Telltale Games' Zombie rollercoaster ride continues with The Walking Dead: Episode 3. At $5 a pop, the episodic content continues to be one of the best values available on Xbox Marketplace, and the latest installment may very well be the best one yet.

Telltale promised to take players on an emotional journey, full of hard decisions and moral grey zones, and Episode 3 does not shy away from these aspects in the slightest. From a difficult decision you're forced to make at the very beginning, to the tragic deaths that continue to eat away at what's left of your makeshift family, the game pulls absolutely no punches. The result is one of the finest gaming experiences I've had in recent years.

With the floodgates set to open on this year's AAA Holiday release schedule, it might seem odd to heap so much praise on an Arcade downloadable. Many games, while perfectly enjoyable at $10 or $15, might seem like less of a value when compared to a $60 blockbuster. This is why The Walking Dead continues to stand out to me; the gorgeous cell-shaded graphics and fantastic voice acting bring every character, every dialogue choice to life. It makes the characters relatable and believable, even when you hate them and the situations they force you into, and it also makes it that much harder to deal with the tragic consequences that some of your decisions bring.

Keeping the group together is a constant struggle to replace the ones who have died, and keep the ones still alive from turning on one another.

The violence in this series is nothing new, but TellTale ramps it up in Episode 3. You'll find yourself using a gun more often than you might have expected, but unfortunately the simple interface makes shooting awkward and unwieldy. Anyone familiar with a shooter may find the controls clumbsy compared to the usual "stay behind cover, hold LT to aim, them shoot" system, and having your aim always default to the same spot when peeking out of cover (rather to where I had been looking before I popped out) lead to several frustrating deaths. Thankfully, it may be the game's one flaw, and it only comprises a single setpiece in the otherwise stellar episode. With a longer than expected playtime, this single flaw was easily and quickly forgotten by the time I finished the episode.

Few things scream "bleak" quite like entering a building where you know people called out deperately for help that never came.

The violence and the losses it brings also cement Lee's place amongst the survivors that are still at your side. You may find Characters you were almost at blows with last episode are now your closest friends, because you have no one else left. Furthermore, throughout the continuing chain of events, Episode 3 still finds ways to build on Lee and Clementine's friendship, and on Clementine's need to grow up far faster than any child should have to. A seemingly everyday chore such as cutting her hair now carries a dual symbolism; at once emphasizing Lee's growing place as the father figure in her life, while underscoring the world she now lives in (as her old, playful hairstyle is too easy for a zombie to grab on to.)

Much like the wonderful TV series, the game manages to strike the perfect balance between constant danger and character development.

I'm a pretty desensitized guy by now, having grown up on a steady diet of shooting random bad guys and terrorists and aliens over the last 30 years. And yet, here I was, playing a $5 downloadable title, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't thoroughly misty-eyed when it came to a particularly hard decision that had to be made near the end of the Chapter. I can't think of a more genuine way to praise Telltale Games for the care they've taken in crafting the characters, events, camaraderie, and heartache of this ongoing story.