SPOILER WARNING: This review is for episode four of the second season of The Walking Dead. Understandably this review will contain spoilers for events that have occurred up to this point in the series, and while we have tried to steer clear of spoilers for episode four, allusions are made to certain events in order to make a point within the review. Screenshots may also contain minor spoilers (though nothing that can’t be seen in the trailer). You won’t find major plot spoilers here, but if you are trying to remain completely spoiler free, read at your own risk.
Truth be told, I have had a hard time getting into season two of Telltale’s The Walking Dead. For one thing, there is no inherent end goal like we had in season one. There is only survival. We aren’t trying to solve a mystery, find Clementine’s parents, or anything else remotely interesting or worth the investment. To me, that lack of an end game lessens the emotional impact of my decisions and makes it too easy to play the hard-ass survivor (when the game will actually let me be more than just a little kid). Second, Clementine has never felt like a strong lead character to me. I’ve been frustrated at how she is treated and acts like a child up until this point, regardless of the things she has been taught, said, or done, not to mention her vast array of personal experiences in this fucked up world. The opening of episode four began to sway this second opinion however.
Amid the Ruins picks up immediately where episode three left off. I was abrasively reminded of my own personal decision to hack off Sarita’s arm right at the end of that episode (rather than lodge my ax in a zombie’s brain), and now had to deal with the fallout of my actions– which didn’t make near as big an impact as I thought it would. The story takes the same path either way. Regardless of my choice holding no real weight at all, Clementine has to step up and really be an adult in this situation, which was finally the evolution that I wanted to see for her character. Everyone else is falling to pieces around her and she’s the one who keeps her head on straight and controls the state of affairs. I felt like perhaps Clem would finally take more of a leadership role for the group, but sadly things fall right back to status quo.
There are several scenes in which Clementine is being taught some basic self survival skills, which felt like I was playing a game’s tutorial. Hasn’t it been something like two years since the outbreak? Clementine has traveled with enough people and seen enough shit in that time that I don’t think basic scavenging skills are needed. Her responses and reactions in these situations are far from where I expected her character evolution to be, yet in other situations, she is able to take control and make the hard decisions. How is it that she somehow needs to be taught how to scavenge for things, but can put an ax in a friend’s head without a second thought?
I also can’t stand how everyone tiptoes through the tulips with Clementine. The characters don’t act like this outbreak has been going on for years. They react to things and make decisions that survival newbies would, only a few weeks after the outbreak. Characters shouldn’t hint that “maybe someone would be small enough to fit through here…” Come right out and say it! Ask Clementine directly if she would be willing to go through the small space. In addition, don’t make Clementine sheepishly say that she “found a coat” and then, after getting some praise someone might give to a good dog, the choice to respond with “maybe I could give it to Rebecca?” as if she has to get permission. It wasn’t believable and destroyed all credit I had given Clem for her mature decisions earlier in the episode.
Again, these replies are made after she’s already gone through seven other episodes worth of shit and taken control in horrible situations that cost lives, sometimes at her own hands. Don’t tell me that suddenly she goes all shy when she simply finds a coat that could be useful. Clementine’s evolution peeked through occasionally, and I was able to see who she should be after going through all of this, but it was always quickly buried again. Coming fresh from The Wolf Among Us which has a very strong character evolution, it’s sad to see the lack of a more robust character focus in this game.
My other issue with Amid the Ruins is that there is no end goal. It is simply survival for survival’s sake, which hampers my motivation and emotional connection with this season. Season one had us helping this little girl find her parents. Even episode one of season two hinted that we ought to be looking for Christa, but there is a certain lack of emotional caring for anything, which includes this original desire to locate our friend. Even characters’ deaths seem to go right over everyone’s heads as the episode keeps chugging forward. If no one else cares, why should I?
Anyone that has been playing up to this point knows that anybody is fair game to be taken out, and there are some shocking scenes that illustrate this point. Unfortunately these scenes are almost unexpectedly expected this far in, and it feels more like the story is trying to top the shock value of what it previously did than provide genuine narrative moments to allow characters to grow. The moments in this episode are little more than targeted beats to carry the narrative to the next place, and I never felt like the decisions I made actually mattered.
Still, there is something extremely intriguing about the way Telltale tells a story, and regardless of my disdain for the characters and lack of meaningful choices this go around, a nice juicy cliffhanger is all it takes to have me itching to play the season finale. Even though my decisions don’t feel like they mean much, at this point, I am too far in to not want to know how things finish out.
I had major slowdown and choppiness as each new scene began, sometimes giving me even less time to make a spur of the moment decision. Conversely, The Wolf Among Us felt like it did away with most of these framerate and loading issues, so hopefully future Telltale Games titles will be cured of this ailment. I also encountered an odd glitch in which Jane’s right eye vanished halfway through the episode, and you could just see the red and pink inside her head. It was eerie, and initially I thought she was turning into a walker or something, but nope, turned out to be nothing more than a very distracting glitch.
The shocking moments, choices, and deaths that occur are some of the best in the series and we see a glimpse of a stronger Clementine, yet somehow it all seems contrived. Amid the Ruins had its strong points and weak points, but overall, I feel like Telltale just wants to be done with the franchise. They have so much other great content in the pipeline that the story here feels rushed along and characters feel underdeveloped. I’ll accept and recommend this episode simply because it is a piece of something that I am already invested in, but really I just want to be done with The Walking Dead so that we can see what else Telltale’s got up their sleeve. Here’s hoping they finish on a high note.
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