The Walking Dead video game spin-off saga continues with episode three, entitled Long Road Ahead. Taking place shortly after the horrific events of Starved for Help, Lee Everett and his paranoid, mismatched group of survivors are surviving on what little rations and supplies they can salvage from the town of Macon, Georgia. Two of the group’s key players, Kenny and Lilly, are at loggerheads over what to do next, with the former believing it is time to pile into their RV and make a break for the coast, while the latter believes they can stay at their fortified motel throughout winter. However, the decision is soon made for them when a group of bandits storm the camp, and the gang must act quickly to ensure they can make it out of the Motor Inn alive.
The relationship between Lee and Clementine is very much at the forefront of this episode. Every difficult decision made in this episode has an impact on the pair, but if one thing's for certain it’s that the bond between the two has grown stronger over the past few months. Lee has adopted the nickname “sweet-pea” for the girl and one scene in particular is rather heart-warming as he teaches Clementine how to use a gun for the first time. However, comments from the rest of the survivors firmly implant the possibility that sooner or later, Clementine may end up as a walker and there are a few moments in the episode that see Lee struggling to accept that this may indeed become a reality. It’s a scary thought, but then for a series that is focused firmly on the reactionary, it’s still a thought that lingers in the back of your mind.
Unfortunately, the same bond can’t be said for the rest of the gang and with relationships strained to the point of breaking, you can safely assume that Long Road Ahead is going to dramatically change the dynamics of the survivors. There is still a lot to learn about your apocalypse survivors’ group and even if you think you’ve got a character all sussed out, an emotionally intense turn of events can turn that whole idea on its head, leaving you as Lee Everett to pick up the pieces. The game once again very much focuses heavily on the psychological trauma of your decisions, with five key decisions heavily impacting the game’s storyline as well as your relationship with the rest of the cast. There’s no right or wrong way to play out this story, it’s all down to personality and reacting to certain scenarios.
The gameplay in this episode also leans heavily on the puzzle solving aspect of the series. One area has Lee playing detective trying to figure out who (if anyone) is pilfering supplies from the rest of the group. This involves grilling each and every member of the camp for information, an action which can stir up more trouble than it’s worth. Truth be told, there are times when these puzzles verge on being rather too simple, with all the pieces laid before you as well as the instructions on how they fit together. It would be nice to see a few red herrings thrown in to see the story take off radically in a different direction, or perhaps even an alternative route altogether.
Long Road Ahead also has some of the most involving action scenes we’ve seen to date in the series. Some of you will be glad to know that after their somewhat backseat role in the last episode, the walkers are once again the main obstacles in Long Road Ahead, along with the group of bandits encountered in Starved for Help. One scene in particular has Lee protecting the camp, with only a sniper rifle and a vehicle or two for cover. Players must gauge when the time is right in order to peek out from cover and get a shot off at the enemy, before they get close enough to do any damage. It’s not simple as it sounds when you’re under tremendous pressure to save not only your own skin, but everyone elses too. It’s a welcome return to form for the action side of the series and, with a few key action scenes book-ending the episode, it really helps give the game.
The option remains to start the episode from scratch, randomly drawing decisions and consequences from the pack for people who may have missed the first two episodes, or were unhappy with how their storyline was panning out. Still, it seems highly unlikely that this will be the case and for anyone looking to the get the true Walking Dead survivalist experience, complete with the heavy burden of playing the decision maker, it is best make an investment to play through the storyline as a whole.
While a few fresh faces join the team, one question still remains - will Rick Grimes and company make an appearance in the series? One certainly hopes so, but the characters and events isolated to this series are so full of emotion, history and drama that throughout each episode, you begin to wonder if there is actually anymore room for the iconic cast of the comic series, aside from Glenn, Hershel and Lilly. Long Road Ahead feels like a stepping stone between the initial panic of the first two episodes to what seems to be the storyline heavy final two episodes, judging by the trailer for Around Every Corner, the next episode in the series. It may not quite have the all-out gorefest of the previous episode, or indeed the panic-driven reactions of the first, but there are still plenty of stomach-churning emotional moments in there to ensure that this two-to-three hour adventure will both shock and satisfy those who’ve made the commitment to survive the zombie apocalypse.