Spoiler Alert: I’ll do my best to refrain from spoiling critical plot details, but as the gameplay and the plot are wound tightly together it will be difficult. You have been warned.
In my last review I talked about how the events of the game’s second episode turned my once hopefully optimistic outlook into something colder and more pragmatic. It had seemed that my naively optimistic approach had done nothing more than get a couple valuable group members killed or worse. As the third episode progressed however, my strict survival at any cost method of running things didn’t really seem to mitigate the group’s growing tension or body count. It seems that the hopeful hero and the strict survivalist inflicted equal damage to the group both physically and emotionally. By the end of episode three I didn’t really know how to proceed.
Around Every Corner didn’t begin any better. As we made our way by train to Savannah I came to learn that even little Clementine, my last real friend, had been keeping secrets. Now, someone in Savannah knew who we were and that we were headed by train towards the city in a last ditch effort to find a boat and get off the mainland. I wanted to scold her (I had the option) and give her the harsh truth of the situation she may have just put us all in, but I couldn’t. She was just as scared as the rest of us, and I guess that everyone is entitled to their secrets. Besides I didn’t want to be the nasty realistic pragmatist anymore. I needed to redeem myself from my previous failures, if death was certain for some despite my intentions then I was going to make decisions I could live with.
Decisions like how to break down this door are my favorite.
At first I tried stepping back into my old role of the hopeful moderator, but this time around it wasn’t going to be as easy. Previously I was able to keep the group calm or steer them in the direction I wanted while always remaining neutral, but that wasn’t possible anymore. While there were plenty of decisions to be made, none of them were the subtle tweaks I was used to. Things were dire and the group’s mentality had changed. They were looking for real leadership now and a few kind words of assurance simply didn’t cut it anymore. After a couple of rough conversations it was clear that I wasn’t going to be able to play the neutral moderator anymore. I was forced, throughout the episode, to put my foot down in a way I hadn’t in the past.
Putting my foot down wasn’t the difficult part, it was choosing where to put it that was the challenge. It really seems like Telltale knew this would be the episode in which I would struggle with the type of character I wanted to be. Luckily some of the events that had taken place in Savannah before we arrived, namely in Crawford, helped me to make better decisions. Without giving too much away, Crawford is essentially the embodiment of what happens when you take a no holds barred approach to surviving the apocalypse. I can’t really blame them as it was a sentiment I understood after episode two, but after seeing the ruthlessness in how Crawford was run, and the fact that they were really no better off, I decided it was a path I didn’t want to take. Going forward I decided to lead the group to a more hopeful place.
Even the hopeful leader can threaten death to their enemies, right?
That’s not to say that everyone in the group was on board with the direction I wanted to go. I’m not the only one in the group that has been affected by the events of the previous episodes. While some of the group’s conflict is the result of how I interact with them, much more of it is determined by their growth as characters as well. No matter how well I manage the group’s emotions it seems that the situation we’re in has just as much to do with how they act and how they treat me as anything else. While I expected some growth from the characters, no one has shown more character growth than little Clementine.
Clem is becoming a real survivor now. Even acting a bit more cavalier bordering on reckless, often doing something despite being dangerous without asking permission if she thinks it will help the group. This personality shift most likely has something to do with the fact that I did spend some time in the last few episodes using her to get into places I couldn’t or teaching her to shoot. She’s turned out to be quite useful to be honest, more so than Ben at least who still cowers and runs at the first sign of trouble.
This is Ben’s bravery face.
To me the quality of a character in a game is measured by the level in which they affect me. A good character affects my in-game persona while a great one affects the real me sitting at the keyboard. Clementine is a great character. She clearly affects Lee and the other characters in the game, but she also affects me as a player. But she wasn’t the only great character. In an episode in which I’m looking for redemption from my previous cold-hearted nature it wasn’t Clem that helped me find it or even Kenny. I found my redemption in the game’s least likely character. I found it in Ben.
To me Ben, the most pathetic and cowardly member of the group, represents exactly what episode four is all about; redemption. Clementine is surely an important character for Lee and me as a player, but it was my interactions with Ben this time around that really showed how much I had changed from episode three. Ben is essentially dead weight. Many times during the episode I had the opportunity remove him from the group by various means. If this were the third episode and I was still looking at things from a strictly survival-like standpoint I most likely would have found a way to get rid of him. But in deciding I wanted to be a more honorable leader I had to help keep him alive and part of the group.
Surprisingly the group listens and works together well when raiding others for supplies.
Ben’s story was probably the most painful for me as a decision maker. Some of his past actions definitely warranted harsher treatment, and Kenny would have definitely approved of simply letting him go, but that was the old me. If I wanted to redeem myself from my previous actions I had to be able to stick my neck out for someone and show some real leadership. Even if that someone may or may not deserve it and even if that person may not repay the debt. In a time when it would have been easier to simply survive, I found my and by association Lee’s humanity by protecting the weakest member of our group even though no one else really wanted me to. Ben may be a pathetic coward, but he’s our pathetic coward and I’m not quite ready to let the horde take him just yet.
Around Every Corner has kept pace with the rest of Telltale’s masterpiece. I found it to be an almost perfect arc to what’s shaping up to be one of the best story-based single player experiences I’ve ever played, and that’s not an overstatement. I had hoped I would be able to undo some of the damage I had caused in previous episodes and I’m really happy that Telltale had the foresight to give me the opportunity to do so. Although I’m eagerly awaiting the fifth and final installment, I’m not so happy that it’s all coming to a close.
Public Service Announcement – If you’re receiving a ‘connection lost’ error when downloading the 4th episode, like I did, fear not! A work around can be found here if you don’t feel like waiting for a fix and you don’t mind messing around with some system folders.