The latest animated, interactive chapter to Robert Kirkman’s acclaimed, sequential-art zombie epic arrives in The Walking Dead: Episode 3 — Long Road Ahead (Telltale Games, reviewed with Xbox 360, rated Mature, 800 Microsoft points or $10).
A faithful player is now caught right in the middle of this downloadable, five-episode story arc, and this time out he will find perhaps one of the most depressing and emotional moments in the history of gaming.
That’s no boast and all revolves around pulling a trigger. It’s a scene that forever changes a group of survivors and decimates a family.
How’s that for a tease?
The eight-chapter episode early on manages to focus on the question “can we get the hell out of Macon?” while pivotal characters such as Lee Everett (convicted murderer and former history teacher), Clementine (a tough little girl found by Lee), Lily Caul (a de facto leader but emotionally unstable) and Kenny (a man not afraid to make the tough choices but at odds with Lily) fight each other, a gang of rogue thugs and plenty of the undead on the road to Savannah, Ga.
The gritty, bloody tale often portrays humanity at its worst, forced to the edge of extinction by flesh-eating monsters while only pockets of civility, compassion and heroism remain, all based on a player’s choices.
Virtually existing in this universe still requires a player take control of Lee — with options to walk around, explore areas, collect objects and wield and shoot weapons.
His skill set is limited and not as robust as a typical third-person action game but enough to kill a ghoul with a headshot or even direct Clementine in her target-shooting practice session.
As always, Lee can ask and answer questions using one of four choices, frequently timed to add stress to a moment and taking a player down different paths to the story.
Decisions are monumental to the fate of many characters and quickly expose a player’s tolerance to this macabre drama. Will he allow Lee to save a screaming woman surrounded by zombies or get talked into using her as bait?
The episode also relies on a level of uncomfortable honesty or dishonesty that will cause a player to cringe in his seat. Does Lee tell everyone he is a convicted killer? What happened in the freezer with Larry?
Just as in the first two episodes, the voice acting is top notch while the animation style remains incredible — expanding upon the original comic book artists’ visions while taking cell-shaded designs to an inspired new level of colorful horror and beauty. Nightmarish imagery abounds with lumbering undead on the prowl mixing with close-up attacks (a skeletal pilot made me jump), mooted watercolor-infused landscapes and set pieces that would keep Edvard Munch riveted.
The Walking Dead: Episode 3 - Long Road Ahead continues to build upon a series that is quickly becoming one of the best interactive experiences of the year.
This episode is even more of a psychological survival test for the player, now completely consumed by the fear and emotions of these characters. Each one can disappear forever with the bloodied blink of an eye. I dare report: It’s compelling storytelling that, at points, can even trump the live-action AMC television series.
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A graduate of Northwestern University with a degree in communications, Joseph Szadkowski has written about popular culture for The Washington Times for the past 17 years. He covers video games, comic books, new media and technology.
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