After the refreshing inclusion of Minecraft: Story Mode‘s third episode, the following two episodes continued to build a mountain of anticipation in my mind. Episode 4: A Block and a Hard Place certainly did not disappoint.
Episode 3: The Last Place You Look ended in a fairly chaotic fashion. Episode 4 picks up immediately where it left off, but without an immediate sense of dread. This made it feel much less intense and cinematic than Episode 3; however, that intuition quickly became inaccurate. Telltale Games did a fantastic job on Episode 4’s introduction, even including a few small dialogue choices to present a more interactive opening credits sequence.
Players will find themselves in a hub of heavy decision-decision making early on, each one laden with conflicts of emotional attachment and proper leadership. Once again, the game’s music fits the bill quite well, accentuating dramatic moments and generally improving the atmosphere of the experience. Conversations seem substantially more genuine than previous episodes, though a few lines of voice-overs throughout the game just didn’t have the quality that had been so consistent within the series.
Telltale Games’ utilization of source material is vastly improved in Episode 4, which is particularly remarkable as their use of established gameplay elements from Minecraft had already been consistently impressive. Episode 4 also introduces a number of “new” gameplay segments that utilize familiar controls from past episodes. Dodging deadly obstacles on horseback, new puzzles, and enchanting weapons do well to revitalize the series’ dangerously stagnant gameplay.
Unfortunately, any sense of difficulty or danger remains lost in the wind. In four episodes, I have only been damaged once. Upon seeing one heart taken away from a seemingly endless amount of hearts, I began to disregard any in-game danger with aplomb. Adjustable difficulty would be hard to implement with a game of this nature, but there’s a constant feeling that there could be more opportunities to take damage from quick decisions or actions.
The puzzles found in Episode 4, such as the encounter with the Hopper, began to pique my interest. However, as soon as my brain kicked into problem-solving mode, the puzzle was completed with ease. Other parts of the game that are meant to be somewhat perplexing boil down to a very linear solution, thus handing progression to players on a silver platter with very little effort.
The transpiring events within Episode 4 are definitely much more extreme than usual, but the predictable progression of the story is noticeable. Dialogue, while well written, seems anticipated to the point of having premonitions of what each character is about to say. Parts of the game outside of the script follow suit – if you need a lever, you can be assured that its components are “hiding” inside a chest in the small, invisible wall-infested area. The game’s natural camera sway when navigating a few areas can impede targetable actions with characters as the environment gets in the way. Though these complaints don’t tarnish the overall experience of the episode, these small inconveniences have a tendency to highlight one another and continue to pile up over time.
Nitpicking aside, this episode acts as an unexpected resolution to the main story. With Episode 5 looming just around the corner, the world-ending threat in Minecraft: Story Mode‘s universe already seems to be laid to rest. This could set up the final episode as the transition to a possible second season of the series, but only time will tell.
Even with the series’ lack of difficulty and exploration, Minecraft: Story Mode left a considerably good impression. The game certainly has its own identity and never tries to be what it’s not. This is a graphic adventure first and foremost. If you’re in the market for a game with a much more passive approach to gameplay and a semi-customizable story, look no further. It’s climactic delivery creates a pretty badass presentation, creating a nice balance between heavy situations and lighthearted visuals.
Episode 4: A Block and a Hard Place is the best installment of the series in my eyes. Certain scenes got me more emotional than I ever thought I’d be when playing Minecraft: Story Mode, and that is a mark of approval that overshadows nearly all of this episode’s negative aspects.
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Review Statement: The author of this review received a PS4 code from the publisher for the purposes of this review.