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The Walking Dead Episode 3: Long Road Ahead
With the release of episode 3: Long Road Ahead, we officially find ourselves past the halfway mark in Telltale’s epic 5-part adventure series The Walking Dead. With our first two reviews being a little more than positive, how did we feel about Episode 3? And more importantly, how did you feel about it?
If the Walking Dead draws me any deeper into the web it is weaving, I may never escape. As it happens, I’m okay with that. The Walking Dead is a powerful experience that blurs the line between story and gameplay, and the tale they are spinning at Telltale Games is truly a thing of beauty. Set a short time after the traumatic events of Episode 2, the third installment takes us back to the hotel as Lee and the dwindling band of survivors continue to scrape together an existence. Things have not improved for the band, and fatigue and irritation has started to set in.
Moral dilemmas are nothing new to the series, but the decisions you face in Episode 3 are among the most intense yet. The strain of losing her father has really gotten to Lily, and she begins the episode off with a bombshell: Someone has been stealing supplies. With Duck’s help (whether you want it or not), Lee begins an investigation. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the results of this investigation lead up to a shocking conclusion. Even in a series that has already shown no qualms about murdering off important characters, I was dumbstruck by a particular conflict in an early part of the game. For the first time since perhaps Aeris died, I found myself staring at the screen in shock, hardly able to comprehend what had just happened. Needless to say, the events of Episode 3 have a huge bearing on Lee’s journey moving forward.
While the story is top-notch, the gameplay tries too hard to find a middle ground between being an adventure game and an action game. Between narrative sections, there is little to do but scour the environment for whatever doohickey you need next to move the plot along. Moments like fixing an old train or exploring an abandoned building with Clementine are appropriately tension-filled, but still feel a little like filler just so I can get to the next heart-pounding confrontation. The dialogue is still as intense as ever, and the ever-present clock gives each answer a notable gravity, even if they don’t affect the overall story as much as I would like.
Any complaints I have with The Walking Dead are minor compared with how much this series is growing on me. When my biggest real complaint is enduring the wait for the next entry, it’s safe to say you are doing something right. After the stunning twists and turns of this go through, I can’t wait to experience Episode 4. If The Walking Dead continues with this level of excellence, Telltale could be onto to something truly special.
Without spoiling much, Episode 3 explodes out of the gate and starts hitting you hard with its gratuitously gritty and bleak personality. In roughly the first twenty minutes alone, you’ll lose several key members of your team (depending on your choices), and in classic The Walking Dead style, you’ll be faced with some pretty heavy choices and situations throughout the game.
Where Episodes 1 and 2 had a big emphasis on action and disturbing scenes, Episode 3 was much tamer, making it feel more like a “bridging the gap” episode, or a “cooldown” period, if you will, before we come to the quickly-approaching end of the series. Story took the wheel in Episode 3, and it almost bordered on the edge of interactive cutscene more than feeling like an actual game. It’s not a bad thing; the story pacing is nice, and there are plenty of intense moments. They’re just intense for different reasons. Once again, it’s a great zombie game with few actual zombies, instead forcing you to deal with intense situations that will both make you question your humanity and where morality has a place in this horrific, apocalyptic universe.
Telltale produces each of these episodes individually, churning them out once a month in order to meet their timeline. It’s a unique development schedule, and one that I felt really started to show itself in a negative way with Episode 3. While the story and familiar conventions were amazing and kept in line with everything else we’ve seen from the game so far, there were more than a few technical issues that really showed their true colors this playthrough. Framerate dips in some places, voiceover isn’t always correctly synced with animation, and I was forced to re-boot the game halfway through when a game-breaking bug caused the camera to fall underneath the world when Lee walked out of the train car to talk to Ben. While the previous episodes have known their fair share of bugs, it was fairly easy to overlook, since the atmosphere of the game was so frantic and intense. This time around, however, they were severe and presented themselves often enough that it started to take me out of the experience as I played it.
Technical issues aside, the game retained its same intrigue and somber atmosphere throughout the episode. Dialogue is well-written and voiceover performance is second to none. There are more than a few moments that left me gaping at the screen, wondering if I’d really just seen what I thought I’d seen. More character development takes place, and whenever the story starts to taper off or calm down, it instantly gets picked up again by a new twist being tossed in. It’s the masterful writing of The Walking Dead that makes the game stand out as much as it does, and Episode 3 is no exception. Thanks to the happenings and conversations in Episode 3, we’re ready for the ending of the series, because we have a deeper understanding of each of the characters and their motives and desires. When I feel bad about leaving a team member in a cartoon world behind to die in a world infested with the living dead, there’s something to be said about the quality of the writing.
While the story is amazing in Episode 3, gameplay kind of took the back seat. Puzzles are dull and don’t require much solving, instead feeling tedious as you backtrack over and over again to fetch items and talk to party members. There are multiple segments that feel more like filler than actual necessary gameplay, and maybe I’m just used to them by now, but zombie encounters don’t feel quite as intense as they did in the previous installments. Probably the oddest part about the game, though, is the incredibly clumsy shooting sequence towards the beginning that saw my death several times before I could finally get the hang of it. If they can return to the great mix of interesting gameplay elements and story they had in the beginning for the last two episodes, I’ll be a happy woman.
Overall, Episode 3 is a great way to get this month’s fix of The Walking Dead. It didn’t pack quite as much of an all-around punch as the first two, but I get the sense that developers wanted to use Long Road Ahead to bridge the gap in the story between the events that have already happened and the events that are going to take place. It’s marred by myriad technical issues and some wonky gameplay, but the story is fantastic as ever, and I’d definitely still recommend it to those invested in the series.