Episode 3’s dramatic conclusion left Javier on the ground with Ava amidst a gun fight. Or at least that’s where my third episode left off. I wonder if things could have turned out differently, and that’s all that matters. While I could easily look up alternative paths to determine just how differently the series could flow, the fact is that my actions led me to this outcome, or at least I believe they did.
The snippets of sharp rebuttals and caring appreciation are unique to my story. I say something and characters respond specifically to that choice. Unfortunately, while the choices seem to influence the storytelling, Episode 4 is a slouch in the series in terms of pacing and predictability. Nothing really surprised me here as, in classic Telltale fashion, the penultimate installment in the series serves more to prop up the finale rather than act as a beacon of rising tension. More than ever, Telltale has left us with expected outcomes: some are bold and some are lackluster. Black-and-white in nature, the writers clearly felt like they had to simplify the branching paths for fear of creating discontinuity and an unwieldy finale. At this point in Telltale’s design of these kinds of games, I would hope they’d master how to craft more nuanced storytelling and have a team capable of managing multiple branching paths. The opportunity is there, they’re just not taking it.
Instead, we have spoon-fed plots that lazily push the story forward, as if the writers have lost steam. We should be enjoying multiple hour episodes capable of sustaining our attention, marrying a few possible paths. After earning our trust and business, I was hopeful Telltale would move on to legendary kinds of storytelling catered to player choices and capable of handling several outcomes. Unfortunately, Episode 4 feels like we’re being coasted along.
After thoroughly enjoying three episodes that were filled with excellent characterization, tense choices, and curiosity about where the plot was headed, we end up in Episode 4 without surprise or intrigue. The quality of dialogue, flashbacks that match prior choices in previous seasons, and voice acting maintain a level of quality making this episode palatable, but unless Episode 5 wows me in the end, I worry about where the series is headed. I think back on Season 1 and 2 of The Walking Dead and where we were at this point in those series; I remember the worry and anticipation which bolstered phenomenal conclusions in each.
Unusual by Telltale standards, some characters act erratically without proper justification during this episode. One minute a character is appreciating my insight or devoting himself to what I believe is the right thing to do, and the next they’re stabbing me in the back or verbally assaulting me over something with a verified explanation. (By the way, who’s Conrad again?) This is forgivable occasionally, but it’s worth mentioning since the writers usually handle these sorts of conflicts better. However, given the aforementioned grievances, this seems like hardly a coincidence.
As far as gameplay is considered, the same woes and excitement are maintained. The dialogue timer randomly offers generous seconds, while at other times it zips on by while a third party continues talking. I finally “cheated” in that I paused the game to give me more time to process everything before making an erroneous decision, but what a blow to the immersion that was. I was cognitively aware that I was playing a game rather than experiencing a story as Javier Garcia. Roaming sequences wherein one gathers items and explores a territory are bores and time-sinks, which vary from episode to episode in that sometimes Telltale does it right. Action sequences are appropriately buffered with well-done quick-time-events; the instance of physically dragging a body is made more real by simply holding down a key.
The Walking Dead is Telltale’s flagship series, though it’s also no stranger to episodes that lag. Second episodes have been their bane for several series according to this reviewer, though Season 3’s second episode was fantastic. As usual, I will remain hopeful that Telltale closes the series in classic Walking Dead fashion — with misery and hopelessness.