The Walking Dead: Episode Three – Long Road Ahead|
The first two episodes of The Walking Dead set a pretty remarkably high bar for interactive storytelling, following Lee and the fractious group of survivors as they try to make it day by day through the world after zombies. Episode 3, Long Road Ahead, only gets more brutal as the survivors fracture, losing everything that kept them safe as they find themselves cast out into the world, looking for a way to the coast and, hopefully, safety.
You're still Lee Everett, and months of isolation, dwindling supplies, and bandit raids have taken their toll on the group. It's still about whom you trust and who trusts you, and you find yourself caught between Kenny, getting more impulsive and moody as things get even worse, and Lilly, who's slowly being crushed by the burden of leadership. When supplies go missing, a chain of events start that forces an evacuation of the motel, and sends the characters on the titular long road.
At this point, Lee is pretty well-defined, no matter the choices you've taken. When my Lee left a woman to be eaten rather than taking the shot that would have been a merciful death by comparison, I knew it was because he'd slowly begun to realize that the good of his group was more important than the other people he met along the way. When he talked Kenny down rather than starting a fight, it was an important moment in the sometimes-bumpy relationship they'd had since they met on the farm. Perhaps the greatest triumph of the game's writing is providing such a well-defined character, with enough room in the choices to let him grow as the player knows him better.
The adventure game elements are back, but they don't do much to bog things down, and there's nothing as silly as there was in the first episode. While the controls during a shooting segment could certainly be much better, it's over quickly enough, and the game returns to the life or death drama that makes everything so incredibly engaging. When the game's controls do work, though, they work well. The sheer deliberate nature of some of the actions you take led me to look away as I hit the button. It's still brutal and desperate, and there's just the right amount of physical conflict alongside the confrontations between NPCs.
Really, it's hard to say much about the game without spoiling it. The Walking Dead is all about the story of what happens to the survivors, the desperate downward slide, how societies work and how they break. People die, both suddenly and at agonizing length, more survivors join the group, and the question is always there: Who can you trust, and who'll trust you? You might have finally cleared the air and come to terms with your companions from episode one, but when new survivors join the group, you'll still left wondering what their game is.
The game's graphics and sound are right on the mark. With character designs taken straight from the comic and cell-shaded graphics, the game looks like an animated, colorized version of the comic, and the sounds and voice acting are right on. Even the little touches are brilliant. When you finish the episode, you're presented with a trailer for the next episode, with selected scenes based on the choices you made, followed by a list of the major choices you made, and how they stacked up to the choices others made. Even during the game, you get popups telling you when an NPC's attitude towards you has been affected by your choices. When you refuse to answer someone's pointed question about your past, and the game tells you that they'll remember that, it's about as chilling as being trapped by the dead. In a game so focused on player choice, Telltale really grasps every opportunity to highlight when and where the things you do matter.
The Walking Dead might not be for everyone, but for the people who realize that the real horror in surviving a zombie outbreak lies in other humans, Telltale's game provides a compelling drama. While I'd prefer more interaction and more desperate fights and less puzzles for the sake of padding things out, The Walking Dead is still one of the only zombie games that gets why Romero's zombies worked, and it's all the better for it.