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As the fourth out of 5 episodes, The Walking Dead’s “Around Every Corner” has the audacious task of having to usher in the grand finale, while building on 3 episodes that have each improved on each other. That’s no easy task, given the previous episode’s climactic rush. Yet, Episode 4 once more keeps emotion at an all-time high and that throughout the entire episode. It might not build up to it, rather it takes a different approach altogether. With virtually no downsides to back up this gripping tale, we’re closing in to what is a masterpiece in the modern gaming era.
This should not be the episode to decide to learn the fundamentals, but it will be posted again for posterity: The player takes on the role of Lee, who travels with a group of survivors and a child under his custody. Through a series of timed conversation options, a lot of decisions need to be made that will shape the story to come. Many choices come back later in the game and get transferred throughout episodes. Fatal decisions are final. Together with small puzzle segments, this makes up for the point and click adventure theme of the series. A lot of those moments are separated with cinematic sequences or action features with hectic pacing and split second decisions.
The cinematic atmosphere is drenched in a cel-shaded setting, smudged around the edges and with tons of dark tones. Depending on the gameplay choice, prompts are laid out in the differing environments that indicate interactive objects. Indicators on-screen also tell you how characters react to your play style. This reactive gameplay keeps players locked in and make every choice one to dread, given the possible outcome. This is, in no small means, enlarged by the game’s soundtrack that builds up an eerie, minimalist ambience that even dictates the pace from time. In less action packed sequences, the rumbling score might create all the excitement, while there is nothing there.
Still, it’s the conversations and group dynamics that shape this game. Each and every character feels like a vital addition, due to their unique traits and skills. Even when they have nothing to offer, their lacking character is what makes them an individual to pursue further on. As is customary in The Walking Dead, some personas will come and go or get killed and right when one character becomes customary, it will be ripped apart or will drastically turn due to a certain chain of events. The rollercoaster of emotions runs at a full high once more. Time has been passing by in the series and this fourth episode gets burdened by backstories. The result is a consistently evocative journey, as characters have a heartfelt word to pass on every few minutes. Once one person cracks, the other will soon follow.
Equally building on this character and background, the people in the episode themselves grow in personality. The small child that once was just a passive pawn is now a full-fledged party member with initiative and a voice to be heard. Those with heavy consciences let people peek more into their soul. Those with anger wrestle between rage and desperation. There is a range of emotion for each character and this gets passed on to the player, for the best. Even though there is a lot of anger in this episode, it stresses the duress felt by a group that is slowly but surely running out of options. The fourth episode is running the end of the line. This is what makes each decision more important than the last. There aren’t a lot of ideas left to go on, so each time one is discarded, you’re left with even less to go on. Hope stretches thin and it will be much thinner by the end.
There is an overabundance of new or lesser engaging characters, which affect the evocative explosions of other episodes. Instead, this influx of new identities shifts the dynamic over to the group, rather than the person. In this unit, trust becomes the clincher, as everyone is always suspecting others of something, even when they have been traveling for a while. The tight niche of old is gone and with loose ends this group is slowly unraveling.
New people are also a way to tackle new topics and Around Every Corner doesn’t skimp on tough stories. The zombie apocalypse is the perfect setting to tell the story of man and not of the monsters roaming about. No; mankind in times of need are much crueler than simple beasts with a simple but consistent code of conduct. From the hardships of women, kids and elderly to the complete crumbling of social conduct; no idea is out of this game’s reach. Before the final episode is even released, it’s certain that this series deserves an award for the writing, not only of captivating characters, but also for the gruesome reality they depict.
Furthermore, gameplay itself gets a proper streamlining that keeps the pace geared up between conversations. Puzzles are simply enough and get mostly just blocked by the fear of progression. Unlocking one more piece of the puzzle, means the veil gets lifted a bit further. Shooting galleries get more attention and are built out too when more dead start taking over. The group will land in several jams that will require some quick thinking that offer peeks of adrenaline.
The brilliance of this episode is that there aren’t any real downsides to be found that aren’t up to personal taste. Even if the game is once more just 2 and a half hours long, the draining emotional roller coaster make it feel like a much longer adventure. Furthermore, with a quick look back on previous episodes, the fourth iteration seems to finally grasp the engine properly, while technical difficulties in frame rate and audio are kept at an all-time low. It’s debatable whether or not the game is overshooting the visual novel aspect by simplifying progress too much into a linear fashion, but again, some may enjoy just that. It does however put a tiny scuff on the gameplay element. The game is lived more than it’s played, but in the full breath of the series, this is only considered a downside for the most cynical of people.
One can only wonder what this adventure still has in store after Episode 4: Around Every Corner. After a roller coaster of emotion with no downsides, there is but one thing to fear from the final chapter and that’s that the answer may not be the one you’re looking for. With an unparalleled narrative and captivating set pieces, The Walking Dead once more shows us what it takes to reinvent a known genre.
|Telltale Games strikes a critical hit for the fourth time in a row with The Walking Dead: Episode 4 - Around Every Corner. Erorrs are buffed out, dynamics are changed and the pace and narrative remain elevated at all times. It's a wild ride from start to finish and a fitting setup towards the end of the series.|