Opening with the grim peal of church bells, as the script ominously references long-dead metaphysical metrist John Donne, Walking Dead Episode 4 brings more grim survival action to PC and consoles.
With no let-up in the ever-darker tone of the series, this latest instalment features the digging up of domestic pets, hiding out in sewers, sabotaging hydraulic lifts, watching stabbings on camcorder, and a few interesting new characters.
There’s more moral, practical and parenting choices to be made and as ever your decisions are reflected in the events that follow them, this episode proving particularly brutal, in that you can finish it with an accompanying party that numbers anywhere between five and zero.
Like those gone before it, this episode has the ability for the angst to escalate in a matter of seconds, following long periods of calm with brief incidents of frantic chaos, a nerve-wracking section where you must secure some flimsy glass doors against a baying horde proving a tense button masher.
It’s often a case of warding against the greater of two evils, rather than merely picking the path of the lesser. Problems must be confronted head on as time runs short, and supplies dwindle. You might find yourself using less of the ‘sensitive’ dialogue options, and more of the ‘get on with it, there’s an apocalypse happening!’ routes in conversation.
Heading to the marina is the order of the day as our group of survivors try to snag a boat in order to leave the mainland and sail to somewhere free of the undead walkers. However, things don’t go according to plan, quickly dissolving into a lack of coherent direction altogether – that is, until the resourceful Clementine shows her worth, finding a welcome surprise right under their noses.
Despite her obvious physical vulnerability, Clementine is fast becoming an asset to the group and is less difficult to handle than a lot of the adults – especially Kenny, who, having lost love ones in previous episodes, is still pretty raw emotionally. We’ve seen the disintegration of a rational mind under pressure before in The Walking Dead, and no doubt we’ll see it again.
It is often said that society is judged by how they treat their weakest citizens, and upon discovering one section of the city of Savannah ruled by ruthless Darwinist pretenders, it seems that the undead outbreak really has tested these rules to breaking point and beyond. Horrific practices abound as players find themselves asking whose side they would be on.
There are a few new characters introduced, Molly and the doctor being the strongest, although neither are the mysterious voice on the walkie-talkie – that is a mystery that must remain until the last. Ending with a brutal double cliff-hanger leaves no doubt that anyone who has got this far in the series is now anticipating the final episode just as you would with a television season finale.
Pacing-wise, The Walking Dead is slow and methodical as ever, which won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but suits the ambling gait of the walkers perfectly – and it manages to change gear at the drop of a hatchet when it needs to. Graphically the game is still superb, albeit with some strangely pixelated shadows and the odd floating brushstroke, but that’s easily forgivable when the whole package is so compelling.
Read our interview with The Walking Dead: Episode 4 scribe Gary Whitta here.
By Sam Gill
Format: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Price: £20.99 (for 5 episode series)
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games