The Walking Dead Episode 4 review Where the red fern grows
The Walking Dead Episode 4: Around Every Corner promised us two things in the lead-up to its launch: brilliant writing by Book of Eli scribe Gary Whitta, and a dark, nigh-depressing story. The question now is if it delivers on these promises.

Around Every Corner tackles the extremes of child endangerment and mutilation, forces players to slowly and deliberately bury the recently deceased, and it portrays the thoughtless slaughter of the living, by the living. The writing is fraught with tense pauses and biting, yet humane, dialogue among survivors of the zombie apocalypse.

If the question is, "Does Episode 4 live up to its predecessors?" the answer is, "No, it's even better." Around Every Corner sees Lee, Clementine and the latest group of hobbling, distressed vagrants finally reach Savannah, in search of a boat (because Kenny really won't shut up about the idea). The characters that have stuck with us throughout the horrific journey – Lee, Clementine and Kenny – are now noticeably affected by the zombie apocalypse and the loss of their loved ones. Kenny is quieter yet more irritable, Clementine is growing into a confident and precocious young girl, and Lee is less clumsy, not as shocked by everything he sees in this new world.

One moment when this is most apparent, Lee is alone, traversing the sewers beneath Savannah as he races to meet up with the group. He easily distracts a horde of zombies from their feast in the middle of the tunnel and, when he realizes that meal has a familiar face, he doesn't scream or even step back from its splattered remains. He just picks up the discarded gun, shakes his head, and carries on.

The writing in Around Every Corner does more than simply maintain the caliber of previous episodes; it's a slow, southern drawl, filled with silences that speak louder than words and sharp interjections of the darkest humor. High-hat during a guitar solo: It's a blues song, personified and digitized, then ripped apart by the ravenous undead.

The Walking Dead Episode 4 review Where the red fern grows
In a game where the player is constantly poised for surprises, it is decidedly difficult to pull off any truly shocking moments. Around Every Corner does it at least three times. In these moments, when Lee has an option to respond, the choices mimicked what I just yelled into my living room, and that is deeply satisfying.

Fans of the comic should feel a deep resonance with Episode 4, as it channels aspects of the early story directly, in the way the group explores the house, a la the Wiltshire Estates, and the inclusion of the self-obsessed, Governor-like figure briefly mentioned in the middle of the game.

Telltale refines its approach to point-and-click adventure in the latest episode. Conversation choices are simplified. After choosing two of three available choices for Lee, it automatically plays through the third choice, not forcing the player to "pick" the only option left. The areas Lee explores are compact yet full, never asking the player to travel vast distances in the hope of finding something relevant. Each stage is balanced to the task at hand.

In my review of Episode 3, I mentioned that some players were upset that their choices didn't truly matter, since the game wraps up loose ends to bring everyone back to the same page. Around Every Corner rips apart that tidy wrapping like a 3-year-old on his birthday. Entire scenes and characters literally live or die according to just a few choices, impacting not just Episode Four, but Five as well, as a special statistics map at the end divulges.

And then the ending – oh, the ending. That's all I have to say about that.

As I was reeling from that fantastic closing set-up, the only hitch in Telltale's seamless run appeared. The all-important stats figures comparing my choices to those of other players was unfinished, showing placeholder titles. This will be fixed in a patch, I'm told.

The Walking Dead Episode 4 review Where the red fern grows
Around Every Corner made me laugh at the zombie apocalypse, fear for my character's existence (rightly so), and make terrible decisions about the lives and gruesome deaths of my comrades. It surprised me in both its plot and jump-scare moments. The only thing I worry about now is how it's all going to end, and if Episode 5 can surpass the excitement of Episode 4. At this point, it appears Telltale is shambling in the right direction.

This review is based off a Steam download of The Walking Dead Episode Four: Around Every Corner, purchased by the author.

Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no."Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.

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