The Walking Dead: Episode Three – Long Road Ahead|
Based on the Eisner award-winning comic book series with an AMC television adaptation of the same name, The Walking Dead is an episodic horror action adventure game in five parts by Telltale Games (of Sam & Max fame), taking place at the onset of the zombie apocalypse preceding the events of the comics and TV show. Ep. 3 “Long Road Ahead” continues where the last episode left off in the aftermath of—without spoiling Ep. 2 for those who haven’t played it yet—some seriously rift-forming choices by major characters. This latest episode is no less intense than the last, and where “Starved for Help” focused on our protagonist Lee’s group’s interactions with outsiders, “Long Road Ahead” shows their internal struggles finally coming to a head.
This adventure-action hybrid may be light on challenging puzzles, as I’ve mentioned before, but it does an excellent job of keeping the pressure on with timed conversation replies and plot choices, as well as action scenes that require Lee to aim quickly and engage in some sometimes surprisingly graphic and pulse-pounding violence in order to stay alive. In fact, “Long Road Ahead” involves several fights—particularly, one shoot-out sequence that stands out in my memory—that are a little challenging to pull off on the 360 controller because the game just doesn’t handle as well as a shooter in that regard. I have to admit, though, that the clunkiness does actually add to a feeling of desperation appropriate to Lee’s situation as an average Joe doing his best in a difficult survival situation.
As expected, “Long Road Ahead” continues to excel at effectively portraying lifelike characters, setting a creepy atmosphere, robust storytelling, and tense gray-area decision-making of the previous episodes. The previous two episodes introduce us to a number of believable personalities and set up the growing discord between them, and, like real life, the game gives players ample reasons to sympathize with each perspective. Also as in real life, however, it’s impossible to please everyone, particularly when the characters involved have very different but reasonable views on how best to stay alive.
Probably the most psychologically powerful of the three episodes released so far, “Long Road Ahead” pushes Lee harder to make even more rock-and-a-hard-place decisions that significantly impact relationships with his group mates, as well as influence how young Clementine sees him. For instance, Lee’s forced to decide whether he’ll confess his dark past to any of the others, whether he’ll accuse someone of theft, and what kind of preparations he’s willing to take to protect his charge.
The circumstances of this latest episode put Lee’s priorities to the test, and perhaps the most interesting experience I’m having playing these Walking Dead games is seeing the unexpected character depth emerging from the chaotic split-second and often morally ambiguous actions that my otherwise honest do-gooder of a Lee is forced to take throughout the game. The blatant lack of correct answers is refreshingly nonjudgmental and humanizing, allowing us to empathize with both Lee and his companions, despite their sometimes extreme differences.
After the six to nine hours we, as players, have spent interacting with Lee’s companions, the emotional impact of the events in this poignant episode is surprisingly potent. I can’t say much more without giving plot points away, but Telltale certainly deserves kudos for designing a game that manages to convince us that our choices are meaningful, even if some decisions need to be haphazardly flung together in the heat of the moment, and some events may be completely outside of our control.
As before, the art, sound, and overall presentation are outstanding. “Long Road Ahead” naturally uses the same gritty, hand-drawn looking 3D graphics with ink-lined and painted textures that fit really well with the game’s comic-book roots. The environments, too, are still beautifully detailed (if often gruesome) and a joy to explore. The voice acting (which is, by the way, peppered liberally with F-bombs this episode, for those who mind) is superb.
Like the previous episodes, Ep. 3 goes for 400 Microsoft Points ($5.00 US dollars) and a single play-through took me about three hours. For entertainment spanning the time of approximately two full-length movies in a single play-through, I’d say this is a pretty good deal. Moreover, no doubt, the choices we make in this episode will, again, have an impact on the story farther down the line, further increasing The Walking Dead’s cumulative replay value and providing incentive to use all three save slots. The fascinating endgame statistics revealed that I was in the minority for all decisions this time, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how they impact the next two chapters.
With only two more episodes to go, The Walking Dead: Ep. 3 “Long Road Ahead” is clearly moving at a vigorous clip toward the eventual finale, which, given these three action-packed and poignant episodes, promises to be explosive. The TWD episodes have been among the best gaming entertainment I’ve had recently, and if the zombie genre or story-based and action-laced adventure pique your interest at all, I’d highly recommend checking out the series.