Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Telltale's The Walking Dead: Episode 3

Please note that this is the rough draft for a review I wrote for BuyZombie.com. Please check out the final draft of the review here.

Like many natural-born citizens of the U.S.A. I have a more than a few hedonistic tendencies. I know it's not good for me, physically or spiritually, but there you have it. Despite this, Telltale games is making wonder if I don't have some sort of hidden emotional masochism streak in me. That's because episode three of their take on The Walking Dead is out, and it will will test all but the most callous of gamers. And the worst part is, I can't even tell you why without giving away spoilers.

Seriously, the only problem with a game like this one is that talking about it beyond the most general terms is treading on very spoiler-ish ground, and while it might not ruin the game for you if you do get spoiled, I'm the kind of guy who assumes that other people are like me and want to experience just what all the fuss is about. So, I will try and walk the fine line of giving necessary information without giving out spoilers. It'll be tough though.

Episode one was the introduction to a great story and it forced some tough choices on you, but it wasn't anything that a regular person can't handle. Episode two kicked the decision-making up a notch, dropping genuinely difficult choices in your lap while showcasing the true horror of a zombie apocalypse by presenting us the depths of human depravity. If you'll pardon the cliche, episode three kicks it up another notch and forces some downright nasty choices on us and makes us deal with the consequences in ways that the game hasn't yet done. Then it does a good job at showing us just how far in-fighting and secrets can destroy a group when it needs unity the most. Then we get in some more action-y parts thrown in for good measure to shake things up. Some of what happens in this episode is downright senseless, and yet totally believable, given what's gone on up till now. And just like the previous episodes, the story gives us a couple of brief hope spots, but then nastily takes them away. Unlike the previous episodes, however, with all that happens, the hope spots never seem quite as hopeful as they should. Truly, this game captures the heart and essence of Kirkman's The Walking Dead.

This episode takes place very soon after the events of episode two. It's implied to be just a few days, maybe a week or two at the most. You start out inside the nearby city to loot for supplies, and are presented with your first hard choice right off the bat. Choose one way and you won't be able to pick up very much, choose the other way, and if you have a heart inside that calloused exterior of yours, then you loose in a very different way altogether. Back at the hotel your group is staying at, things are falling apart quickly, as mistrust and paranoia start creeping into month-old power struggles and spill over into other areas as well.

Then things get worse.

I'm beginning to think that The Walking Dead game, indeed the entire TWD franchise could be summed up with: "It got worse. And then you kept reading/watching/playing."

This isn't a game you play because it's fun or intellectually challenging. It's a game you play because it's one of the most compelling stories in video gaming history. At this point I'm simultaneously eager and frightened to find out if and how they plan on topping this one. Right now I don't think I would be surprised by anything they do, but I'm still making sure to look both ways before crossing the proverbial street, because I am expecting to get blindsided.

Bottom Line: It's a very rare series indeed that can keep improving with each installment. So far, Telltale's The Walking Dead has been one as the latest episode has set the bar ever higher for the remaining two. If Telltale can keep this pace up, I just might be emotionally exhausted when they finish. It's kind of making me glad that they're taking longer than expected between each episode. It's giving me a chance to catch my breath.

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