by Jonathan Fortin
reviewed on PC
Note: this review contains spoilers for previous episodes of The Walking Dead: Season 2.
Clementine's been having one hell of a rough year. She's been mauled by dogs, chased by zombies, attacked by evil old men, and watched loved ones be tortured and killed. Despite all that, she just keeps on going. What a trooper!
Telltale's episodic adventure game series The Walking Dead is nearing the end of its second season, with the penultimate episode, Amid the Ruins, paving the way for what's sure to be a brutal season finale.
Like Episode 2 - A House Divided before it, Amid the Ruins is a transitional episode, picking up where Episode 3 - In Harm's Way left off. Clem and the others are lost in a hoard of Walkers, covered in enough zombie blood to be hidden, but hardly safe. The group is immediately separated, which virtually promises that not everyone will survive. It's an intense, action-heavy opening that effectively pulls you right into the episode.
Let Them Eat Brains
The majority of Amid the Ruins is centered around Rebecca's pregnancy, as we learn that going into labor in a zombie-infested wasteland is a rather unpleasant thing. The episode also let us spend a lot of time with some of the supporting cast members. Sarah and Kenny both get a lot of memorable scenes, and there isn't a moment where you won't be worried about them.
The cold survivalist Jane, who was introduced in Episode 3, gets much more development this time around, and quickly proves to be one of the season's most interesting characters. Jane, a product of her environment, avoids becoming emotional attached to anyone, to the point where she doesn't blink about killing a zombified version of someone she knows. But as the episode goes on, Jane's actions reveal more layers to her character, keeping her a dynamic “wild card” member of the cast.
More than ever, it becomes apparent in this episode how the supporting cast members reveal different sides of Clem—particularly Jane and Sarah, who both have lost those they care about, but respond completely differently from how Clem responded to the loss of Lee.
A Game Of Zeds
Gameplay-wise, Amid the Ruins is no different from any other episode of Season 2, with all the strengths and weaknesses that it entails. It would still be nice to have a “skip dialogue” button when replaying sequences, or to have a run button so Clem won't walk so slowly, or to be able to move the sometimes-frustrating camera angles. I also encountered a bug that froze the game at a certain scene over and over again, but I fortunately fixed it by changing the graphics settings.
Episode 3 seemed a bit on autopilot, with important story choices to make, but very little actual gameplay. In some ways Episode 4 continues this, but it feels like less of a problem here. We get enough moments where we can move Clementine around freely so that we still feel like we're playing a game, rather than watching an extended, interactive cutscene. It feels very much like Episode 2 in this regard: the puzzle-solving is all but lost, but you still get to explore the world a bit.
And Then There Were None
Episode 3 centered around the villainous Carver, who had half a season of buildup to ensure that players truly hated him. While Carver's death was certainly satisfying, I almost feel like it came too early. It seemed like an important part of Season 2—too important to be done away with midway through.
However, the real story of Season 2 is Clementine's. Telltale's The Walking Dead is the story of Clementine's transformation from a frightened little girl hiding in a treehouse into a brave and capable little badass. Carver, in the end, is just a bump in her road, just another challenge for her to overcome. The real thrust of this season is how Lee's death has affected Clem, and how she forms relationships with others based on that.
Season 2 began with Clementine nearly dying after losing her group, showing how hard it is for a little girl to survive on her own. But the encounter with Carver has left her new group broken, with many of Clem's friends proving to be a liability. Between Rebecca's pregnancy, Sarah's unstable mental state, and multiple characters becoming dangerously unhinged due to lost loved ones, the group seems to be on the verge of collapsing. Jane believes the smartest thing Clem can do is leave before the others get her killed, and as the shit hits the fan, some players may wonder if she's right—but if Clem couldn't survive on her own only a few short months ago, how can she do so now? The question permeates Amid the Ruins, providing a constant source of tension: will Clem be forced to end up on her own once more?
In Harm's Way whittled down Clem's group significantly, and Amid the Ruins whittles it down even more. It's as hard as always to watch characters you care about bite the dust. Sometimes you feel like you can save them, so you go back and try to do things differently. Sometimes it changes things. Sometimes it doesn't, but at least you tried. Sometimes it makes things worse, and you wished you hadn't tried at all. In the end, it's impossible to save everyone.
Also, fair warning: expect one hell of a cliffhanger.
Gripping interactive drama; tough choices; strong characters
Still lacks interactivity