Managing to tell both an engaging stand-alone story, as well as lay the groundwork for the finale, the penultimate episode of Minecraft: Story Mode is another solid entry in the series. Overall, Access Denied does suffer from the same tunnel vision that plagued the last episode, but an intriguing premise and more of a connection to the overarching narrative elevate the latest Telltale episode above being simply another one-off.
Jesse, Ivor, Petra, and Lucas have been stuck in the maze of portals for some time now. Jumping from world to world, without any direction at all, the group is still simply trying to get home. Unlike Episode 6, Access Denied actually takes the time to show this, along with the fact that tensions are beginning to run high. With Petra picking the next portal to go through, the team drops into a barren world seemingly devoid of life, let alone civilization.
Before long it becomes clear something very strange is happening in this world. A rogue AI called PAMA is controlling everything and everyone, all in an attempt to make things “more useful.” As you’d expect, it therefore falls to Jesse and the others to save the day. While the idea of an AI taking over the world is nothing new in science fiction, it works well and feels fresh in the Minecraft framework.
Since computers don’t actually exist in Minecraft, PAMA comes across that much more sinister, due to the added bonus of feeling appropriately foreign and incredible. Still grounding it in the universe though, the inner workings of the computer are all tied to the engineering material Redstone. Figuring out how Redstone can be used to do something so much more complicated than opening doors is all part of the humble mystery at the heart of the latest episode of Story Mode.
Unfortunately, Telltale doesn’t push the episode much further beyond that. As was the case with Episode 6, the new world feels limited in its overall scope. The history of how PAMA took over is referenced, but only in passing. And more than that, once PAMA and the additional new character of Harper, voiced by Community’s Yvette Nicole Brown, are introduced, the rest of the episode is relatively straightforward. Jesse and friends look for PAMA’s weakness and eventually attempt to exploit it.
Though there are multiple cases of excellent emotional material throughout the episode’s hour and a half, Access Denied doesn’t delve into any of it quite as deeply as it could. Instances such as the growing frustration between Jesse and the others, Harper’s experience of being the only freethinking being in a computer-controlled world, and more than a handful of potentially massive decisions all make an appearance. But ultimately, each does fall on the more conservative side, the implications and emotional payoff kept in check. While fun and interesting enough as it is, Story Mode Episode 7 leaves some of the most tantalizing threads of its premise un-pulled.
Despite that however, it’s worth noting that Access Denied continues the strengths of the series overall, delivering on a family-friendly, gorgeous world of Minecraft. Made with loving devotion for the source material, even the game’s smaller intricacies continue to show up in Story Mode, along with a healthy dose of nods to video game culture in general. Likewise, the voice acting continues to be excellent, Brown’s Harper fitting right in amongst the other performances.
As with the past two episodes, Access Denied is largely a standalone narrative, telling this particular world’s storyline from beginning to end. It’s a format that continues to work in the series’ favor, offering a satisfying resolution with each episode. Supplying that complete arc while also focusing a bit more on the overarching, magic flint-and-steel narrative, Episode 7 strikes a good balance between the two. And in the process, Telltale sets-up quite the tease for the finale.
Though it’s still hard to guess exactly where the story is going from here, Access Denied is one more interesting story in the Minecraft universe, continuing to display Story Mode’s potential beyond the initial Whither Storm plot. With the path now paved, Telltale is on sure footing moving into the finale.