Reviewing a series of episodes in a game season poses an interesting challenge. In singular game reviews, it’s helpful to draw comparisons between the game being reviewed and other games in popular videogame canon. But talking about episodes in a season is different. It seems almost redundant to repeat that the graphics in The Walking Dead — Episode 4: “Around Every Corner” are of the same quality as the first three episodes. The sound effects are equally powerful in creating an aura of fear. The gameplay is the same mix of branching dialogue with other characters, solving puzzles, and fighting/fleeing zombies with guns or via quicktime events. Instead of rehashing the similarities, it is more helpful to analyze the differences.
One of the most notable differences in “Around Every Corner” is the movement. It is highly probable that a zombie apocalypse would elicit a “fight or flight” response in the minds of the survivors. The practical manifestations of this impulse are to hole up in a defensible location—fight—or to keep moving to stay away from the undead hordes—flight. Telltale Games’ rendition of The Walking Dead captures this movement of terror well. In Episodes 1, 2, and 3 of the season, protagonist Lee Everett exhibits both tendencies as he moves across the state of Georgia, picking up and losing fellow survivors along the way.
In each of these first three episodes, the movement is well-defined. Episodes 1 and 2 show the group of survivors primarily finding places to hide. There is some movement between these hideouts, but a sense of a home base is always present. Episode 3 focuses more on flight as Lee and his band of still-human companions set out to Savannah, where they hope they will find a more permanent refuge. The motivation behind the movement, or lack thereof, is clear and understandable: stay in one place or move in a more-or-less straight line to the next.
The movement in this episode seems more like running in circles. You arrive in Savannah by train, but the gameplay at the beginning of the episode starts as if you were just dropped down into the middle of the city. The geographical continuity with the previous episodes immediately dissolves. The momentum of the journey built by sequential movement earlier in the season breaks down in a maze of Savannah streets. From the opening scene to the end of the episode, you and your crew move from one hopeless resting place to the next with little awareness of location.
Not only is the movement broken off from the previous episodes, movement within the episode is equally disjointed. There is little explanation of how the characters move from one point in the city to another, further compounding the sense of disorient.
Introducing new characters also seems labored in “Around Every Corner.” This late in the season, it’s a feat of narrative wit for the story to handle more new characters. However, entering a new city that is completely void of life is more challenging to spruce up; besides someone has to be there to help explain what’s going on in Savannah. Unlike the previous episodes, the new characters aren’t prone to join your group, and by the end of the episode it appears that everyone you have met in this installment has abandoned you (and depending how you handled yourself previously in the game, some of your other companions may have left you, too).
It is possible that the new faces in the episode will show up again in the season finale, but at this point it seems more likely that they are just, in the words of Tyler Durden, “single-serving friends.” The season is simply out of time. Even with almost three hours of gameplay (the longest episode so far) “Around Every Corner” seems over-burdened with wrapping up loose ends, and the dialogue choices seem almost arbitrary in comparison to what players of The Walking Dead game have grown accustomed.
Only in the last few scenes are you faced with the kind of gut-wrenching, life-or-death decisions that have made this series a success. Although the episode ends with an unexpected twist, powerfully pulling you back to the edge of your seat, it’s hardly enough to make up for the rest of this lackluster episode. Here’s to a better finale.
The Walking Dead is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Strong Language, Blood and Gore, Intense Violence. This game can also be found on: Xbox 360, PS3 and iOS.