Review: The Walking Dead: Episode 3 Long Road Ahead (PC)

The Walking Dead: Episode 3 Long Road Ahead
Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Telltale Games
Genre: Adventure
Release Date: 08/29/2012

The Walking Dead shambled into late August with a new release in their five part season with Episode 3 Long Road Ahead. This series from Telltale continues to be my favorite adventure title from them, with an impressive Episode 1 launch and an equally impressive follow up with Episode 2, my expectations with this episode were pretty high and I’m glad to say that Telltale not only delivered, but the results are pretty heart-wrenching. I admit it: I cried, twice. When I review episodic titles like this, parts of the first review I did pop back into the review and I’ll italicize those. Anything new is going to look like a normal font. Just giving people a head’s up.

There isn’t much of a time jump from the last episode, but the situation hasn’t gotten any better. Things between Lilly and Kenny have gotten worse, constantly at each other’s throats and now Kenny isn’t afraid to let you out to dry if he thinks it’ll up his standing. Lilly thinks there are supplies missing and asks you to investigate, and as you do that the bandits from the previous episode attack, leading to a huge fight to get out in the now working RV. Lilly degenerates even further into her paranoia over who did what and the situation goes critical while you’re all trying to just make it out of the hotel and figure out where to go next. Now, just because you got certain scenes in your “Ëœnext time’ from the previous episode, doesn’t mean they’ll quite show up here. Part of that is because you still are making decisions that affect things. So don’t get too bent out of shape if you make a choice the game doesn’t quite predict.

The previous episodes were about figuring everything out, then figuring out how to survive, and this one is about moving on when you’ve lost it all. If I thought my decisions breaking Clementine’s heart were bad last time, the events that happen in this game are not only gut-wrenching, but downright tear-inducing, especially as a husband and a father and someone who’s had an interest in someone who’s had your back. They don’t give you much time to think or react to events before you make your decision, and it’s a good call as you sit there afterwards while the characters discuss the events, thinking about why you chose the way you did. It’s effective storytelling at its best.

This is definitely a middle part of the story, forcing characters from their comfort zones and making them choose some hard things and make decisions about where to go. For Lee, it gets smacked in his face that he really doesn’t know what he’s doing with Clementine by a homeless man who lives on a train the group finds. You do pick up some new people in this as the cast changes up a bit,but still focusing on Lee and Clementine, who this story has really been about since the start. With two more episodes to go, I’ve loved pretty much everything that Telltale has done with this storywise, even feeling backed into a corner where I’m so unsure of my choices I almost randomly chose a few options.

Visually, the game is solid. It uses an art style readers of the comic should be more than familiar with and the scribbly lines that surround different objects don’t look out of place at all and instead add to the flavor and feel of the game. People should bear in mind that the game lends itself more to the comic book than the TV show, so characters who are in both the TV show and comic, don’t necessarily look like their TV counterparts, but are dead on for their comic book look. Lilly is the same, but we also haven’t met her in the TV show yet. There were no dropped frames, and lighting definitely got taken into consideration for this as well. Zombies look suitably, well, rotten, and blood trails and debris litter what would normally be pristine landscapes. Locations feel more ‘alive’ and used in this episode, feeling less like slapped together set pieces. It’s a good change I’d like to see them keep up in further episodes. While it’s not going to wow people who are looking for hyper-realism, fans of the comic book or traced look should love it.

Sound is what you’d expect from a zombie game with the moaning and the tearing and breaking, but the game does a great job of delivering dialogue, which could have been terrible and wasn’t, sound effects, and even music. My ears weren’t bleeding and the voice actors did a great job bringing these characters to life. Usually I detest little kids in games, mainly because their portrayal is beyond awful, usually a combination of writing and the voice actor not being able to translate the dialogue well, but Clementine, the little girl you meet up with at the beginning of the game, is actually written really well and the voice actress really makes you care about this little fictional pixel girl and what happens to her, which is a great thing for the storytelling, and even better when it works with the audio and dialogue and not just in the subtitles.

I swapped off back and forth between a 360 controller and keyboard and mouse pretty liberally this episode to see if it still holds up to that kind of use and it does. You still can’t actually change the default view to see the keyboard keys as a 360 controller shows up instead of the keyboard even when that’s unplugged. While the 360 controller works well on PC, the keyboard and mouse work just as well and didn’t leave me hanging. You move around using the WASD setup, with a cursor on screen to interact with objects using the mouse. You select objects and which action you want to perform using the scroll wheel on the mouse and then left-clicking. You can also select you dialogue choice using the scroll and click method. If you want to use your keyboard for dialogue you can as well, using the arrow keys to move through dialogue choices and then the Enter key to select. I preferred the mouse method myself as it was faster. There are a few quick events in the game, usually involving spam hitting the Q key followed by a quick hit of the E key and usually involving some form of zombie attack. You also may have to aim a little bit with the mouse for intended targets to keep from ending up as zombie chow. With the 360 controller, they alternate quick actions with the face buttons and interacting is done through those as well. The left analog stick moves you around while the right changes your view. Overall I liked the mouse reaction time better than the controller, but having experienced it from both sides now I’ll end up playing this with either depending on my mood.

Dialogue that matters is timed. So if you’re going to start a conversation, don’t get distracted, otherwise you’ll end up saying nothing and the conversation will end and you’ll miss the opportunity for the extra actions, unless that how you want to do it. It keeps you quick on your feet, and five or six seconds is really all the time you’d have to respond in a conversation IRL, so not only does it keep things moving, but it leaves you second-guessing your way through the conversations, wondering if you’re doing the right thing, and if you’re lying, whether you’re keeping those straight as well. Puzzles are a little more prevalent in this episode. First is trying to figure out if Lilly is crazy or there is actually something going on by looking for clues, then looking for a way to get a big train engine running and moving again, and finally looking for a way around a rather impressive way to block some train tracks. They all fit with the tone of the game, and really feel less like puzzles until you’re looking back on them, and more like obstacles that someone in a zombie apocalypse would actually be facing. I think the best part about it all is that it’s smooth and the scenes transition extremely well with a minimum of loading for any given scene. This is also the first episode I’ve played in where I’ve actually died and had to replay sections of it over again. There are a few instances where you have to be quick and be accurate and they take you so off guard you may not be quite ready for it even knowing what’s coming.

Normally when I talk about replayability in an adventure title, I’m left going, “Ëœyeah, sure if you liked the story,’ but that’s not entirely the case here. By bringing in that element of choice, through the dialogue and siding with different characters to who you save or not save, you’ve got quite a few replay options that will pan out farther down the episode line, with some occurring in episodes further down the line. I have multiple save games ready to go for each episode all with different choices, so there’s at least two replays of this right there. The smooth and polished controls, gameplay and dialogue don’t hurt your replay value here either. Trophy-wise though, if you’re running this through Steam like I am, you only get trophies your first run through and it’s for completing each segment of the episode, so while one run will suffice for those, you might be short-changing yourself on some very different story elements later.

One thing TellTale doesn’t skimp on is delivering a reasonable price. Their titles are always priced well and competitively for a 10 to 12 hour romp, and with some nice replayability this goes up. My one run through on this episode lasted a full three hours and while they’ve been averaging two usually, that still puts us firmly in the ballpark I mentioned earlier. You’re looking at about $25 for the whole season, which is a gift. I’d have not been upset for a higher price point, but this is a great price out of the gate. As far as balance in the game, for more traditional adventure players you have a no hints version of the game, and for the rest of us, the hints are pointed out in a subtle way with floating grey dots over stuff you can interact with. The only thing I can see being an issue is the timing you need to escape zombies or attack them being an issue for those who like a more laid back adventure game experience.

While this does borrow a license about zombies, a game subject that has been visited before, Telltale has gone and made up a new story that ties into the comics and gives us some compelling new characters. They’ve also shaken up the adventure game expectations a bit by giving us a branching story where choices you make shape your experience as you play, something we’ve really not seen in an adventure title before this. So while it’s combining elements we’ve seen in other genres, it’s doing it well and telling us a compelling story and giving the same as a gaming experience as well.

Like before, during my first playthrough the outside world ceased to exist. I put on my headphones and played the whole way through. This had me on the edge of my seat through most of it. There was a nice bit of slowdown while we investigate the farm and then it amps back up again as the mystery and other plot issues creep into the picture. At the end of it I wanted more. Yeah, his is easily on par with some of the other addicting titles I’ve played in the past year. Being a great and faithful translation of the comic to the video game world won’t hurt this game’s chances, In fact, this has been one of Telltale’s biggest sellers according to their reports. It feels polished and plays great.

I did have a few issues this go around. I didn’t have the save issue problems I had with Episode 2, so again I’m going with that being a Steam update and connection glitch and not the actual game itself. There were a few stutter points with video and sound loading into new areas a few times, but I was also taking screenshots like crazy so when I ran it over again they were fine. Overall it was a smooth play and install once it came down the pipe through Steam.

The Scores
Story: Classic
Graphics: Great
Sound: Classic
Control and Gameplay: Amazing
Replayability: Incredible
Balance: Great
Originality: Great
Addictiveness: Unparalleled
Appeal Factor: Very Good
Miscellaneous: Classic
FINAL SCORE: INCREDIBLE GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
The Walking Dead Episode 3 continues to be a shot in the arm for episodic release titles and for the adventure genre. It continues with its story mechanic we’d only really seen in RPGs and runs with it and does it extremely well. The game has the tone from the comics down to a storytelling science, and since it’s not directly tied into the main story, fans of the TV show can enjoy this as well without worrying about spoiling the TV show for themselves. Personally I’m actually enjoying the video game release more. It plays extremely well, feels polished, and is on my must buy list for horror fans, fans of the comic or show, or people who just want something new in an adventure title. The Walking Dead is a fantastic translation of the themes and characters from the comic book while giving us some fresh faces to experience it through, and I think it should be on everyone’s radar.

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