In its most recent stab at continuing the user-influenced story of the The Walking Dead, Telltale raises the bar for deep, thought-provoking narrative in a video game. This episode, while at times bearing small but all too noticeable technical issues under the hood, was, surprisingly the most impactful one yet, as it took an emotional toll on me greater than its superb predecessors—and recent games have before it.
The last time a video game narrative has delved this deep into a specific theme of humanity, with this level of success, was 2010’s Heavy Rain. Even then, though, one event in Long Road Ahead deals with said specific theme—which I’ll elaborate on as much as possible without spoilers—in such a memorable, iconic way, that I think anyone witnessing it, whether they play video games or not, would be taken aback by how gut-wrenching the scenario is. Simply put, we need more of this stuff in the industry. A lot more.
Episode 3 starts off some time after the ending of the last episode, as the weather is getting colder and your crew is running out of supplies. Immediately making it clear that your group of survivors is suffering from both mental and physical exhaustion—probably from the last episode alone—the game shows that previous decisions and outcomes are being put into play right off the bat.
Before you're ready for it, action takes the stage in a way it hasn’t before. I’m not kidding when I say that the game kind of turns into a cover-based shooter… kind of. It’s obviously not what this episode is about, and only lasts for a minute or two, but Telltale passably pull off a shooting segment in an adventure game—that’s impressive, isn’t it? It’s not what this episode is about, but within the first 30 minutes of playing, you’re tasked with making decisions that really make you think hard, and popping headshots one after the other.
I won’t go into any more detail about what went down and what happens next, I just had to point out an example of how dynamic this episode can be so that I can make a point: episode 3 hits every note it tries to, with flying colors. We go from an action-oriented start (prefaced with suspense), to a gigantic shock, followed by another shock, both of which trigger sorrow and/or rage depending on how you chose to deal with the matters at hand, and that’s not all; queue a change in the story, an introduction to a new character, and then… the big event I was talking about, that, I guarantee you've never done in a video game.
While the emotional climax of this episode may be just after halfway through, we’re not done with the good times. Somehow—and I mean somehow—this episode, after all its depressing bits, still ends up feeling heartwarming, putting a smile on my face, and ultimately, introducing more extremely likable and relatable characters. All that in a roughly two-and-a-half hour experience. I love the way it ends, I loved the way it starts, and I love everything in between.
However, nothing is ever perfect. There is one problem that keeps getting worse with every subsequent release in Telltale’s Walking Dead series, and that’s the bugs and glitches I warned you about last time; it's getting bad. While the audial and visual issues in Episode 2 were hardly noticeable, as I feared, things have gotten worse this time around. I had to quit out of game and re-load my save file twice, due to progression-stopping issues. This may not happen to everyone, but the multitude of other small and annoying issues probably will. From music and sound effects cutting out, to lip-synching being off, even to character models appearing incorrectly, this episode has its glitches, and then some. It’s sad, but the fact of the matter is that these inconveniences are really only just that: inconveniences—not deal-breakers.
Even with its slight technical issues, this episode packs an emotional punch, and may even be considered the best episode yet by fans. It’s unfortunate that I encountered some frustrating issues, but in the end I realized that the experience, at whole, outweighs the sum of its parts. Telltale has proven that it can get you to legitimately care about these characters, but the team has also proven that they aren’t scared to kill them off at the drop of a dime; and that’s scares me in a different way than any zombie game ever has.
-The Final Word-
Even with a few minor technical issues, Long Road Ahead raises the bar for emotionally deep, thought-provoking narrative in a video game, and may be the best episode yet.