Minecraft: Story Mode became Telltale’s longest-running individual “season” with its previous episode, but only now can we say that the dimension-hopping adventures of Jesse and friends are winding down. The seventh installment, Access Denied, doesn’t actually do much to reflect this until its last scene, though, as it sticks to the formula Episode 5 started of having more self-contained plots than the company’s usual fare.
As past reviews indicate, my reactions to this change in format have been a bit varied. The fifth episode ended up being one of the more entertaining episodes of the series, but the previous installment, which relied a bit too much on YouTube celebrity cameos and not enough on an engaging story, ended up being one of the weakest. As it turns out, Access Denied feels right in the middle of those two quality-wise. While it comes up short in some areas, it succeeds in others, especially when compared to Episode 6.
Jesse and friends Ivor, Lukas, and Petra are still on a dimension-hopping journey in hopes of returning to their homeworld, but each new dimension seems to only bring more mishaps before taking them back to the same hall of portals as before, which is shown in an entertaining intro montage. The latest portal transports them to a world that, while showing signs of civilization, initially seems abandoned, but it doesn’t take long for them to discover what’s happened.
A supercomputer known as PAMA, while initially built to help the world’s inhabitants, has developed the technology to enslave and control the minds of anyone it can hook a brainwashing chip to, and sets its sights on the Order of the Stone after discovering them. Jesse ends up befriending Harper, the last inhabitant not under PAMA’s control, and attempts to figure out how to shut it down, save some brainwashed friends and maybe finally figure out a way back home.
The hour-and-a-half-long story, while guilty of lacking any real surprises, remains entertaining and well-paced. The concept of PAMA is one that’s become increasingly played out since the days of the first Terminator movie, but it at least provides some fun moments. The episode’s best use of dialog choices comes during Jesse’s initial meeting and interrogation by the computer, as you can choose how truthful your responses are. Despite my original intentions to cooperate, PAMA’s responses made me impulsively select several lies and rebuttals instead. It’s handled cleverly on Telltale’s part.
Unlike the last installment, this episode also slightly develops Jesse’s friends, with my favorite example being the usually underhanded Ivor displaying a fascination and possible romantic feelings for Harper and her advanced technical achievements. The episode also starts with Petra lashing out at the group due to her frustration with the seemingly endless journey home, though what I chose to have Jesse say and do in response got rid of that quickly. These are fun touches, but I wish there was more of them. Harper herself is also forgettable, though Yvette Nicole Brown of Community fame does a good job lending her some sass when necessary.
Besides the usual dialog choices and button prompt-based action scenes, hands-on gameplay remains fairly infrequent. The one legitimate puzzle midway through, while simple, still contains some charm when you look at its context within the story. The most clever moment has to be a scene that feels like a reference to the virtual reality trend starting to sweep through the gaming industry, where Jesse puts on a headset that allows him to possess and jump between various mind-controlled zombies, and must keep frequently switching bodies to stop PAMA from detecting him.
Due partly to the desolate setting, the episode doesn’t have much to offer in terms of environmental eye candy, outside of a flashy climax. On the technical end of things, the Xbox One version feels generally stable by the series’ standards, though I once again witnessed a bug that kicked in around Episode 5, which caused the sky to flash black at random points.
Access Denied is ultimately an episode that has some aspects that work well and others that don’t, rather than primarily leaning one way or the other. The premise doesn’t take advantage of Minecraft fundamentals like Episode 5 or provide fan service for Let’s Play fans like Episode 6, though the writing still feels stronger than the latter. It’s certainly an entertaining experience that I enjoyed from beginning to end, but it still lacks the spark that the series’ best episodes have provided.
Minecraft: Story Mode has only one episode left before wrapping this arc up, so hopefully whatever Telltale has planned for Jesse’s last adventure will build on previous installment’s strengths for a solid finale, rather than delivering something fun but routine.
This review is based on the Xbox One version.
Access Denied boasts some good writing and setpieces, with its only true crime being that it generally feels like familiar and somewhat shallow territory for Minecraft: Story Mode.