Review by MTLH

"The season rushes to it's conclusion."

The Walking Dead started life as a comic book before making the transition to television and the wonderful world of action figures and other merchandise. A game adaptation was inevitable and so Telltale Games based one of their signature episodic seasons on the franchise. It's main feature is that at various points choices and decisions can alter the narrative in some way. This focus on plot does get in the way of the gameplay at times, sidetracking the puzzles to a large degree. The previous episode, Long Road Ahead, was a break from the norm in that regard. Let's see if Around Every Corner, the fourth instalment, continues this approach.

If you have read my reviews for the previous episodes and my thought on the series´ visuals in general, you will know the drill by now. The game opts for a comic book style that it manages to only partly implement. The drawn look has all the hallmarks of an afterthought, even if that is not the case. I fully believe Telltale tried it's best but the results could have been more thorough.

On the other hand, animation and detailing on the characters are very good with the facial animation being the highlight. The new environments are also well done. For a studio known for recycling it's assets it has been a welcome surprise to see them not only actually giving us new locations each episode but that they are also of such a good quality. There is furthermore a good cinematic flair at work here.

The soundtrack is moody and enhances the game's atmosphere without becoming too imposing. Voice acting is as always excellent, together with the writing lending the series it's heart and soul. Sound effects remain functional.

The group of survisors finally reach Savannah to look for a boat to take them to relative safety. It doesn't take long however for them to get into trouble and they have to not only contend with the numerous zombies and the depths of human depravity but also with the mysterious person at the other side of Clementine's walkie-talkie.

Around Every Corner speeds things up a bit after the slower pace of Long Road Ahead. There is never a dull moment with characters getting separated, being chased, having to go on daring missions and facing a mysterious enemy. The few available moment of relative tranquillity are more than welcome in order to come to grips with the dire situation the group is in. All this action does unfortunately fragmentises the plot somewhat, with the group seemingly running all over Savannah. Around Every Corner focuses more on main protagonist Lee than the previous installments, either through his own deeds or through Clementine, setting him up for a surprising finale. As always the characterisation is excellent, both on the older characters as on the newer ones.

This series' main feature is that choices supposedly have lasting consequences throughout the season. The way Lee acts and talks can alter both his situation and that of the group. Even though this can determine who lives and dies, the choices made mostly seem to influence how others perceive Lee rather than push the plot onto a radically different path. That point is really emphasised in this episode as, without giving anything away, there is a moment at the end that serves as a culmination of sorts of Lee's, and thus the player's, actions up until that point. Even the one live or die moment seems to be tied to this, just leading to another character to be involved in that particular scene. That you can influence the plot on details and nuances is a nice feature in itself but not exactly what Telltale promised when they presented this season. Perhaps I expected too much.

For a point and click adventure, The Walking Dead has featured very few actual puzzles. The emphasis has been placed firmly on conversing, a system which gives Lee several dialogue options and a limited amount of time in which to use one. Most of the possible consequences come forth from simply speaking with other characters. The third episode, Long Road Ahead, rectified this emphasis somewhat by actually providing some real puzzles. They weren't particularly complicated but their inclusion did add some weight to that episode. Around Every Corner unfortunately returns to the old situation, resulting in puzzles and obstacles that more or less solve themselves.

On the other hand, this episode does offer more action sequences than the previous three. The quick time events make a return but they are accompanied by several first person shoot outs. This approach's highlight forms a scene where Lee gets his leg stuck while the dead are closing in on him, meaning he has to divide his attention between the two problems. This overall focus on action segments nicely complements the more frantic pace of Around Every Corner but I would rather have seen some more genuine puzzles. The action also take some of the danger away, as Lee shoots and slices his way through the living dead just a bit too easily.

The control options consist of the mouse and keyboard combination and a gamepad. Both work well enough but I prefer the first option. The control scheme entails Lee being controlled directly with interactions being performed with a pointer. Using a gamepad in this way feels cumbersome while the combination can be a bit unresponsive at times, which is especially noticeable during the action sequences. It must be said that I didn't have nearly as much problems with it than in the previous episodes but whether that can be attributed to me or the game is up for debate.

Around Every Corner lasts somewhere in between three to four hours, which is quite generous taking into account the roughly two hours each of the previous episodes lasted. That is a hopeful signal for the last episode. What is also a good sign is that Around Every Corner doesn't feel padded, that the extra runtime is used well.

Around Every Corner not only returns the series' focus to it's narrative but it also adds a good dose of action sequences. This occurs seemingly at the expense of the game's puzzles which are just as shallow as in the first two episodes. This is a shame as the third episode proved that it is possible for this series to offer meaningful and well integrated conundrums.

Another issue is that the whole decisions and consequences dynamic rungs once again relatively hollow. By the end of the episode, the only relevant consequence is that one particular character can be death or alive depending on your actions without really affecting the overall plot all that much. Driving the point home that this whole mechanism mostly revolves around Lee's popularity, what is supposed to be a revealing accumulation of all his past actions mostly boils down to a test of said popularity.

Still, Around Every Corner gives you little time to consider such things as the pace is quickened quite a bit. We are heading towards the series' finale and it shows and despite the aforementioned issues, Around Every Corner still offers a compelling yarn filled with believable characters and motivations. If only the gameplay offered the same kind of richness provided by the narrative.

OVERALL: a 7, 7.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 10/24/12

Game Release: The Walking Dead: Episode 4 - Around Every Corner (US, 10/10/12)

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