The Walking Dead by Telltale Games has transformed itself into a phenomenon. The series is powered by stellar storytelling, a nerve-wrecking pace, amazing voice acting, and punctuated by a mishmash of cleverly designed puzzles, intense dialogue exchanges, and emotionally-charged moments. The episodic formula works, and drives the story forward in bit-sized two hours chunks, riding on the inertia built by the previous episodes. Episode 4: Around Every Corner, is no exception.
The puzzles, a hallmark of all Telltale games it seems, return once again. There are two variations: puzzles that can be solved using as much time as needed, and quick-time event (QTE) sequences that tend to raise your blood pressure in a tense situation. Puzzles in Episode 4 work as individual pieces of the much larger puzzle of the overarching story. Each moment reveals new information that is then connected to preceding or subsequent events. The most powerful of these connections are ones that the players make themselves, with a subtle hint and a slight nudge from the game. This is why Telltale Games’ flagship shines, because it does not have to explicitly paint you a picture for you to understand the gravity of a particular situation.
The voice-acting is probably at its very best in the series thus far, partially because Episode 4 introduces several new characters, at least eight by my count. The dialogue exchanges maintain their sense of urgency, enormity and reveal the deteriorating nature of Lee’s inter-personal relationships. The black humor is darker than ever, like when Lee and Kenny are hiding in an alcove, as an unknown entity rings bells in churches around the city. “I’ll wring his [expletive] neck”, claims Kenny. A deadpan Lee responds, “Good one!”
What really stood out for me are the quiet moments. There is one particular example where Lee stares at a family photo of long-dead inhabitants of a house his ragtag group of survivors is taking refuge in. His expression turns from curious to heartrending, he bows his head, and shakes it slowly. Then he just moves on. There is no dialogue, no exchange, not even any significant musical score. It’s the silence that gets you, and this particular family picture indeed speaks a thousand words. This is masterful storytelling, when the intensity of a moment can be captured without any words spoken. Brilliant.
The choices are getting increasingly tougher, and given how this episode ended, I imagine the finale will be a heartbreaker. There is one point where Lee is forced to choose between bringing Clementine on a dangerous run for supplies, or leaving her alone in the house with a sick member of the group who could potentially turn into a walker. The on-screen timer was easily 30 seconds long, and it took me every one of those seconds to lock in my choice. I have never been so stumped with making a choice in a video game. The culmination of your choices will also come into play, with a major event taking into consideration the various personal relationship decisions you have made throughout the four episodes.
The lore is stronger, darker, and stories of survival and tragedy are agonizing and heartrending. The new characters, particularly Molly, are very well-designed. The music, although not particularly new at this point, is still a treat, lacing every moment with an appropriate amalgamation of beats and rhythms. The world is still beautiful, with little details painted into every crevice. One facet of video games that particularly irks me is when weapons hang off of characters backs or sides as if glued by magic. Molly uses a pickaxe, and I noticed that when slung onto her back, it was attached with a small piece of elastic material. This is the definition of attention to detail. The episode also seemed longer, clocking in close to three hours for me.
A few old nuisances unfortunately also make a return. For example, you still cannot skip dialogue or cutscenes. If you wish to go back and select alternate choices to see their outcome, you have to painfully sit through all the dialogue, cutscenes and events all over again. There are small inconsistencies, for example the house the team takes refuge in, has every window and door boarded up when outside the house. From the inside, the barricades mysteriously disappear.
The Walking Dead is a very important game for our generation. It is a study in gamer evolution, where it is becoming increasingly apparent that we all want emotionally-gripping, intelligent stories. Despite rudimentary gaming mechanics, the exemplary courage, palpable loss, tough decisions and selfless sacrifices in the story are what makes it a roller-coaster ride.
Builds on an established formula successfully, poignant storytelling, cool new characters, decisions are tougher than ever, past choices increasingly coming into play.
Dialogue cannot be skipped, despite repeated requests by critics and gamers alike, some continuity issues.