I’ve pretty much made my thoughts clear that The Walking Dead game hasn’t been as great as I hoped it would be. While I find Telltale to be a pretty consistent development house in terms of the writing and characters, they haven’t done as well with this series, and after the first two episodes, I was starting to lose interest. When Episode 3 was released, I acknowledged it with a “ho-hum” mentality saved for games you don’t think would be good, but just have to get through them.
I’m always glad to be proven wrong with games, and Episode 3 did just that. It was almost like the episode’s writer was listening to my specific complaints- the way the story wasn’t focusing enough on the characters, making any choice really have no bearing on what’s going on, or the fact that the second episode more or less ignored the interesting aspect of Lee and Clementine’s relationship. This is really the best episode yet, one that really underlines what makes an adventure game worth your time.
I don’t really know what to put here since the games don’t exactly introduce new systems each episode or anything. Each one does have a big set piece somewhere in it, though, which separates itself from the gameplay in the rest of the episode. The biggest thing that this one has is a part at the beginning where you’re shooting zombies and bandits through a scope. It feels like it’s stretching the engine a little, because it’s clearly not MEANT to be a shooter, but it handles ok and is over quick enough that you don’t really get too bothered.
The puzzles are alright this time, too, but some of it still feels a little contrived. Like the objects just happen to be there out of coincidence and then you’re not surprised when you use them in the most obvious way possible. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad this isn’t the usual adventure game “use cotton swab on giant monkey head” sort of stuff, but it does kill some of the momentum that the story was doing such a good job of building up.
And that story really just goes for it this time. Characters I hadn’t been invested in slowly became more interesting as the story went along, allowing even minor characters like Ben to build more than they had before. There’s a lot of unpredictability in this episode, going from calm to totally effed in the blink of an eye. A couple of big deaths just come out of nowhere, to the point where you don’t even have a chance to react to it yourself- you’re going just on gut feeling about what’s right, just like the characters would be doing. I was also really happy with how much time Lee and Clementine had with each other- after how much has happened and how much Clementine has seen, it was nice for them to have heart-to-heart about what’s going on. In fact, the entire last half of the episode is really devoted to that, which is awesome, because it’s exactly what I wanted.
But as with previous episodes, this game runs into weird technical issues on the 360 version. Some of them are funny, like areas where models didn’t load in right, so the characters are clutching others that just aren’t there, but I also had the camera go real weird on me. It got so bad at a point that I actually had to leave the game and retry the section. I also feel like I didn’t get a fair shake with one of the choices because the game was so hitchy that I really didn’t choose, as much as I just went with the first thing that the courser landed on. It doesn’t seem like an incredibly huge decision, but we’ll have to see how it shakes out at the end. I also feel like the ending was a little contrived to make tension out of nothing, but if we want to talk about contrived, how bad is finding a train that still works in the middle of a zombie outbreak? Oh, also, it’s a video game.
As with gameplay, it’s a little hard to talk about this because it’s really the same thing every time. Uh, I guess there was a bottle that had a bad texture on it? Does that make a difference?
There’s a good range to the design of the new characters, at least, but it’s a shame the rest of the game didn’t get some sort of extra models to it. Some of the zombies feel like the same ones you’ve been killing since the first episode, and even worse, it’s three of the same modeled zombies in one room. Seeing as this isn’t the kind of game that randomly spawns in enemy models or something, it’s pretty odd to see a bunch of the same thing so close together, especially when they took so much more time to make this episode. Couldn’t someone have drawn a new zombie texture map somewhere?
I can say without hesitation that this has been my favorite episode of the Walking Dead game because it made the characters mean more. Why should I care about outside threats to the group if I don’t care about anyone in the group? It’s the problem that a movie like Final Destination has- no one cares about any of the characters, so it’s fun to watch them die. But that’s not what the point of this series is- and making the second episode so heavily reliant on me caring about the characters when so far they were all jerks or idiots just wasn’t doing it for me. After this episode, though, even the ones I hated the most can now be seen in a new light and I’ve had to reevaluate what I think about them. It’s actually entirely possible that I’ll enjoy the rest of the episodes more because of this one- it expertly moved the characters, while also moving their relationships, which must have been quite a task to balance.
The game still needs to get a little better at the actual puzzles, though- or find a way to remove them entirely. It too clearly exposes the fact that you’re just running down a pre-determined checklist that’s in the background to get through, and it doesn’t feel very organic. Plus, like I said, it’s a bit obvious in parts, where you happen to pick up a thing and oh look, now you can use it, or someone mentions something they need and all of a sudden it’s somewhere else in the level, despite it having not been there before. These ones were at least pretty quick, though, so that’s a marked improvement.
Now that Telltale has captured my attention with this entry, they’ve got the difficult task of keeping it. This episode is so full of smart character moments and interactions it seems impossible for them to continue it any further, but we’ll just have to see what they have in store for us next. Of course it’s a lot of pressure to keep the momentum going, but the series is starting to look more cohesive and it feels like it’s actually going somewhere, which I appreciate after the second episode felt so aimless and one-off. For the first time since it started, though, I’m looking forward to the next entry in this series, and can’t wait to see what happens.