This review is going to assume a working knowledge of the first several episodes in the season. If you’re not streets ahead, you can find our reviews for episode one, episode two, and episode three. Start at the beginning if you want a mechanical explanation (in short, it’s an adventure game sans surreptitious adventure game logic). Otherwise, strap in. In Around Every Corner, as is characteristic of the series, things get worse.
Episode three, Long Road Ahead, left us on our own personal midnight train through Georgia and things were as okay as you might hope, given the circumstances. Sure, your longest-standing pal – or, quite possibly, reluctant partner – is spiraling into oblivion, but at least Clem is safe and still adorable and free of corruption. Then that damn radio buzzed. Episode four sees the group into the coastal town at which the troupe has invested all of their unabashed hope. And as soon as they get there, things get worse.
After a mad dash toward sanctuary, the group’s blissfully ignorant forward progress is stymied and the burden of decision making is once again thrust upon Lee. How solid is Kenny’s plan toward a boat, really? I’ve seen one zombie movie where that failed miserably and none where it’s succeeded. And then what? And what about Clem’s parents? These decisions weigh on you heavily.
They’re burdens that have folded into and over each other since the first episode. The moments of seeming respite between moments of reprehensible actions and intensity are no longer reprieves. At least in those tense moments you’re working often on instinct, responding quickly, or perhaps feel a bit safe because you’re in a more interactive scene of gameplay in which you don’t anticipate something too bad to happen. When you’re walking around, gauging your options and the mindset of those around you, everything just seems terrible.
Accompanying the urban locale is a clear tonal shift. Everything feels weathered and worn, the city desolate and unsettlingly empty. Kenny’s face is sallow, his eyes placid, his voice monotone. Ben is as adolescent as ever, managing his guilt and feelings of ineffectuality. Concern is mounting over Omid’s leg. Every character is dealing with their inner turmoil the same as Lee – and, accordingly, the player – is. It’s obvious on each face and it’s wrenching. Even Clem’s bubbly persona has dulled just enough to register a change.
For the first time in the series, I find myself growing more and more uneasy simply amidst the group. I’ve been consistent internally in saying I would do anything and everything for Clem’s sake, but I’ve not exactly had that tested against the personal moral code I’ve burdened Lee with. What’s more, her idyllic notion of finding her parents is coming to the head now that we’re in Savannah and I’m feeling more defensive of her than ever. Possessive, even, which is alarming. What right do I have to tell her what to do? Toward the very end of the episode, my relatively calm, cool, collected Lee has begun to unravel. My paranoia and frustration is growing in concert with his.
It’s helpful that in the early goings of the episode I had full control over my emotional and rational faculties because I needed it for some of the tough decisions you have to make. There are some typically gruesome, hard-hitting moments, but I’ve become a bit desensitized though the episode delivers some of the worst punches to the gut yet. By the end, I was frantic and who knows how I might’ve handled things. One particular moment with Clementine – a seemingly innocuous bit of dialog when everything appeared to be winding down – crushed my soul so unexpectedly and swiftly that my controller sagged limp in my hands as I questioned whether I had the will to go on.
Around Every Corner feels more stable than the previous episode, which saw me losing some progression to a freeze, though there is still the occasional stutter mildly undermining intense situations. I also had a moment where I triggered the dialog for a character that had left the room, so the camera panned to where they had been standing and a disembodied voice talked at me.
While erring on the side of obvious and expected, the episode also features some of the best, most organically introduced moments of puzzle solving. On top of this, there are some rather strong moments that afford you agency for added effect or tension. There’s even a hidden object that eagle-eyed players might spot, which sheds extra light on one of the newer characters and their motivation.
By the end of Around Every Corner, things fall apart. The two different statistical breakdowns at the end also point to some fascinating divergence in play decisions making. I found two of my decisions to skew wildly against the prevailing majority choices, while the other followed heavily with the majority. A lot less middle ground this time around. On the contrary, an interesting second stat sheet shows some of the residual, continual divergence bred by your choices over the past few episodes. Around Every Corner might just be the strongest entry in this surprisingly magnificent series.