Telltale Games’ episodic take on The Walking Dead has some serious emotional punch. Episode 1 genuinely frightened me, while Episode 2 filled me with rage. Episode 3 made me sad. Very sad. At this point in the story, the protagonist Lee has amassed a band of fellow survivors of the zombie apocalypse, but the ranks are beginning to thin. Good friends die abruptly and pointlessly. With the game now three-fifths of the way through, I am beginning to wonder if the choices I’ve made so far will be the right ones to see Lee and Clementine through this adventure alive.
The decisions that players have made during the first two episodes come to a head in Episode 3 as Lee has to sort out which of his companions has secretly betrayed the group. Trust becomes a big issue and if players made the wrong decision in the past, that can result in characters dying or being left behind.
The dramatic gravitas of this form of story-telling is impressive. It’s so powerful that a certain point in the story will have players screaming “Holy crap” as the plot about the traitor comes to a boil. I’ll avoid spoilers, but “That moment on the side of the highway” will be talked about for years to come.
Although the zombies are an always-present threat, the real source of terror while playing this episode was the knowledge that my decisions could result in the meaningless deaths of characters I had hoped would accompany me to the end of the game. At this point I’m not certain that Clementine is going to make it, and if she dies, it will be because I screwed up.
Although this episode focuses on driving the story forward, there is also more action than in previous installments. Guns were introduced early on in Episode 1, but they have been scarce for most of the game. This time around Telltale lets players do much more shooting, and the action is present throughout the episode. It still uses the same basic mechanics, but players who’ve been craving more boomsticks in their zombie game will get enough to keep them satiated. It isn’t on the level of Resident Evil, but the body count is definitely higher in this episode and Lee feels like more of a hardened survivor.
There are also a few of the typical adventure game item puzzles. Here they’re quite straight forward, and it’s easy for curious players to get ahead of themselves and pick up seemingly useless items knowing “This pencil will surely come in handy for a puzzle later”.
Episode 3 ends with a sudden revelation about the group being in danger, but players who’ve been with the series so far know that Episode 2 also ended with something of a cliffhanger. Yet that storyline isn’t addressed in Episode 3, and players are left hanging with several outstanding plot threads.
Episode 3 has some pacing problems too; the dramatic high-point comes right dead in the middle of the story. In Telltale’s defense, this mean that when all the episodes are played through at once, there will be a big interesting plot point right in the middle of the game. Yet, when Episode 3 is played on its own, it feels anticlimactic.
Nonetheless, the highs of this episode definitely outweigh the lows and players who still haven’t grabbed the season pass for The Walking Dead are highly encouraged to do so and catch up before Episode 4 arrives “Soon”.