“Send not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.” So sets the stage for episode 4 of Telltale’s The Walking Dead. A series that has single handedly revitalized the adventure genre. Sure, Telltale has been chugging along with successful games like Sam and Max and additions to the Monkey Island series, but how many of them have topped Xbox Arcade (beating out the seemingly insurmountable Minecraft) or rose to the top of Steam.
If success is measured by sales and popularity, The Walking Dead is undoubtedly the most successful adventure series in quite some time.
If you’ve gotten this far in the series there’s really no sense in a typical review. Suffice to say, if you liked episodes one through three, you will like episode four. Mechanically, it continues to use the same systems as previous installments, and they continue to work just fine. So what’s really worth reviewing here is the story and the way that it is presented.
The choices that the game presents you with continue to become more nuanced and unpredictable. They have really grown from episode one’s “which of you do I let the zombies eat, and which do I save”.
Take for instance the very first choice that matters in episode four. The group has found themselves in an abandoned house in a very hostile town. Kenny wants to leave as soon as possible to continue looking for a boat, while the rest of the group suggests hunkering down, mainly to provide Omid an opportunity to rest his injured leg; a lesser developer would have ridden this drama to its obvious conclusion, and made the choice of who to agree with the “important choice” that the game would remember in the end. Instead the choice that happens in this setting is far more painful…and human.
In an upstairs attic, Lee finds a distraught Kenny standing above a sickly zombie boy. Most likely he either starved to death, or died of dehydration. Someone needs to put the zombie child out of his misery. The obvious parallel is drawn between the zombie child and Kenny’s son Duck, who you either chose to kill yourself, or have Kenny kill, in the previous episode.
In my game, I shot Duck. It seemed like the only humane thing to do, and in the end most other players agreed and made the same choice. Standing above the sickly zombie child, the only right thing to do was to have Kenny kill the child. We both knew that he needed to do it to prove his strength to himself, that he could overcome the pain of his loss and give a helpless child the relief that he deserved. There was never a doubt in my mind that this was what needed to be done. I was shocked when I saw at the end that only 20% of players made the same choice I made.
If the decision to either stay in the house or go look for a boat was the choice that really mattered, it would be easy to justify taking either side because there is no real moral implication. The choice of who should shoot the child though really delves into the players psyche on a far more meaningful level. No one could justify to me that shooting the child yourself is the right thing to do, as I’m sure my choice makes me seem like some sort of heartless bastard to the people who disagree.
Not all of the choices in this episode are as lofty as this, but none are clear cut, or simply good versus evil. Each explores a moral gray area and forces the player to act on an instinctual level.
New characters are introduced, some old favorites die (maybe), the city of Savannah shows its dark underbelly. and the episode ends on a twist that truly changes the game. Episode 4 continues to prove why The Walking Dead should be on everyone’s short list for game of the year.