The Walking Dead from the team at Telltale Games is slowly but surely becoming one of the best gaming experiences of 2012. Each episode has been a great work of fiction, character development, stress and depression. The air that wafts over this first season of five episodes reeks of what makes The Walking Dead universe so incredibly special. Telltale gets it, folks, and this episode is another point of evidence in their favor.
The image that sits at the head of this review serves as a beautiful indication for what's ahead of players as they start "Around Every Corner." Kenny's messed up, Lee's grasping for Clementine, Savannah sits brightly beyond and there's a menacing foe in the foreground. It's hopeful, it's bright and it's stark all at once.
Telltale Games presents a very harrowing entry in The Walking Dead season, while "Around Every Corner" is fantastic, it's not quite as good as what we had with episode three, "Long Road Ahead."
Taking away everything.
Here we stand at the fourth entry in a five part season of The Walking Dead. We've been with Lee and Clementine since the beginning of our journey. The other survivors we've met along the way have been characters we've either loved or loved to hate. Now we're watching Telltale Games bring them each in and out of focus in tough ways.
Episode three was a great step in the process of eliminating plot threads and killing characters. This is The Walking Dead, people are going to die. As Robert Kirkman proved with his ongoing comic series, this storyline is almost devoid of mainstays. No one is safe. Episode three proved that point.
Episode four flirts with proving it even further. Throughout my time with this entry in the season, I was mostly waiting for Telltale to take someone else away from me. I wanted it to happen. I wanted to be faced with life and death choices that completely end my relationships with this fake people around me.
Here's the thing, though: episode three so effectively showed me that Telltale isn't afraid of pulling the plug on anyone that each moment has become that much more stressful. Episode four might not hammer out as many digital lives, but it does run at a pace that threatens each and every character. That tension makes the tight city of Savannah feel even tighter.
The conclusion of this episode, though, is stunning. The motion throughout this whole episode is a little predictable, but I personally never saw the final climax coming. While the slow chug to the climax might not be as efficient or flourished as what we all experienced with episode three, the closing moments of this fourth episode will leave you reeling.
This is The Walking Dead, people are going to die.
Story over mechanics.
There are moments, though, where this story clearly demonstrates that the gaming element doesn't really matter. You'll be asked to do something quickly at one special moment in this episode; you'll leap from one roof to another and be tasked with clicking on the hand that reaches for you.
It happens quickly, and it left me on the ground with two broken legs. I physically laughed. Here I am, playing as Lee and looking to bridge a gap or face my certain doom and the actual game part of this wonderful experience made me chuckle.
You'll venture into areas with painstaking persistence and puzzle-solving, only Telltale will make you traverse them again through a loading screen. What was once hard to handle becomes a quick fade to black. That happens several times in this episode as you move about Savannah. The developers want to tell their story, and the gameplay here is the last thing they want to get in the way.
As such, more cynical gamers might find themselves thinking "hey, what about…" more often than they'd like.
Skipping this would be a disservice.
As this season of The Walking Dead shuffles towards its conclusion, I have to tell you that this is something you absolutely must be playing. The choices you'll make, the characters you'll lose and the story you'll experience will all leave you both bewildered and depressed in the most wonderful ways.
This is a journey, and it's one every single gamer and fan of narrative needs to enjoy.
My question for the regulars here at TechnoBuffalo: how mad are you going to be if/when The Walking Dead ousts a few of your favorite games in my top 10 titles of 2012?
We received a review code for the full five game season of The Walking Dead for PC from Telltale. We played this chapter to completion before beginning this review.