Less Talking, More Running
Now folks, we've been here before haven't we? I'll say it once again though. If you haven't played the Walking Dead yet there is no point reading this review; go, play them, appreciate the terrific narrative and follow the reviews with each episode. Better yet, wait until the last episode is released and buy them as a bundle.
Oh, and spoiler alert... obviously.
For those of you still here, Around Every Corner cranks up the action considerably; things are starting to come to a head as the series rapidly approaches its conclusion, but it could be argued this is at the detriment of the overall pacing of the series. Up to this point the characters, especially from the original band, have been well-developed with a studied sensitivity to the extraordinary situation these ordinary people find themselves in. Yet, as the series continues apace, the story is starting to focus more and more on Lee and Clementine as other characters are stripped away. Although this is understandable – you do control Lee after all – it is disappointing to grow attached to characters to have them flung aside merely as narrative devices, somewhat spoiling the impression of a living, breathing catastrophe which had been until now so carefully crafted.
This narrative technique becomes clearer in Around Every Corner due to the influx of new characters, who for the most part prove themselves superficial accompaniments to the story as they emerge, talk, plan and die. At no point do you grow attached to these characters, as there is simply not the time nor incentive to grow attached to them. This is a shame; it's not that they lack personality, they just get so little time to show any.
Part of the cause of this is the more action-orientated nature of the gameplay. Around Every Corner sparks along at a frenetic pace, partly because of the need to tie all the strands together before the series ends, but also to show the desperateness of their situation. Although it is always good to express variety, this results in a forfeit of the series' strengths, namely its edgy tension and real palpable sense of threat. As shown by the change of focus in the Resident Evil series, action-orientated games tend to lose any notion of peril through the strengths and abilities necessary for an action character to be convincing. The Walking Dead has so far been extraordinary due to its exemplary story-telling and ability to portray the humane horror; anyone and everyone could die at any time.
The problem in this regard is that gameplay has never really been the Walking Dead's strongest point. The point and click style is terrific for the narrative and searching sections, building tension and bringing the player into the experience, but it never really worked in the action sections. Likewise, the introduction of shooting in the third episode was poorly implemented, with clear shots ranging over the target's head. Shooting has been improved but is still used sparingly, meaning that much of the reaction relies on QTEs which are as hit and miss as always.
Despite all of this, Around Every Corner is still a thrilling experience. Although it plays more conventionally than previous instalments, and lacks the shocking humanity of the previous episode, it is still a tour-de-force in quality story-writing and invigorating set-pieces, despite the subdued tension. You will complete this in one sitting; it hooks you, introducing vigilantes and pseudo-fascist states as it drags you to its seductive conclusion. It is not the strongest instalment in the series, far from it, but this is a testament to the high standards that the Walking Dead has already achieved. On its own, Around Every Corner is terrific. As part of the Walking Dead series, it is a little too formulaic, a little too obvious; it may be that the quirks have been found, the pacing figured out, but it just seems to lack the direct drive that made the previous efforts such compulsive playing.
It goes without saying that this is worth getting if you've played the previous games in the series. But there is no point playing Around Every Corner on its own. This makes it difficult to score. By itself, it is an invigorating videogame experience, engulfing to play and difficult to put down, driven by a fantastically dark storyline. As part of the Walking Dead series, however, the story has been better portrayed in previous instalments, whilst the gameplay is slightly too action-orientated to be comfortable when set against the tense and ponderous atmosphere. It feels too rushed, trying to cram too much into too short a space. The Walking Dead: Episode 4 – Around Every Corner is still great, it's just not as great as the others. I wouldn't let that put you off though.
The Walking Dead: Episode 4 - Around Every Corner was reviewed using an Xbox Live Arcade version of the game. Around Every Corner is also available on the PlayStation 3 and PC.