The Devil Went Down To Georgia
A video game review of The Walking Dead Episode 3: ”˜Long Road Ahead’
By: Lawrence Napoli
Welcome back to The Walking Dead episodic video game series presented by TellTale Games. If anyone ever had doubts as to whether this game properly reflected Robert Kirkman’s callously unforgiving world of the zombie apocalypse, Episode 3: Long Road Ahead pretty much puts the debate to rest. But before I get too far along into the review, here’s a brief reminder of where I left the reader in regards to my opinion of this game so far.
Lee don't like reminiscing!
I didn’t have many kind words for TellTale Games as a result of their botched strategy for and execution of the release of Episode 2. I also didn’t care much for the small technical issue of the game simply not working once I finally downloaded it. In the end, my experience with ”˜Starved for Help’ was satisfying, but even I could not reconcile the absurd logistics involved in getting this game from the developer to the player. It lead me to suggest that gamers stay away from this game entirely until all 5 episodes were complete, patched up, and ready to roll as seamlessly as possible.
My “recommendation” is officially upgraded to a “commandment” as a result of my time with this ”˜Long Road Ahead.’ Allow me to explain.
I am happy to report that there were no problems in regards to the actual acquisition of the software. TellTale thankfully had an update patch launch immediately upon booting the game. This did not happen with the last episode and I presumed it had something to do with “full game” subscribers as opposed to those acquiring episodes individually. I truly appreciate not having to delete every ounce of Walking Dead data to simply add new chapters. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that Episode 3 is riddled with a plethora of glitchy nonsense that really breaks the game flow as well as diluting an otherwise exceptional piece of interactive drama. Scene transitions constantly freeze up, character voices are out of sync with the animation, controller responsiveness is about as precise as playing horseshoes with hand grenades, the background soundtrack inexplicably drops out and the audio levels (in general) are incredibly cockeyed as sound f/x and music consistently drown out the dialogue.
I may not be a programmer, but these all seem like non-issues had the development team put more time into polish and that my friends has been the bane of this entire series. Of course, I don’t know TellTale’s limitations as a company, but we can all assume they are significant because they clearly aren’t Activision. That being said, I will reiterate the importance of quality over punctuality. I no longer care if TellTale “actually” releases a new episode every month like they originally promised. As long as their product functions in the manner it was intended, I am very forgiving of delays. I’m pretty sure Lee Everett isn’t supposed to fall through the floor after he walks through a door while transitioning from one scene to the next. (Note: this happened twice during my play-through and requires backing out to the main menu each time in order to repair)
There may be an invisible pit in your immediate future.
These issues have only gotten worse with each new chapter that has been released thus far. Software patches are inevitable in this digital age of downloadable content and constantly evolving software, but Telltale appears to be leaning heavily on patches after the fact which sends one of two messages to the consumer: 1) we don’t care about it or 2) we didn’t really know about it. Neither is acceptable. Get it right the first time, TellTale!
As I said before, the interactive drama is superb, but the player’s suspension of disbelief will be tested due to the technical issues. If one is able to overlook this handicap, ”˜Long Road Ahead’ features higher stakes and deeper emotional tolls on Lee Everett. The concept of happiness gets a definitive curb stomp because the player’s losses (as experienced by Lee) clearly demonstrate that the best the world of TWD can give survivors is fleeting pleasure. It certainly begs the question whether such an existence is even worth enduring as I found myself wondering why any of these characters would willingly struggle on. The reason is because the survivors each have strong, personal relationships that are more than simple emotional support; they become the individual’s sole reason for living.
Worth dying for.
The theme that is predominantly explored throughout episode 3 is the effect of removing someone’s final lifeline and the inevitable self destruction that follows. As a result, this episode is extremely depressing and “the group” as the player knows it will be forever changed. Lee finally gets the opportunity to shine as the leader, but only as a result of the other alphas in the group becoming emotionally compromised. If there’s one lesson you can take to the bank with TWD is that everyone is going to taste bitter loss at some point. Since no one is immune, it made me instantly think of how traumatic Lee’s personal loss will eventually be. Sure, we saw him react to his family’s confirmed death, but the player had no emotional investment in that situation because Lee was estranged from them. For Lee, life is now all about protecting Clementine and the only test to his sanity would be if anything were to happen to her. Something serious will happen to Clementine in episodes 4 or 5. I guarantee it.
As opposed to the last episode, there is no specific antagonist driving the group off the deep end other than the ever increasing stress of getting by; day by day amidst the ever present threat of zombies. Therefore, the group’s worst enemy happens to be themselves when they give in to despair, desperation, anger and anxiety. None of the social interactions seem out of place despite the extreme circumstances that set them up. The dialogue is natural, reflective of each person’s distinct background and not muddled with too much jargon or exposition. This is the core of what makes this game enjoyable so I recommend engaging in as many conversations as possible before triggering the next scene transition.
The player will be happy to know that there is finally an aim-and-shoot portion to this game. Certainly, the entire cast has been using firearms to survive since the very first episode, but there hasn’t been an extended sequence requiring the player (as Lee) to engage their Call of Duty skills to advance in the story. There is now, but in all fairness, isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. Moving the reticule during this sequence is as laborious as walking and as precise as pitching with a basketball. This leaves the player very susceptible to moving targets so much so that the game practically begs you to wait until the target is standing still before shooting. Although the threat level is constantly increasing during this sequence, it isn’t very exhilarating because the player’s control over the action moves at the speed of mud. I don’t understand the purpose of introducing this mechanic to the series at the halfway point unless it will be expanded upon heavily in the upcoming episodes.
Never too young to learn to survive.
The rest of the gameplay involves the same Resident Evil-esque static scene navigation complete with dialogue windows and quick time events that players have been introduced to in episode 1. It is unfortunate that Lee’s actions are still limited to the context within each scene. It would honestly make my day if I could hold down the X button to make Lee jog a little faster than his patented tortoise march during the scenes that require investigation and conversation.
The Problem is Choice
Every time the player loads this game, it reminds you how it is based on the decisions the individual makes throughout the story. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me a third time; well that isn’t going to happen. Yes, choice matters in that the game will not continue unless the player does something. (Selecting the nothing option, or the [--..] doesn’t work when zombies want to eat your face) However, the choices I have made as Lee Everett have made zero impact on the gameplay and less than that on the story.
For example, video games that feature an item collection mechanic and some form of inventory do so to give the player different options in dealing with obstacles. This is not the case in TWD. The player that is incredibly thorough in searching every nook and cranny for energy bars, batteries or other useful supplies has no different result in the outcome of the story from the player that skips as much conversation and investigation as possible. The same people will be happy or mad with you, the same people that are targeted for termination will die and scripted “failures” cannot be avoided even if the player takes precautions. No choice that is made ever really matters because it all ends the same way.
Young dummy and old bum. But would it matter if they were 2 other people?
I came to this harsh realization when one of my favorite characters died in episode 3 and there was nothing that I could do about it. There was no “perfect decision tree” I could produce that would yield the result that I WANTED and this fact completely defeated the purpose of making choices at all. The player could theoretically complete this game blindfolded and if such a statement could ever be made about a “video game” then the creators need to seriously reevaluate the entire project.
It is in this realization that TellTale’s Walking Dead game is exposed as a much simpler experience than the source material it is licensed from. The Walking Dead comic book and TV show are fundamentally rooted in the concept of choice. A choice made by individuals, a choice made by groups and every circumstance that expands or limits options is the lynchpin for every ounce of drama in this franchise. Choice is the very reason why people love TWD because life is choice. This game merely features the illusion of choice by giving the player 30 different ways to walk out the same door, to kill the same person, to go to the same motel and so on and so forth.
Lee has no health bar so it doesn’t matter if he eats, gets wounded or gets left out in the cold. He’ll be good to go in the next scene or episode without fail. The same goes for every other character (that isn’t targeted for termination) and I have a big time problem with that because my only reward for “being a good Lee Everett” is hearing some additional blather about that individual that will give me no benefit for having learned it at any future point in the game. The only punishment I get for “being a bad Lee Everett” is some additional glares and growls minus the blather. If the player was given an option to help one character before why is that choice longer available in the future? The reason is because the amount of programming, media production and integration would result in a game approaching the size of Mass Effect and TellTale does not have the capacity for such a production.
Does Commander Shepard need to come in and show you how it's done?
Choice without reward is pointless and it really shows in episode 3. I am content with having played it through once (and only once) for learning the plot. Beyond that, I do not consider this game series to be anything more than a dressed up motion-comic which was perhaps TellTale’s game all along. This game is like taking a pass/fail class at college. It doesn’t matter if you go to class, do the reading or actually learn something. As long as you pass the test, you’re golden. In all fairness, the journey as depicted through TellTale’s narrative is still a compelling one, but with each additional episode, I further wonder why I need to be playing this story when I could just as easily be reading it.