The road to freedom is paved with zombies

I felt like Episode 1 of The Walking Dead was better than okay, but not by much. The storyline was good, but the gameplay seemed to flounder a bit, not sure where it wanted to concentrate. Episode 2 honed the story down to a razor’s edge of awesome, and the gameplay was tightened up to serve the game’s quiet moments as well as its pulse-pounding action ones. I’m happy to report that Episode 3 doesn’t regress at all.

Episode 1 “A New Day” spent most of its time setting up the world and main character Lee’s back story, in addition to introducing you to some of the other survivors you’ll be grouping up with. We saw some major characters from the comic show up (which I felt was a bit cheesy), but once the original characters were developed, those stalwarts weren’t needed anymore.

Episode 2 “Starved for Help” saw the group away from the initial outbreak, but certainly not out of trouble. It’s a common sentiment in zombie lore that even when the dead walk the Earth to feast on the living, it’s your fellow man that you really need to watch out for. Things got dark. Real dark. In the end it was hard to tell which choices you made were the moral ones.

The Walking Dead: Episode 3 - Long Road Ahead

Episode 3 “Long Road Ahead” finds our group feeling utterly hopeless. Fights and grudges surface more quickly, and it’s clear that any safe haven is only temporary. Everyone is on edge, and few of them agree with how the group should be run. Any decisions made are done so on the fly, with precious little of them working out in the player’s favor. More than once I was left slack-jawed at what was happening on my screen.

As with previous episodes, I found that Long Road Ahead is at its best when forcing you make a tough decision, often with an all-too-short timer. It leaves you feeling like your choices matter (mostly because they really do), and even something as simple as choosing a reply to a question feels loaded with tension.

There are several major decisions that dramatically affect the story’s trajectory, but the choices you make in the quieter moments cause ripples that are much more subtle. Characters remember who you sided with or who you yelled at, for instance. What makes this so effective is that the choices you make come back to you, for better or worse, in a very believable and personal way. I feel like I have direct control over where the story goes, and I’m not just along for the ride. That may primarily be a trick of excellent storytelling, but if there’s strings pulling me along, I certainly can’t see them.

The Walking Dead: Episode 3 - Long Road Ahead

My quibbles this time out were minor, but worth noting. Once or twice during the action scenes I wasn’t immediately sure what to do or where to click, and once the target on the zombie’s chest wasn’t where the game actually wanted me to click, with the hot area lower down on its torso. This could have been a more frustrating flaw, but there’s no real penalty associated with dying. Even so, you shouldn’t get the feeling that Lee is invincible — especially in this world.

On just about every level The Walking Dead continues to please, and is beginning to very quietly and consistently put its name on my list of potential games of the year. In my long, long time of playing video games, The Walking Dead stands amongst the absolute elite when it comes to compelling storytelling, and simply should not be missed. Waiting for episode 4 is going to be rough.