- Format: XBLA (version reviewed), PSN, PC, Mac
- Unleashed: Out Now
- Publisher: Telltale Games
- Developer: Telltale Games
- Players: 1
- Site: http://www.telltalegames.com/walkingdead/age_gate
Episodes one and two of The Walking Dead were well constructed, enthralling experiences. The third episode wobbled a bit, but mostly strong scripting helped keep it a worthy addition to the series. Episode four is the weakest so far, due to the poisoned chalice of an unwavering determination to write and deliver a strong story. The good news is that the story does indeed remain a good one, and this episode delivers some of the best moments in the series. The bad news is that in order to ensure the script remains untouched, some of the details are hurriedly ignored – such as the alleged influence players have on plot progression.
The first hour or so is certainly the best on offer here. A standout sequence is a perfect example of something that videogames and, indeed, movies almost always forget; thoughts and emotions can sometimes be conveyed most effectively when characters say nothing at all. Lee carries out a mundane yet grim task with no comment on his actions at all, and the situation is made all the more human because of it. Almost as soon as the episode starts however, the party is forced to leave one of their number in a dangerous situation, and this person quickly disappears from the script entirely until… well, until later. A significantly less well thought out development but hey, you can’t have everything (the writers might tell you).
The best of the script seems to be countered by the worst of the script in this way from start to finish. For example, a part of town with a sinister reputation known as Crawford soon makes an appearance, and when the gang make their eventual, inevitable entry (with a few new faces in tow) an unexpected twist keeps things interesting. The plot has to drag itself out of some logical pitfalls before this part of the story is over, though – much like an earlier event where somebody sneaks up on Lee (with somebody watching his back, no less) seemingly by magic.
Without giving any spoilers, we’ll ask two questions that will make more sense when you’ve played through the episode for yourself. Firstly, “Why would he start filming this conversation?”, and “Does that explain what happened? Really?”.Heck, while we’re at it, “How did Lee make his way back, alone, through the exact same route he needed somebody’s help with?”.
In gameplay terms, it’s more obvious than ever that the player is only given token input. Dialogue choices aside, this input consists of (a) walking around (slowly), and (b) QTEs. The only exception is a very brief, cringe-inducing first-person shooting section with, on console at least, painfully floaty aiming controls. Now the dialogue choices are of course an integral part of the experience, and when the episode is nearly done you even get to choose if one member of the group lives or dies. You may well feel mostly brushed aside in terms of story progression though. Perhaps if at one point you ignore suggesting a vote, and the vote immediately goes ahead anyway; or when, more than once, the result of your choice is surprising. Not “wow” surprising, but “that’s not what I intended to say/do at all” surprising.
We again found that the game wasn’t sure if Kenny liked us or not, but the problem wasn’t as pronounced as in the previous episode. That said, we were surprised (and unintentionally amused) when one character took us to one side and growled “I don’t like being threatened”. We hasten to add that at no point had we chosen to have Lee threaten this character, who throughout the episode until that point had been more than happy to help and be around Lee in general. Perusing the episode stats at the end it seems that a white lie we told was, according to the game’s behind-the-scenes choose your own adventure-style progression tree, bundled in with “threatening” him. Bizarre, especially as threatening him was a separate option – which we purposefully avoided.
It’s a good story with, as usual, a cliffhanger carefully designed to make you curse the wait for the next episode. Nonetheless, plot holes and half-hearted player choice is not a good combination. Let’s hope Telltale remember this before the fifth and final episode makes an appearance.