The Walking Dead Episode 3 review: The importance of high fives

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The Walking Dead Episode 3 review: The importance of high fives
It's becoming difficult to write about Telltale's The Walking Dead.

We're on episode three of five now and the story is climbing the rising action mountain in typical zombie apocalypse fashion: People die. Spirits break. Minds melt. It's difficult to write a cohesive review with this level of spoiler-inherent drama, and it's even harder with Telltale's individualized gameplay mechanics. Each decision can lead a player down a unique path, and with all the choices combined it feels as if no two people will play precisely the same plot.

I could very well review a different story here from the one you play, but the game itself is cohesive across all potential plot lines, in mechanics, direction, writing and design. Regardless of how anyone travels through The Walking Dead Episode 3: Long Road Ahead, it's apparent that this is a solid – and gruesome – game.%Gallery-163474%
Each episode begins with a recap of the previous choices in your save file. It's just as well, because my memory is crap and I tend to recall just one of the many important aspects in my previous playthrough. This is a game that needs to remind its players who is still alive, who hates you and who is worth saving when you're suddenly confronted with a horde of hungry undead, two survivors and just one bullet.

Long Road Ahead starts with a common Walking Dead trope – someone appeals to Lee as a kind and engaging character, rather than an annoying additional mouth to feed. These two establish a rapport and make allusions to Batman and Robin, and it's all very cute.

I immediately begin to fear for this character's life.

The Walking Dead doesn't create empathy for any character without reason, and that reason is most often to facilitate a greater emotional impact when that person is dismembered, disemboweled or shot in the face. For this reason, when the character asks for a high five after helping Lee, I choose to leave them hanging. No point in getting attached to a potential corpse, I figure.

The Walking Dead Episode 3 review The importance of high fives
A quicktime scene at the motel has Lee shoot a handful of Walkers and intruders as they break down the gates. Playing on PC with a controller, I want to pull the right trigger to shoot, an action that does nothing except get Lee and half of his group killed. It takes a few tries for me to remember that "shoot" is "A," and that this is an action-heavy point-and-click adventure game, not a shooter.

The writing in Long Road Ahead keeps pace with previous installments, ramping up tension among the survivors between the smooth integration of Lee's conversation choices, creating allies and enemies seamlessly as the group begins to fall apart. The voice acting is still outstanding.

Long Road Ahead travels through three distinct areas – motel, RV and train – and emphasizes the straining relationships between each character. The group is now constantly in flux, losing members and gaining new ones, and making allies is more difficult than pressing the correct button when talking to fellow survivors. Some of these transients are rude.

When Lily makes a lethal mistake, for example, there's no way I'm going to grant her penance. My past choices mean Lee holds no love for her (even though I really did try), and I have no problem making life difficult for her as soon as the opportunity presents itself.

The Walking Dead Episode 3 review The importance of high fives
By the time the gang boards a train to Savannah, I'm overwhelmed with questions about other game options. What if I had Carly rather than Doug with me in the RV? What if Lily and I got along? I've accidentally decided to be Kenny's friend, but what if he hated me too? How are all of these stories different?

The main story remains the same across the multitude of options, as it's clear now that Telltale snips loose ends and brings everyone to the same page in dramatic, blowout scenes. There is grumbling about this device, with some fans saying that it negates each player's individual experience. Every major scene, and perhaps even the end of The Walking Dead, may turn out to be the same for everyone, regardless of past choices. Some people find this offensive.

Personally, I'm perfectly at ease knowing The Walking Dead follows a directed path. My choices still create a game that is unique to me, a game that demonstrates the breadth of human will and individualism, while telling a universal story of loss and zombies. The game has many threads, weaving through and around each other to eventually tie together, and the choices are not meaningless; they each unravel a different story.

Long Road Ahead sees Lee and Clementine bonding more than ever, and since Clem is the only character I truly and consistently care about, this worries me deeply. The group has shifted drastically, and episode four is poised to be just as evocative as its predecessors, if the shocking, perplexing end of Long Road Ahead is anything to judge by.

Telltale needs to retain a modicum of control over such an intense, intricate plot. In doing so, it has found the balance between personalized gaming and coherent drama. Enjoy the journey.

This review is based on a final PC version of The Walking Dead Episode Three: Long Road Ahead.

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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