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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Review: Minecraft Story Mode - Episode 4: A Block and a Hard Place (Microsoft Xbox One)


By the time episode four hits in a Telltale series, the story of the season has usually hit its stride: characters have been well-developed and attachments have been formed, and there is a newfound emotional investment as the often-final episode five looms in the near future. Then comes Minecraft Story Mode, with so many ups and downs in the first three episodes that it’s been quite the rollercoaster ride. I still wasn’t sure to expect when beginning the fourth episode; after all, it’s been an often middling series, but it has kept my attention through its raw potential.

First things first: the episode title is hilarious. A Block and a Hard Place? I giggle every time. It’s so wonderfully punny, and punny works extremely well in the Minecraft universe. Actually, overall, I still cannot get over how much Minecraft charm oozes from the pores of Story Mode. Perhaps it is the combination of the familiar blocky world (which you see a lot of in this episode) with a touch of sarcastic wit that is also quite clever at times.

Related reading: Go back to the beginning of the series with my review of Episode 1, The Order of the Stone.

Something I will never understand, however, is Telltale’s placement of the introduction in relation to the play time of the game. It isn’t until the end of chapter two (of six) that the title appears alongside credits, and that is one third of the way through the game. Could you imagine if a film editor put the credits half an hour into a 90-minute movie? Viewers would react with confusion and/or rage at being yanked out of the story so far in. Telltale’s introductions are usually quite interactive at least, but in this one the only actions needed are inquiring whether or not the party has reached their destination. Spoiler alert: if the credits are still rolling, it's a definitive no. The wonderful part about the non-action introduction sequence is that it was able to show off a multitude of biomes that are yet to be explored in Story Mode, but that was the only wonderful part this time around.

I am going to to my best to not spoil anything, but what I want to discuss covers the “something more” I’ve been wanting from Minecraft Story Mode. Based solely on decisions I entirely regret, I lost a very dear in-game friend this episode. They were a hero up until the very end, and during their death I sobbed as though I had lost a real person. I didn’t realise how close I had become to these characters until that point; prior to the death, I felt cooly unattached from them. Currently, I feel myself yearning to redo the episode and try to save their life… but I won’t. One of the wonderful things about Telltale games is being able to go back and right your wrongs before continuing the story if you so choose, but I’ve always been hard-headed and this is no different. I will learn to live with the consequences of my actions. RIP, heroic friend. You will be sorely missed come episode five.

Story Mode’s plot has always been relatively straightforward: point A to point B to get item A, use item A, repeat. A Block and a Hard Place shifts away from that a little, as it has more narrative twists than the prior three episodes combined. We learn a great deal more about the history of The Order of the Stone, but as much as I would love to ramble on about my opinion on that with more specificity it would totally ruin the rest of the story for anyone who hasn’t played yet. So you’ll have to trust me when I say the plot in the episode is far stronger and more engaging when compared to episodes one through three. The emotions are flowing freely as the danger becomes greater, and rifts begin to form between characters. It’s good. It’s so good.

Something I realized about halfway through the episode is that Endermen no longer frighten me, and that in itself is a rather frightening realization. I think it’s because Endermen are really quite predictable in Minecraft Story Mode. There’s no slaving away at one location for hours only to hear the familiar buzz of an approaching Enderman and panic, because the Endermen are where they are supposed to be. The act how they are supposed to act. It’s a shame that Story Mode has ruined the spookiness of them for me, but perhaps a quick venture into true Minecraft territory would nip that in the bud.

Related reading: Of course, the "real" Minecraft is well worth your time too. Nick's full review.

Unlike episodes one through three, four ends without a cliffhanger. There seems to be nothing Telltale can add on that will change this, so I honestly cannot even begin to predict what the fifth episode may bring. At one point I did choose to have Jesse lie, and I wonder if that will come back to bite me - but what about everyone who didn’t choose that path?! Regardless, A Block and a Hard Place is my absolute favourite episode in the Minecraft Story Mode tale to date, and I certainly look forward to what surprises may be coming my way when the conclusion is released.

- Lindsay M.
News Editor

Buy the season pass disc for Minecraft Story Mode from Amazon:

Review: Minecraft Story Mode - Episode 4: A Block and a Hard Place (Microsoft Xbox One)
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