player feedback, Iím pleased with the upgrade. The transitions between play modes can be sudden and nerve-wracking, but theyíre reasonably natural.
Above all, though, ďAround Every CornerĒ effectively builds on all character relationships and prior events leading up to the present circumstances. It mercilessly leverages the fondness that weíve now inadvertently developed for Lee and his motley crew of apocalypse survivors, and, depending on choices the player makes on Leeís behalf, gleefully smashes various hopes and dreams. That may sound depressing and a bit dramatic, but thatís how The Walking Dead rolls. At this point, weíve probably made the bulk of Leeís tough decisions and gotten a firm handle of what kind of man our versions of Lee really are. It took me all of a heartbeat to know whether my Lee would save someoneís life, lie to someone, use violence, or try to negotiate. The beauty of it is I imagine most players probably feel they have their Lees down pat at this point, and these Lees can be drastically different people.
Thatís obvious by the gut-wrenching end of ďAround Every Corner,Ē which baldly and pitilessly reflects the culmination of the playerís decisions. Just, wow. Iíd discuss the ending further, but I really canít without giving it away. As usual, I was fascinated by Telltaleís statistics, which show that player choices really ran the gamut, as revealed by the relatively even distribution among the many possible outcomes. Anyway, thereís not too much more I can say about the episode without really getting into the meat of the story and ruining it for folks who havenít played, so instead, Iíll mention again that the art, sound, and overall presentation in these games are outstanding. The creepiness factor seems further ramped up on this one, in no small part due to the eerie music, super-clear sound effects, investigable environmental details, and sometimes cleverly obstructive camera work, which really made my skin crawl at times. The beautiful hand-drawn look of the 3D-rendered graphics just doesnít get old.
Iím also continually impressed by the character designs, which, besides being believably lifelike, are refreshingly diverse in just about every way, including ethnicity, social class, sex, age, appearance, personality, fitness level, health, and even personal prejudices. For instance, Clementine might be a little girl, but unlike a typical child character, sheís portrayed as a complex, full human being with her own goals, emotions, skills, and ethical values. Similarly, Kenny may be a stubborn, myopic, and often selfish redneck (as another character labels him), but itís hard not to sympathize with his love for his family and resolute effort to do what he thinks is best for the survival of people he cares about. This enlightened approach to characterization is almost unheard of in video games, and itís something Telltale ought to be thoroughly commended for.
Like the previous episodes, Episode 4 goes for 400 Microsoft Points ($5.00 US dollars) and a single play-through took me about three hours. Given whatís happened in this last episode, though, I think the game has excellent replay potential, perhaps somewhat contingent on what happens in the finale. Iíve already said something similar for the previous three episodes Iíve reviewed, but if you think you might enjoy a story- and character-driven zombie survival adventure game, donít even hesitate on this one. Just sit down and play it. As far as Iím concerned, these games deserve all the accolades theyíve received thus far, and Episode 5 canít come too soon.