The Walking Dead: Episode 4 – Around Every Corner
The shambling undead represent many things; from our fear of death, misunderstanding of other cultures, a means of control, our self-believed power and understanding of the world shrinking in on itself, to a conclusion of sins, and much more. In these worlds, the majority of time the flesh-eating corpses of family and friends are an evil that never arrives. Like the threat of nuclear war, it forces neighbours to become suspicious and unforgiving of one another in some twisted take on the belief that the end always justifies the means. In reality, the end never justifies the means and only results in misery in the never-ending present.
This came to fruition during recent proceedings in the series. Trustworthy friends turned in on each other and primal instincts led to deadly snap judgments as hunger and fatigue set in. The gut reactions we made now hover like restless spirits. None of them in retrospection appear worthwhile or correct, but true survival doesn’t bode well with a wondering conscience.
Who came with you?
One neat touch at the end is a display screen showing the number of different possibilities regarding the groups of survivors and the percentage of players that have them. Seeing that 6% of the audience has, for example, only got Lee left shows there’s been a lot of vital moments and decisions.
Around Every Corner continues on from these events and this review will be as spoiler-free as possible. We are once again cast into the role of Lee, a man originally on his way to prison for murder and now part of an ever changing band of wanderers. We’re not the leader; however, through device and circumstance we have had to make a lot of tough decisions. Now is the time to make some more. Though first there was a rather frightening obstacle to overcome.
In every previous episode there’s been a bizarre bug. From twisting heads and duplicated speech to characters reappearing and cutscenes replaying, the Telltale engine is prone to distracting behaviour. This featured two, of which one was truly blood curdling.
Upon launching the new episode I sat back and waited for the introduction to role. Then the title for the first episode came up. Panicking, I quickly switched it off and started again. I checked my save file: it’d been overwritten. Utter terror. The only hope was to restart the latest episode and hope it’d recall previous decisions. The load screen felt like forever. The recap introduction began to play. I’d yet to breath. Fortunately, it did recall past events correctly. Phew.
With the panic over, it was time to see how much bad luck our protagonist would endure this time. Having left the train behind it’s the group’s goal to find a boat and get off the mainland. For the first time in the series this departs from using previous environments, providing Around Every Corner with a bigger scale. There are multiple locations too, each having purpose and a visual identity. An old looking house with some fixed camera angles brought back memories of the original Resident Evil.
Lee can roam within these restricted environments, allowing for some sense of freedom and a smoother control system on consoles than if it had remained point’n’click. Downtime between the carnage and QTE events, which are slowly getting better, presents interludes for you to converse with the survivors and investigate your surroundings.
The locales appear more detailed and all of the characters are looking more worn down and rugged than before. Still, it’d be better if they consistently held/carried items rather than putting spades in back pockets.
One scene earlier on is abundant with symbolism, projecting future fears and representing closure of past events. The musical accompaniment is perfect. The slow pick of guitar strings it’s bedded by slow droning piano notes. It’s a slow and beautiful moment that makes up for some of the melodramatic facial expressions following a look at family photos.
Telltale’s true magic act remains in the decision making. During conversation and sudden events a timer quickly counts down and you’re forced to make a gut reaction. I’ve talked about this before in reviews of the previous episodes. It’s a very simple design that works wonderfully well: the inability to dwell and take our time makes us feel responsible for what then happens. Turn one way and someone you have grown attached to could perish.
There’s also no colour coding as to what will happen. Nor do conversational options remain attached to the same hotkeys. This keeps us attentive at all times and never daring – never wanting – to skip any dialogue. It’s this that makes The Walking Dead so deceptively engrossing. Two minutes with a character and we feel like we’ve spent hours with them. There’s no fat on the meat here. The execution of relationship building and moments of terror are finely reared.
The narrative is perhaps one that wouldn’t work outside of the videogame format, and that is absolutely fine. During my conversations with the young girl Clementine I began making choices as if I was her dad. The father & daughter musical harmony that has been an important aid throughout the story plays during these scenes, and the emotional investment continues to boil. You get back what you invest into this series. And whilst the story has taken a turn I knew it would, there was a true involvement by the end. I won’t lie: it got very emotional.