After the quality of the previous episodes, it’s a little hard not to be disappointed by Around Every Corner. While this episode does make some minor improvements in the pacing issues that plagued Episode 3, it falters too much and too often to be as satisfying as the prior installments. There’s also a decent story at the heart of Around Every Corner; unfortunately, it’s weighed down by an over-reliance on contrivance and suspension of disbelief. Meanwhile, the gameplay presents the player with mind-numbingly simple segments, more technical problems than ever (on the 360 at least), and some uninteresting choices. Around Every Corner still has enough of the series’ strengths to make it a decent chapter, but these issues make it the weakest one so far.
What's around the corner? Zombies.
The story of Around Every Corner follows up on Episode 3’s cliffhanger. The group (or what’s left of them) have made it to America’s coast, but they still have plenty of problems. Clementine has been secretly conversing with an unknown man that wants to take her away, and the emotionally broken Kenny only cares about finding a boat. Tensions are high, and the set-up is strong, but Episode 4 doesn't do much with this potential drama. Many characters feel exactly the same at the end of the episode as the beginning, while others are completely sidelined or dealt with in unsatisfactory ways. Around Every Corner is clearly setting up for a greater finale, and although a lot of what happens here may affect the outcome of the next episode, there is not enough impact here.
Episode 4 also suffers by not capitalizing on the moments that made the previous entries so impressive. Episode 3 benefited from the character build-up in Episode 2, but Around Every Corner has no such luck. The cast is mostly new, (Episode 2’s Ben is still very much alive and still very much annoying), and their unfamiliarity makes it hard to really care about some of the story moments. It’s not just poor character development that waters down the emotion, though; Episode 4 is filled with numerous nitpickings that make it difficult to engage with the game as a whole.
There's a zombie around this corner too!
The technical issues that have been prevalent since the beginning are back in force and worse than ever. The constant hitching up during transitions really damages the flow of the episode, as little annoyances like this completely break the player’s immersion. In general, the game does a good job of stopping player engagement (a minor example being when a house’s windows are completely boarded up from the outside but not so from the inside). The major offenders here are the multiple story moments that rely on contrivances, deus ex machina, and certain plot devices that simply don’t make sense. The game is also a victim of few singular moments that flat out don’t work. For example, one sequence forces Lee to push a large bin slowly out of the way rather than climbing or vaulting over it and losing his zombie pursuers. Not every moment is like this, but they pop up at several points and negate any tension or emotion by leaving the player confused and irritated.
The greatest issue with the previous episode was its pace-breaking puzzles; they just got in the way, taking too many unneeded steps to complete. Episode 4 contains a different issue: the adventure game moments have returned, but they can hardly be called puzzles. The game is very heavy-handed about making sure players always know how to proceed, giving them no agency in segments that feel like chores they have to complete before getting to the good bits. This wouldn’t be a problem if the solution was clever or enjoyable. Lee usually completes his goal just by walking around the environment until he stumbles on the one object he needs. There’s nothing to work out, there’s no real logic to it, and it’s simply not fun.
Basically, zombies are around every corner.
All is not bad in this episode, however. Around Every Corner remains a prime example of how storytelling can be much improved by a video game. The game's smart use of interactivity makes some narrative moments far better than if you were merely watching them, as Episode 4 tells its story in a way only a video game could. The base level of interaction augments the dialogue, but there is a lack of player choice on numerous occasions. Even some of the main choices seem poorly thought out and don’t give the player enough motivation to pick one option over the other.
In spite of these disappointments, Around Every Corner is worth playing. The game still has a well-crafted atmosphere and builds upon this with great music and some inspired camera work. It’s also a necessary episode on the path to what seems like an impressive finale. Many of the series' good qualities remain, the dialogue is mostly well written, and Telltale continue to do something above and beyond what you find elsewhere as far as storytelling is concerned. However, the amount of contrivances, head-scratching moments, and lack of character development mean Around Every Corner is just a good episode rather than a great one.
Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Telltale Games
Release Date: October 9, 2012
Number of Players: 1
Platforms: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), PlayStation 3, PC, Mac