The third episode in Telltale Games’ post-apocalyptic roller coaster ride The Walking Dead is out now, and wow, is it a doozy. The first episode, A New Day, introduced us to the game’s (mostly) likable cast of characters, then Episode 2 – Starved for Help took everything into an unexpectedly disturbing direction. Now it’s Episode 3 – Long Road Ahead’s turn to drain us emotionally with some of the grimmest storytelling I’ve ever seen in a video game. It’s dark, and as the middle point in the games it successfully manages to set the stage for the final two episodes. There’s also a very good chance this is the best episode yet.
The Baby Factor: If the cinematic storytelling of Heavy Rain got together with one of the more emotionally draining episodes of The Walking Dead TV series, Long Road Ahead would be the result.
Episode 1 – A New Day was great, but it wasn’t until Starved for Help came along when developer Telltale Games showed us how twisted they were willing to take things. It was an incredible episode with a revelation that had me picking me jaw up off the floor with trembling hands, but even with how memorable it was, Long Road Ahead does the impossible by being better in almost every way.
It picks up where its predecessor left off, with the survivors still caged up in their barricaded motor inn, and Kenny and Lee making occasional trips into the town of Macon for supplies. The bandits introduced in the previous episode are out in force, trying to make things difficult for the group and the two wannabe leaders, Lilly and Kenny, are fighting over the best course of action. With the constant threat of the bandits in the nearby forest looming over their heads, should they stay in the temporary shelter of the motor inn or press their luck and head for the coast? Tensions are high, and of course, everything is about to get worse.
Unsurprisingly, something happens that forces the group to haul ass out of the inn, but while they might’ve left their “home” behind, the problems between several members of the group haven’t gone anywhere.
Long Road Ahead will be bringing up several of the decisions you’ve made over the course of the games, so be prepared for that. As the group becomes more divided and a certain individual’s grip on their sanity continues to loosen, it’s quickly apparent there’s a ticking time bomb among the survivors. Unfortunately, before anything can be done to remedy the situation, things do what they do in The Walking Dead by getting worse. Then, they continue to get much worse before that elusive light at the end of the tunnel reveals itself, and even then, the light is dim at best.
Somehow, Episode 3 is the funniest and the most depressing episode so far. It’s a dark ride for sure, but there are a few brief respites from the continual chaos so you can catch your breath and prepare for the next plunge. One of the many things that helped make this a stronger story is unlike the first, it doesn’t have to worry about any introductions. We know the situation, and most of us are very invested in Telltale’s brilliantly fleshed out characters. This gives them the opportunity to make us feel like we’re doing great, if only so they can knock us down and kick us repeatedly.
Like the previous episodes, Long Road Ahead offers the same mixture of dynamic conversations, exploration, and some light puzzle-solving. It also has a very brief section where the game turns into a first person shooter. Again, it’s extremely short-lived, but because this isn’t one of those finely tuned shooters many of us are used to, the 2-3 minutes I spent trying to line up head shots while everything violently unraveled around me ended up standing out as one of the more stressful parts of the game.
One of the most surprising things about this episode didn’t actually happen during the episode. For those of you who haven’t played these games–though if you haven’t by now, you best have a damn good reason–once you finish an episode you’re given a rundown of the choices other players made when it came to the more difficult decisions in the episode. This doesn’t spoil anything since this happens at the very beginning of the episode; one of the choices you have to make pretty early on is whether or not to save a woman who’s about to be eaten alive by the undead. She’s already bitten, so saving her is out of the question, so your only options are to kill her to save her from a lot of pain, or let the zombies turn her into a snack to buy you a little extra time. Being a decent human being, I went with the former, only to find out that over 60% of players decided to let her get eaten alive.
Basically, what I’m saying is you’re all a bunch of psychos.
The Final Word: Long Road Ahead continues Telltale’s impressive ability of bringing us episodes that only keep getting better. This is the most emotionally charged episode so far, and it brings with it more than a few difficult decisions. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, then you’ll cry some more when you realize we have to wait another month for Episode 4.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of The Walking Dead.