"At times, I found my jaw gaped open at the horror of certain situations..."
Consistency is the theme of this brief review. If you've read my first and second reviews, you know what to expect here. Telltale's The Walking Dead: Episode 3 does not disappoint with yet more surprises, thrills, tough choices, and character development. They've also tossed out all of the bugs, but replaced them with occasionally shoddy gameplay moments and typical adventure game mechanics. However, consistency sometimes breeds boredom. Has Telltale's third installation of Robert Kirkman's famed series found some rations to keep going, or is it just sucking up entrails?
Lee and party find themselves just where we left them in Episode 2. With a shortage of rations and the ominous ending of the previous installment still lingering, something has to change. The party's already-bruised relationships become even more strained, like a delicious al dente pasta that they don't have. Because they're starving. And can't really afford to waste water boiling noodles. Though, they could drink the chalky leftovers, but ew. Anyway, Lee and (ally) go off looking for yet more rations, and the tough decisions begin almost immediately. In the same fashion we've seen in the last two episodes, Telltale knows how to pace the series, though this episode seems to have more dry spots in the middle than usual.
Of course, what makes The Walking Dead so great is that it's not a B-rate horror series with nonstop guns and gore – it's about the people surviving in tumult. In fact, in the past couple of episodes, the zombie scenes, while fun, are arguably the weakest parts of the games. Even Lee takes a shot at the predictability of the ninja zombies just waiting to sink their hands into the group's stomachs as if they were hot butter. Add to this the fact that one of the scenes will likely lead to repeated death due to a control issue with changing commands and their lack of visibility, and immersion is lost. Thus, the supposedly exciting parts of the game fail to leave a fire in one's belly with a few exceptions.
At times, I found my jaw gaped open at the horror of certain situations, followed by frowning and furrowed brows. The writing remains strong both in dialogue and plot; indeed, Kirkman trusted his series with sound developers who know how to craft a gripping tale. Perhaps the predictability is necessary to balance out the pure shock of some of the surprises Episode 3 has to offer. After all, if the game were all surprises, we wouldn't be able to trust the writers to make a world of substance and reality; the unusual would become the norm, sapping the effect of the believable and jarring events throughout the series.
Perhaps this is the result of my becoming attached to the characters, but the decisions seem to be getting harder to make, and the twists all the more unsettling. Conversely, this could be due to yet more expert writing. Any adept screenwriter will tell you that a good story needs to start off relatively weak, followed by increasingly horrifying, funny, or devastating moments as the tale progresses; this kind of pacing allows the audience to accept outrageous events as the story unfolds. In this way, I absolutely cannot wait for Telltale's next installment.
Unfortunately, linearity continues to be a problem. I occasionally felt as if the game was doing far too much hand-holding, and what I thought was an acceptable action was not even an option. Dialogue choices continue to appeal to just about any perspective one could reasonably take in a situation, and I rarely felt that I couldn't decide on a choice before running out of time. Additionally, Telltale includes more "time-out" sessions in which the player must find item A to satisfy condition B, so that outcome C can happen. While this design is standard for the adventure genre, that doesn't make it fun. I wish Telltale would find better ways to forward the story without so many "press every node" moments.
As stated earlier, Episode 3 keeps pace with the other two installments, which speaks highly of its developers – the episodes truly feel like chapters of one long story, and not parts that jaggedly fit together. Unfortunately, the gameplay staggers wantonly while simultaneously stagnating in long adventure-style fetch quests. In contrast, the stakes feel higher than ever. The sense of commitment to the characters means harder decisions must be made, and players will realize now more than ever that anything is game. With the world becoming more desperate than ever, the words "right" and "wrong" have melted into an illegible blur.