After the success of the first two episodes in Telltale’s The Walking Dead, the odds are against the point-and-click adventure developer to deliver a third promising tale of Lee and Clementine, but it’s hardly surprising that Episode 3 adds another excellent installment to the series. Long Road Ahead, like its predecessors, rewards the player with a well-written, emotional story full of choice and consequence, and although the gameplay drags in places on top of the Xbox version's technical issues, it’s certainly worth playing.
It's not the length of the road that matters...
Much like the previous episodes, the focus of Long Road ahead is not on the zombies, but on the people. Telltale effectively use the undead apocalypse setting as a catalyst for human drama, and this element gets better with every episode. The characters remain uniformly well-written and your increased familiarity with them makes their troubles far more meaningful. In this regard, the emotional payoff in Long Road Ahead is better than it has ever been. Personalized interactions with the party in previous episodes have allowed relationships between you and other players to blossom or break, and at this further stage the stakes only get higher. These well-established friendships and hostilities give the emotional moments more weight and make already difficult choices harder still.
After the farm incident, the basic plot of Long Road Ahead revolves around the search for a more permanent shelter. This is an important step story-wise but one that cannot help but feel like a middle chapter, one that lacks some of the structure and urgency of previous episodes. As far as the writing goes, the game remains superb throughout, and the narrative does a great job of putting you in many imaginative situations that take advantage of all The Walking Dead's strength and potential. But the looser storytelling is, ultimately, a bit of an issue. Long Road Ahead feels disjointed, like a series of back-to-back events with some drawn-out gameplay in-between rather than a complete narrative. The road lacks direction, and many standout moments forget to avoid the occasional pothole.
Not even Skywalker's Rogue Squadron could survive the zombie apocalypse.
The plot may not be as strong as in previous episodes, but the dire moments are stronger than ever. When this episode delivers, it does so greater than anything previously seen in the series. In just a few hours, Telltale manage to deliver one of the most impassioned games you will play. The game genuinely shocks and upsets while also injecting moments of humor and joy; the Long Road Ahead covers all the bases and is truly impressive for doing so. However, while the story elevates the game up to lofty heights, the gameplay occasionally brings it back to earth.
The core gameplay in every episode has been rather simple, working to tell a story in a way you could not do in a more conventional game. The mix of point-and-click mechanics, dialogue choices, and quick time events rarely make for a deep gameplay experience, but these elements do make for a fluid one. They allow the gameplay to adapt to the given situation and, most importantly, help the story progress. This adventure lacks the story and gameplay dissonance you find in many games (like Uncharted or GTA IV) where the act of playing the game feels separated from the story it is trying to tell you. Therefore, the gameplay in Long Road Ahead can be advantageous, yet that's not always the case. Long Road Ahead leans too much on adventure game conventions and spends too much time forcing you to perform overly contrived tasks that always overstay their welcome. These work in a proper adventure game, where they remain the core focus, but here they are overly simple and boring, acting more as a waste of time and a roadblock between you and the next set piece. These moments have cropped up before, but they are more prevalent here than in previous episodes. When the game is good, it’s completely outstanding, but there are a few too many dull instances.
Episode 3 isn't always exciting.
The other main issue with the game is its tendency toward technical mishaps. The Xbox 360 version stutters on occasion and often freezes for about a second during scene transitions. They hardly impact the experience but make for an imperfect one nonetheless. I also fell into a situation where the game placed the camera in the wrong position after a gameplay segment, meaning I could no longer interact with the world but could look around outside where the character was. This allowed me to look underneath the map at the undeveloped emptiness, but this glitch froze my progress. This forced me to reload the whole segment and replay a decent chunk of content. Although it didn't happen again, and probably won’t happen to most players, this bug is indicative of the episode's infrequent poor performance.
Nevertheless, Long Road Ahead adds another brilliant installment to this series. The story may lack focus in areas, but the developers make up for it with the places the story takes you. As far as singular moments go, Long Road Ahead is probably the best episode so far. As a complete package though, this episode isn't nearly as strong as Episode 2. Despite a few ill-advised sequences, the negatives never manage to outweigh the game's numerous positive points. If you are interested in choices that shape the narrative around you and story beats that access your emotions, look no further than Long Road Ahead.
Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Telltale Games
Release Date: August 29, 2012
Number of Players: 1
Platforms: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), PlayStation 3, PC, Mac