Spoilers for episodes 1 and 2 follow.
A New Day was good. Starved for Help was excellent. But it’s the latest entry in Telltale’s adaptation of the popular graphic novel series The Walking Dead, Episode 3: Long Road Ahead, that really cements this episodic adventure game as the best zombie game ever made. Once again, I’m not going to go into detail about the mechanics or gameplay or anything, as I’ve talked about that in my review of episode 1. Episode 3 sees the series curve more towards that of a point-and-click adventure than an interactive drama, with an increased amount of redundant, clichéd puzzles that frustrated me in the other episodes. On the other hand, if you thought Starved for Help was a horribly accurate representation of the degradation of human behaviour in the wake of… well, a zombie apocalypse, then prepare to be shocked by Long Road Ahead. Never before has a video game been so bleak.
Once again, choice reigns supreme as the single most important aspect of gameplay in the third episode. Unlike its predecessors, however, Long Road Ahead presents its choices as selecting what line to say in conversation, rather than the binary choices of “save person A or person B” that had been previously presented. Instead, ensuring that Lee always says the right thing – in your eyes, anyway – can be just as hard as whether to save Carley or Doug, especially when your time to make a decision, even one as seemingly trivial as how to reply to a character, is limited.
Additionally, right from the get go Long Road Ahead forces you to think like a survivor. Within the first two minutes, you witness a screaming (and obviously doomed) woman come bursting from a building, pursued by zombies. You and Kenny are planning to ransack Lee’s pharmacy in Macon, scrounging around for any leftover supplies. At this point, you’re forced to choose whether to shoot the woman and spare her the misery of a slow death by becoming zombie food – in the process, attracting the zombies to your location – or leave her to suffer, buying you some precious time in the pharmacy. Though irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, even this small decision caused me to freeze up at the keyboard, totally undecided as to what to do. Could I bear hear her screams as I looted the pharmacy? Were those extra few minutes worth forcing her to suffer through her final breaths?
To avoid spoiling too much, I’ll have to say that, by the time you’ve completed the episode and closed the window, you’ll feel like a horrible person. Long Road Ahead seems much longer than its predecessors – I’m not sure if that’s because it actually is, or if it’s because time drags on when you’re having a miserable time. Once again, everything that could go wrong does go wrong, but nothing ever becomes ridiculous or unbelievable. Even the smallest glimmer of hope, such as finally leaving the motor inn in Macon and heading to the coast (that’s not a spoiler, right? Look at the name of the episode!) can be overshadowed by… well, you’ll find out, I guess.
Everything that had to be done correctly in Long Road Ahead was done correctly. Sound design is absolutely perfect, with the bleak, sparse music blending perfectly with the miserable mood you’re going to be in for 95% of your time in the episode. Zombies sound horrible and terrifying, environmental effects can sound both menacing and soothing. and every voice actor has absolutely nailed their part, even the incidental ones. Enhanced by the expressive comic book aesthetics, each character is as difficult to read as a real person, yet easy to understand emotionally while they’re communicating. It balances on the fine line between making a character’s emotions too obvious and it being far too difficult to read them.
Unfortunately, no progress has been made on the “in-between” user interface that I so long for. We still have just two options to choose from – an easy mode, which informs you of a character’s reactions to your actions and highlights the interactive objects in a scene, and a hard mode, which turns off all of these options. Personally, I’d love to have the circular icons turned on so that I don’t spend forever looking for an item I can pick up, yet the dialogue telling me how a character feels about something I’ve done seems a little bit like cheating. I’d love for the option to choose this intermediate, but sadly, it’s still not to be.
You already know if you’re going to play The Walking Dead Episode 3: Long Road Ahead, as you’ll have already played the first two episodes and will be longing to find out what happens next. In that case, there’s no need for me to encourage you to play this game. For those of you still unsure, however, I honestly can’t recommend it enough. Long Road Ahead sees the bleak-o-meter turned all the way up to eleven. The fact of the matter is, not everyone survives in a zombie apocalypse, and those who die don’t always fall as a result of a zombie attack. If you’re prepared to have your heart shattered, following a true emotional rollercoaster of a video game, play this episode. Telltale’s The Walking Dead is shaping up to become a surprise contender for one of the masterpieces of the adventure genre – nay, of video games as a whole. That dining table photograph from the last episode hurts so much more now.
Select Start Media was provided with a review season copy of The Walking Dead by Telltale Games.