Yay, the survivors are saved! Oh, you know it’s not going to be that easy…
I’m sure there are plenty of gamers out there who haven’t played The Walking Dead yet despite the heaps of praise we and everyone else has shovelled on it, perhaps because they’re waiting to see how the whole season turns out. If you’re one of those people I will avoid delving into full spoilers from the previous episode, but I can tell you that you’re making a mistake.
Part of the joy of The Walking Dead: The Game is the cliffhangers, the oh-my-god-what-is-going-to-happen-next moments, and playing the game at intervals of a month or so just adds to the experience. Telltale make the gaming equivalents of TV shows, and they always do them well. The Walking Dead is officially now past the point of no denial as the best thing they’ve ever done, and Episode 4: Around Every Corner continues the shocking and fantastic events Lee and the team have found themselves in.
I think they’ve just spotted an advert for the TV series.
After getting a train working Lee, Clementine, and the rest of the group have finally made it to Savannah, a city on the coast where they hope to find a boat and head out to somewhere better. However on arriving they appear to have a mysterious stalker, ringing church bells to attract the undead Walkers and talking to Clementine on her radio. There’re a lot of mysteries here to uncover, and finding them out makes this episode particularly fun to play through. As you can imagine if you’ve had any contact with The Walking Dead in any form, things quickly get bleaker. New characters are introduced. Terrible situations will continually pop out and sap everyone’s will to go on, and familial characters may or may not meet a sad, sticky end.
Yep, once again Telltale allow your choices to tell the story, and just going by the final “score count” Episode 4 probably is the one that changes the most through your actions. Some things will be unavoidable, whereas many others can be. After playing through the (otherwise superb) Dishonored and seeing Arkane mess up the consequences of choosing non-lethal actions over assassination, it makes Telltale’s seamless integration of every single major choice into a cohesive flowing narrative seem all the more incredible. Of special note is that the writer for this episode is Gary Whitta, who did The Book of Eli and was the first editor of PC Gamer in both the UK and US. He does a damn fine job.
There is no problem whatsoever with the story of Around Every Corner and I relished every new twist. There are, however, small problems with the gameplay. Nothing to knock the series down too much, but a few rough patches sucked me out of my enjoyment zone a little. The occasional first-person shooting moment was good until I discovered the game wouldn’t let me shoot certain zombies, which got someone killed.
You really don’t want to know what went on here. It’ll break your heart.
At one point the camera suffers (rather appropriately) from “Resident Evil 1 syndrome” where I couldn’t see the zombies around the corner. “Mass Effect syndrome” also hits too, in the dialogue choices when Lee reacted far stronger than the words I chose suggested they would.
The worst problem is that in tense moments the controls are sometimes hard to fathom quickly, often leading to frustrating mistakes. In one moment the only option is to grab the gun from a character, and if you don’t do it you get shot, at which point the person says Lee not trying a steal a loaded gun pointed at him clearly shows that he was a bad person – eh? At another time you have only a second to scroll the mouse down and choose a weapon during a shocking moment, and even if you choose the silent melee option the first time the controls will still automatically choose the noisy gun the next time – why would you want to suddenly change to the gun after spending ages trying not to attract the Walkers?
It also must be said that puzzles take almost a complete back seat to the action and exploring, which is not necessarily a bad thing considering how tense and exciting the events become. There are very brief “puzzley" scenes where the solution is never in doubt, such as turning on water to attract Walkers using all of two valves. There are a lot of places and items to check out instead, but it’s still a little disappointing. This is a Choose Your Own Adventure story folks, you get the odd small action but mostly it’s just “If Lee Shoots The Small Child In The Face, Turn To Page 71”. Luckily Telltale do it all exceptionally well, so it never feels like you’re doing less than living a terrifying adventure as Lee.
An hour in and Savannah turns into Silent Hill. As if it wasn’t creepy enough already.
A lot of the success in the storytelling also comes from the excellent voice acting and animation, which really makes you feel for the characters. The look of absolute shock on Kenny’s face when he sees what’s in the attic… oops, no spoilers. Special kudos has to be given to Dave Fennoy as player character Lee Everett, perfectly conveying the range of emotions players themselves are feeling at every given moment. I am so happy Telltale went for a cel-shaded look for Walking Dead, it shows the horror on characters’ faces better than most AAA titles.
With the TV show returning to screens through an excellent season premiere I was worried The Walking Dead: The Game would be overshadowed, but I needn’t have. The plights of Lee and the characters around him are told as well as if not better than the show, and thanks to Telltale’s amazing Choose Your Own Adventure system I have no idea where the story is going next, and I’m itching to find out. There are some wonky gameplay moments in the episode, but nothing that’ll stop Walking Dead from being a serious game of the year contender. Just one episode to go then we can start laying on the awards.
TOP GAME MOMENT
When you break into the heavily-fortified and fascist Crawford. What you find is more terrifying then any zombie. Also, zombies.