Review by MTLH

"The season keeps steadily improving."

The Walking Dead is a critically acclaimed comic book series which has spawned an equally loved television series. It was inevitable that eventually gaming would be involved in the franchise. In 2013 this will result in a first person shooter adaptation but in 2012 Telltale Games already started their own episodic point and click adventure game. Five episodes will be made of which Long Road Ahead is the third. The season's main attraction are it's narrative and the way choices can alter it. This focus on the plot did get in the way of the actual gameplay at times. Perhaps the third episode can buck this trend.

This series foregoes any strictly realistic visual style and instead opts for a comic book look. The effect this gives is that environments and characters appear to be drawn. Unfortunately, as I have also mentioned in my reviews of the previous two episodes, this look hasn't been implemented thoroughly enough. This is perhaps both a budgetary and an engine issue but the intended effect is a bit lost in the execution. As it stands, it seems more like an afterthought than something that was build into the engine from the beginning.

However that may be, the animation and detailing are well done. Especially the facial animation stands out, leading to expressive characters. In this episode, the group leaves the safety of their hideout which results in them visiting several new locations. This adds some variety while still managing to retain a good sense of place. There is also a welcome cinematic flair at work here.

The soundtrack is understated, being there to enhance the game's atmosphere. The sound effects are mostly functional although the zombies sound sufficiently horrendous. As always, the voice acting is excellent.

A while after the events of Starved for Help, the situation for the survivors begins to deteriorate. There is a traitor in the group and nominal leader Lilly is growing ever more paranoid. Things come to a head and they soon find themselves, a few members less, on the road to Savannah aboard nothing less than a train.

The survivors are really put through the ringer in Long Road Ahead. Treason, betrayal, senseless deaths and some increasingly tough decisions are what awaits them in this episode. As with the previous episodes, it are these hardships that shape the characters and their development is handled exceptionally well. Especially the relationship between Lee and his surrogate daughter Clementine receives some extra attention here and it forms Long Road Ahead´s touching highlight. The plot itself is less cohesive than Starved for Help, consisting more of a series of situations, but that actually works in the game's favour by accentuating how scrambled their flight from the inn actually is.

The Walking Dead's main feature is the way how choices have lasting repercussions throughout the season. Depending on how Lee acts, who does he help for example and what tone does he strike in conversations, the situation of the group can change. This never becomes too drastic however and, with the odd choice over who is saved, seemingly mostly influences how the others perceive Lee. Long Road Ahead negates this system to an extent and renders certain choices rather moot. For instance, certain characters who you have saved during the previous episodes will die no matter what and a decision over how to deal with the resulting fallout is already swept aside mere moments later. It seems that Telltale wanted to create a certain narrative situation for the last two episodes and used this one to trim away everything that got in the way, player choice be damned. Taking that into consideration, am curious to see how this system is going to be handled for the remainder of the season.

The game still revolves around conversing with the other characters, giving Lee several dialogue options and a limited amount of time in which to give one. Despite being a point and click adventure, the previous two episodes featured very few actual puzzles. Long Road Ahead rectifies this. There are several larger conundrums to be solved and they are integrated neatly into the plot. Lee must go after some missing supplies, get a train working again and later on clear the tracks. Each is in itself simple to solve yet also quite enjoyable. Their inclusion also does wonders for the game's sense of weight, for how full it feels. Besides puzzles, the episode also once again incorporates several quick time events. Failing these isn't really a problem as the game resets itself to just before the segment and they do add the requisite sense of peril to the game's world. These scenes can also be a bit fiddly and obtuse though which can become annoying.

Long Road Home can be controlled with the mouse and keyboard combination or a gamepad. Both work but the first option has my preference. Lee is controlled directly and he interacts with the world through the use of a pointer. This scheme feels clunky when used with a gamepad while also not being particularly smooth with the other control method. The pointer doesn't always respond adequately enough which can be especially aggravating during the action segments.

This episode lasts about two hours, maybe a little more. So not much longer than the previous two then and that is just too short. Still, Long Road Ahead does feel like it lasts longer than that. That is mainly due to there actually being some, more or less, elaborate puzzles to solve. As I mentioned previously, that gives the game at least the sense of being more fulfilling.

What is worrisome is how several choices, made both in the previous episodes and in this one, can seem a bit redundant in hindsight. Whatever crossroads you may have taken, Long Road Ahead makes sure you end up at the single intended path regardless. That really isn't detrimental to this single episode but it does feel like cheating when regarding the season as a whole until now.

On a more positive note, whereas the second episode repeated most of the issues I had with the first one, Long Road Ahead is a significant step forwards. The reason for that is simple, the presence of some real puzzles. Yes, they are simple fare with easily surmised solutions but are enjoyable to solve and their presence does add some needed substance. An added bonus is that this also causes the episode to feel longer than it actually is. The way these are integrated into the narrative also deserves a commendation. All in all, The Walking Dead seems to be going in the right direction.

OVERALL: a 7,9.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 09/26/12

Game Release: The Walking Dead: Episode 3 - Long Road Ahead (US, 08/29/12)

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