A few hours to the conclusion. That’s the point that Around Every Corner seems to want to get across, what with our group of survivors being in shambles, their goal handing on a thread, and the city they’re entering a veritable enigma. I hesitate to use the word “filler episode” here, but like other reviewers it seems necessary to me.
For what it’s worth, the episode starts and ends strong. Lee and company enter Savannah in search of a boat, only to find the undead hordes are less than welcoming. Those of the group who remain juggle trying to hold up in a temporary haven, debating what the next move should be, and keeping their eyes on Clementine, whose connection to the voice heard on her radio at last episode’s end is questionable at best.
From there, the group splits and regroups a number of times in an attempt to see through Kenny’s debatable “grab a boat and escape” plan. This quickly leads to a visit to a neighbourhood far too reminiscent of Woodbury, leading to discussion, escapades, and a conclusion that hammers in the growing feeling that there really is no turning back.
Where the story feels tedious is in its pacing and direction. In previous episodes, yes, there were notable periods of time spent in static areas, but they were accentuated by action sequences and changing of locations. Here, several scenes can feel drawn out , and even a bit hokey (tell me with a straight face that television sets just magically fall on oncoming enemies).
Don’t mistake my tone, though: the story is still solid. The problem is that most of the far-reaching events and decisions only occur in the final minutes of the episode, when it matters more to how Episode 5 will turn out. Existing characters also seem to take a backseat to new characters’ plot threads, but nothing truly feels fleshed out.
And then there is Ben. Yes, the kid from Episode 2 still clings to the group, and for much of Around Every Corner, he proves to be the bane of my existence. I think attributing much of the story’s sudden unexpected turns would be fair, since he makes such selfish and thoughtless decisions throughout that the player is almost expected to want to throttle him. The only reason I hesitate to pin this episode’s problems on him is because of his story arc, which may or may not redeem him in our eyes.
Luckily, the design quality here is strong enough to overcome even these flaws. The choices made here, although not all quite as instantly impactful or intense, do give the story a sense of gravity and the player a sense of importance in the grand scheme. Also, while not as prominent, there were first-person sequences where the player, as Lee, could take out walkers with his gun, adding to the feeling of empowerment and direct influence.
Aside from that, conversing with characters and exploring environments in typical adventure game fashion is interesting as ever. Telltale has been very good about not succumbing to “adventure game logic” and making the environmental puzzles have believable solutions. From luring walkers with pipe runoff to digging up something I can’t discuss, there’s a nice variety of in-game actions to keep the player interested.
The cinematic direction of gameplay should also be complemented. The choices made in previous episodes, particularly Episode 3, are alluded to and even play a role in what choices the player makes here. For instance, in a scene between Lee and Kenny, there’s a great sense of resolution in how the player could potentially choose to handle Kenny’s particular dilemma.
Appearance-wise, this is still Telltale’s strongest use of their game engine, though some odd textures appear and clipping of objects does occur. The graphics only really serve to emphasize the art style, which still pays tribute to the source material quite honourably.
Sound plays an understated role here. As always, the voice acting of Lee and Clementine, combined with the writing behind them, only adds to the affection the player feels for them as a “father-daughter” pair. Voice acting all around is strong for the characters – even Ben – and the soundtrack, though not constantly apparent, is still haunting.
On its own, Around Every Corner feels like the weakest link in a five-link chain, but it still retains enough quality to make it worthwhile. With that said, given how it ends, I can only expect great things from No Time Left…