The Walking Dead arrives with a bang the same week that the TV show is returning to television with Episode 4 Around Every Corner. 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, the traumatic events in Episode 3 that actually brought me to tears. I’m happy to say Telltale managed to break me pleasantly with Episode 4. If you thought 3 was heart-breaking, this beats it in spades and leaves you hanging for that last episode. 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.
The group has arrived in Savannah by the train they borrowed in Episode 3 and have moved into the city to try and work their way to the docks to look for a boat. Things get a little hairy when bells nearby start ringing splitting the group up and driving them into hiding once again. Still suffering from the leg wound last episode, Omid has started running a fever and Christa is ready to bail so they can find supplies. Kenny doesn’t want to talk or think about events from before and is gunning for a boat. While searching the waterfront Kenny and Lee are attacked by a survivor named Molly who is extremely good with her icepick and can move around the city well. We find out she’s been ringing the bells and about a mysterious group known only as Crawford. Given the comic’s trend of evil organizations, we can only assume Crawford isn’t the nicest group of survivors and the giant barrier made up of Walkers would seem to help drive that along.
Lee gets split off from Kenny, Clementine and Molly and ends up in the sewers, eventually finding one of the group that split off, not in a good way, but that leads him to another group of survivors, people who didn’t make Crawford’s list of desirables. After an intense scene Lee ends up getting some help from Vernon, a doctor in the group who leads Lee back to the house where everyone else is staying. Omid is definitely ill but without any medicine and a discovery in the backyard, a plan is hatched to raid Crawford for needed supplies. And in usual Walking Dead style, it will not go as planned, nor will any secrets stay that way. Episode 4 is very dark, but is fantastically told with many of your choices leading to set you up for how well things can go for you in Episode 5. This is the first episode we haven’t gotten a ‘next time’ cutscene,and given the events leading up to the ‘to be continued…’ it’s appropriately missing.
If the previous episodes were about survival and moving on, this one is about finding a purpose and in the zombie apocalypse, sometimes that purpose isn’t always pleasant. While many of your choices got resolved in previous episodes, I will say having sway over Kenny because of your actions in this game was interesting as well as navigating the tumultuous relationship with Clementine who really wants to look for her parents but doesn’t want to ditch Lee. There are some hard live or die decisions here that are leading into what is going to be a rough conclusion to this season given the hand we’ve been dealt going into it. The story telling alone in this game has made this experience worth it.
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. While locations don’t feel as alive, they do look suitably ransacked this time and we are presented with a plethora of places to visit in. There are some rough animations here and there, but nothing too terribly distracting. It’s still very solid.
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. The puzzles here are more straight-forward than before and will require a bit of traveling and more actual combat and targeting than actual puzzle solving. 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. Like the last episode I actually died again this time, but should prove a little easier to get through. I wasn’t paying enough attention to the button I was mashing on my controller.
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 mentioned dialogue with Kenny, and having supported him or not does hold some sway over him in this episode which is pretty cool, same with Clementine. 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.
My only issue with it this time is that I wasn’t able to play all the way through. While the 3 hour play time is welcome as opposed to the two hour, it meant my late night play session got cut short. I had stopped at what I assumed would be a good stopping point, or a place where they had a save spot as you can’t save, not really a big issue in a normally two hour long episode, but I ended up playing about ten to fifteen minutes of game over again because of where the save was. This did end up with me making different conversation choices, but a closer save spot to where you are would have been welcome.
Control and Gameplay: Amazing
Appeal Factor: Very Good
FINAL SCORE: INCREDIBLE GAME
Short Attention Span Summary
The Walking Dead Episode 4 raises the bar for episodic storytelling, and even further than that, raises the bar on what kind of personal stories can really be told in the video game medium. It continues with its RPG story mechanic, runs with it and does it extremely well. The tone of the comic is achieved easily through the rough outlines on characters and dialogue that gets you into the characters. I think this has managed to stay on track where the TV show has managed to stray, and has me far more invested in the characters leaving me enjoying the video game experience far more. It plays extremely well, feels mostly 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.