The most common complaint that I’ve had with a few episodic series’ final entries is how rushed it can feel. Not so much that they ran out of development time, but rather by episode five they have so many plot points that they either fail to wrap them up, or rush to fit it all in within two hours. In the case of Life is Strange, it was both. Minecraft: Story Mode has now come along, cocksure it can avoid this last minute scavenge hunt for loose ends, and has now left the series in a peculiar position.
[There will not be any spoilers of Minecraft Story Mode – Episode 4: A Block and a Hard Place, but I may end up discussing Minecraft Story Mode – Episode 1: the Order of the Stone, Episode 2: Assembly Required and Episode 3: The Last Place You Look as well as the review of all three (which you can find, respectively, here, here and here). Although the rating at the bottom will be spoiler-free if you wish to skip there.]
If you need the short hand of what’s happened since last time: You tried to bomb the Lovecraftian abomination that is currently sucking every block into itself with the most powerful bomb known (fortunately not nuclear or season two could have been Minecraft: Fallout). However, while dealing a blow strong enough to break most of the shell, the bomb didn’t destroy the core of the beast, so it regenerated. Although it wasn’t all doom and gloom, as you refound a buddy from Episode 1… Who can’t remember who they are.
Episode 4 picks right up and, I have to admit, a lot fortunately happens. It seems to briefly put aside most of the humour to fit all of the drama the episode holds in the tight 1 ¾ playtime. This includes one or two tragic moments that seem to bring out the Telltale Classic of making you feel bad about what has happened, akin to the end of The Walking Dead. It likely hit especially well as Minecraft: Story Mode has tonally, up to this episode, felt like a game for those who want something light, so “The Event” comes completely from left-field. Even during it, I didn’t think Telltale had the guts to see it through, which they fortunately did.
The only complaint I have with the tone is that it can’t seem to ever resist making a Minecraft reference during a grim moment, which did harm the moment a little bit. However, even with the awkward hat-tip to the source material, the drama is delivered superbly for the series, which up to this point, has come across as favouring a light-hearted family comedy.
In addition, the music has continued to be fantastic at creating mood when the game is shuffling its feet at trying to invoke emotion. However, speaking of continuing, the series has become significantly worse at offering choice. At this point there appears to be a very singular, narrow plot line with no chance to veer in one direction or the other, even in a cosmetic manner like something typical to a Telltale series.
Despite this, Telltale has managed to do what I’ve never seen them ever manage to accomplish: Write themselves into a corner. Oddly, the corner they’ve created is made out of the remains of the plot, as everything has been resolved. Every single plot thread has been tied up, and now it feels like Episode 5 will be less of a climax and more of an awkward side-plot akin to watching a janitor sweep the stage after a theatrical performance. It now seems like Episode 5 will exist less because it should, and more because it’s an obligation to those who bought a five-episode season pass expecting five episodes. Although at this point, it’s more suspenseful thinking about what Telltale is going to do (which I hope isn’t just going to be to present a one-episode plot arc) after the current episode ended the way it did.
The style the over-arching plot got tied up in may also upset people. Those taking Minecraft: Story Mode as a light-hearted time may not get too hung up on it, but the resolution of plot threads tends to take the form of MacGuffins that have suddenly made an appearance. Then again, this seems to follow the Minecraft: Story Mode trend of relying on convenience to either drag the story out longer, or point it in a way that allows a resolution to be remotely possible.
The final score for Minecraft: Story Mode – Episode 4: A Block and a Hard Place is a 6/10. It delivers much needed escalation of drama and tragedy, but sadly it has gotten so overboard with setting up the finale — So much so that they went ahead and did the finale in Episode 4, like an impatient story teller. The dramatic music persists like a faint clear breeze, but so does the fatalistic approach to choice, like an acrid after-taste. If it wasn’t for an audience likely intended for younger Minecraft fans (though the PEGI classification rating still makes me raise an eyebrow), I’d really wonder why this couldn’t have been wrapped up in three episodes rather than five, considering episode length and how Episode 4 has ended. While I found it somewhat enjoyable, I don’t like the direction this episodic train seems to be going: Likely into a brick wall.
A PC copy of Minecraft Story Mode Episode 4: A Block and a Hard Place was provided by Telltale Games for the purpose of this review