Long Road Ahead is the third entry in Telltale's take on The Walking Dead. If you haven't played the previous episodes A New Day or Starved for Help, then you would do well to give them a spin. Not necessarily because they're great (and they are) but rather it's required to make any sort of sense out of the content behind Long Road Ahead as well as this text of this review.
Long Road Ahead opens with Kenny and Lee foraging through the old Everett Pharmacy trying to scrounge up any remaining supplies. Before they can get inside a potentially fortuitous situation presents itself. A woman runs out of a building screaming, surrounded by walkers, and she’s clearly in a collision course with certain doom. Kenny suggests leaving her to her fate because she'll draw attention away from the walkers and allow him and Lee to gather supplies in relative peace. Lee has reservations and expresses a desire to shoot the poor woman in the head and put her out of her misery.
Previous episodes of The Walking Dead handled morality with a measure of respect that doesn't insult the player's intelligence. Long Road Ahead keeps the same promise, but pushes moral complexity to another level. My Lee avoids violence wherever possible and generally operates under the pretense of doing anything that's in Clementine's best interest. Whether it's trying to put up a facade of morality or not taking what doesn't belong to us, I'm trying to create a credible father figure for Clementine to admire. With that in mind, my need to gather stuff at the pharmacy in peace directly conflicted with my empathy for humanity and my reluctance to use firearms. There was literally no safe option there, and that pretty much describes Long Road Ahead in a nutshell; everyone is desperate and nothing is simple.
When Lee and Kenny get back to the motor lodge it's clear that moral is getting pretty low. Lily suspects someone of stealing supplies, Carley thinks Lee needs to come clean about his past, and Kenny remains hell bent on getting the hell out of Dodge. The kids are in pretty good shape because they're kids, but everyone else is reaching their boiling point. If nothing else Long Road Ahead evens the playing field by wrestling away the innocence of most of its cast. Obviously I'm not going to spoil what goes down, but there's plenty of blood on everyone's hands and, save one bout in temporarily irrationality, it's hard to fault any decision made by either Lee or a third party.
Starved for Help had a proclivity for placing the player into uncomfortable situations and forcing them to make a tough decision. I did things I've literally never done in a videogame before, and the same holds true in Long Road Ahead, but through a completely different approach. How do you even begin to explain or rationalize crazed bloodlust to a child? What's it like to realize you need to teach survival skills to a little girl in the event that maybe you won't make it? Telltale supplies Lee with a myriad of conversations options to facilitate these unprecedented needs, and they all work surprisingly well in the presented context. I mean, you do some things in Long Road Ahead that, if seen outside of their delicate context, would be front page material for an ignorant cable news network, but the folks at Telltale pull it off with respectable grace.
Unfortunately there are a couple uncomfortable bumps in the Long Road Ahead. Technical problems persist, this time including a character standing and merging with his guitar mid-conversation and another instance where dialogue came out of the wrong person’s mouth. None of these were game breaking but narrative is The Walking Dead's core strength and whenever something like that happens it sucks me right out of the fiction.
Also somewhere over the last couple weeks of in-game time characters decided to start dropping F bombs every other sentence. I'm no prude (I'll gleefully drop that word a hundred or so times each time we record a podcast) but it's uttered so often in Long Road Ahead that it loses most of its meaning by the end of the second act. I get that everything is getting increasingly eff'd up and the characters have a right to swear up a storm, but Lee's foul mouth wasn't consistent with my interpretation of his character. It didn’t feel like my guy.
Most of that disappointment was mended whenever Clementine opened her mouth. I've sang the praises of The Walking Dead's writing team before but Long Road Ahead’s dialogue is especially good to Clementine. With friends and family having children over the last couple of years I've spent a considerable amount of time around kids her age, and hearing Clementine's innocence through her honest inquisitions, recognized bits of humor, and oddly sophisticated respect for her dire situation paints a virtually perfect picture of a kid. She’s simply wonderful, and her penchant for carrying her broken radio is just as adorable as when she tells Lee how gunshots hurt her ears. Videogame children are this inherently weird thing populated with the idiots from Heavy Rain and the like, but with Clementine Telltale's made a real character and one that feels like any good kid you might know.