I saw an interesting exchange the other day where someone pointed out that the choice system in The Walking Dead is less about shaping the story and more about designing your character. Lee Everett can, by your choices, be a generally nice guy caught in a bad situation, an every-man-for-himself survivalist, a nearly silent protagonist, a roiling cauldron of violence, or something else entirely, and that affects how the other characters react to him. It's an interesting way of looking at the game, and it's one that hadn't occurred to me before now.
It's an important distinction because The Walking Dead's third episode, Long Road Ahead, is more about Lee than the choices you can make as the player. It's difficult to discuss without spoilers, as this is a particularly shocking chapter, but there are a lot of major plot beats in this episode that happen with or without you. By the end of Episode 3, you'll have a lot of cast turnover whether you like it or not. It's packed with really blatant emotional manipulation.
This is fine as far as it goes, but there's room for an argument here. On the one hand, one of the major themes of The Walking Dead, both the game and the comic, is "Bad things happen to good people." You can do absolutely everything "right" in Episode 3 and still get a bunch of consequences you in no way wanted. It's a horror game, and sometimes, life just isn't fair.
On the other, the series has made a point of emphasizing the choices that you make as the player, and so far, the lion's share of those choices have led to the same general outcome in the end. "Choice" in modern video games tends to indicate that the player has some say in, if not the major outcomes of the story, the minor details, like who's still alive to help you in the endgame. As of Episode 3 of The Walking Dead, Lee and, by extension, Clementine are the only factors you control, and everything and everyone else gets to roughly the same point regardless of what you do. It's frustrating, and I completely understand why this is a sticking point for a lot of players.
Episode 3 has a couple of other problems, most of which are mechanical issues. I've heard a lot of complaints about game-breaking bugs, which I've yet to run into, but the real prize here is an action sequence near the end of the episode.
Again, I'm doing my best to avoid spoilers here, but the gist of it is that you're going to have to grab a couple of objects on a very tight time limit. When you mouse over an object you can interact with, Lee's default option is to examine it, followed by trying to use it directly, and only then can you use an item on it. If you accidentally use one of the wrong options, he blows some time on a monologue and then you've got the undead cracking you open like a tripe piñata. It's a nearly perfect example of the interface screwing you over, which is then redoubled when for some reason, the targeting reticle pops up and you're supposed to know that you can scroll over to a second option that you have about five seconds to realize is there at all. It's ridiculous, and I don't know of anyone who hasn't died repeatedly in that section through no real fault of their own.
The Walking Dead is still one of the most tightly written and plotted games on the market right now, with some of the best characters, and I'd still recommend it over the comic book to most people. This is a particularly obnoxious chapter, though, where the first playthrough is intense, often frightening, and emotionally draining, but then it caps itself off with multiple cheap deaths and the realization you cannot prevent or even affect most of what's just happened. Taken on its own merits, it's the most frustrating episode of the game so far.
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