by Jonathan Fortin
reviewed on PC
The Dead Escape
Note: this review contains spoilers for previous episodes of The Walking Dead.
The Walking Dead: Season 2 continues to take Clementine and her group to truly miserable places. Episode 3: “In Harm's Way” begins with Clem seeing a moth on a tree. When she reaches for it, it flies away. It's symbolic of the entire episode's main theme: escape.
At the end of Episode 2, Clem's group was captured by the murderous Bill Carver. Carver runs a large camp inside a warehouse, with lots of food and security for those loyal to him, but many armed guards are there to keep those who aren't loyal in check. In Episode 3, Clem and the others are held captive and forced to work to prove their worth to the camp.
This being a game, it's up to the player to help the group get out alive. This being The Walking Dead, there's no way to make sure they all live to the end. If only Clem could be like that moth, flying away from whoever tried to grab her.
A Cast of Soon-To-Be-Deads
In Carver's warehouse we meet several new characters. One is Reggie, who wants to improve his standing in Carver's group, and is so whiney and wussy that he ends up being unintentionally funny at times. Then there's Jane, a cold, tough and resourceful girl. She's barely in this episode, but I'm sure will be an important part of Episode 4. We also meet Mike, who gets very little characterization; he is unfortunately rather reminiscent of the TV show's tendency to introduce a black male character, kill him off before he can be developed, and then bring in new black male character a few episodes later. All the same, Telltale continues to have a diverse cast. Not everyone here is a straight white man or a sexy white babe, which is a rare thing in the world of gaming.
Naturally, the characters you'll be most attached to are those who have had the most build-up in Clementine's group. In the previous episode, we were reunited with Kenny from Season 1. In Episode 3, Kenny gets much more to do, and is just as angry and cocky as ever, happy to run into danger like a freight train if it means helping someone else out.
Also notable is Sarah. Carver forces Sarah's father Carlos to work constantly, meaning that Sarah is largely is under Clementine's care. Sarah is innocent, confused, frightened—she is much weaker than the bad-ass Clementine. Can Clementine protect her? Sarah becomes a symbol for the entire group, and players who were originally vexed by her might be surprised by how much they care about her this time around.
The Villainous Dead
The most memorable character in the episode is Carver, who quickly proves to be a real bastard. Episode 2 gave us a glimpse of his creepiness and cruelty, but in Episode 3 you find out just how despicable Carver really is. He kills, tortures and terrifies multiple characters throughout the episode. He has no problem harming a child, either, which makes the danger feel all the more real.
It's thrilling to finally have a long-term villain who has been built up across multiple episodes. There are many tense conversation set pieces involving Carver, as you worry that saying the wrong thing could get a character you cared about tortured or killed. These become some of the most uncomfortable and nail-biting sequences so far in the season.
That said, Carver is just a bit too similar to The Governor, a notable villain from the comic series and TV show. Like The Governor, Carver runs a large group that has plenty of food and is fairly well protected; like The Governor, Carver is an insane, brutal dictator who murders dissenters. Carver also lacks depth; we understand that he wants to raise his child and that he kills those he views as weak, but we never get more than a vague idea about why he sees himself as the hero of this story. We find out nothing about who he was before the zombie apocalypse, or why his supporters are so convinced of his goodness. As a result, he becomes just another sociopath in power—and while he is memorable for his cruelty, his psychological simplicity keeps him from being a truly great villain.
The Motionless Dead
All is not well with this latest episode of The Walking Dead. There's a distinct lack of gameplay, which hinders the experience as a whole. Huge chunks lack any interactivity at all other than a few inconsequential dialogue options. When you are finally given the chance to control Clem, it's usually for brief stints: quicktime event action sequences, or all-too-brief scenes where you can move around a location but almost nothing you can interact with has any consequence. During a “tense” stealth segment where Clementine is trying to get a radio, the player has so little input that all the tension is deflated. It would have been easy to include a few timing puzzles, but instead we get Clem on autopilot.
Really, there are no puzzles to speak of this time around. There is virtually no exploration. There are a few token zombie action sequences, but they're all brief and have very little input from the player.
On one hand, this allows Telltale to focus on story (the game's key strength). On the other hand, this episode ultimately isn't as much fun to play as some of the others because there isn't really much “playing” at all. There were times where I felt more as though I was watching an episode of a TV show instead.
Perhaps the lack of interactivity is intentional. It allows the player to feel as powerless as Clementine. The player feels imprisoned, boxed in, unable to help the characters they care about. But couldn't this effect have been achieved while also letting us control Clementine's movements for more than a few very brief occasions? Carver's base is rife with potential for gameplay, which only makes it more frustrating that you as a player have so little control.
The Regretful Dead
All in all, it's a rather depressing entry into the series. The storytelling is as good as ever, and players are sure to feel as much regret as they do with any other episode. But the lack of interactivity takes a heavy toll on the experience as a whole.
It must be remembered, however, that this episode definitely isn't meant to be taken on its own merits. It's part of a much bigger whole, bringing an important sense of escalation to the story so far.
The decidedly abrupt ending begs the question: where will Telltale go from here? This season has two episodes left, but it's not immediately clear what direction the story will take from this point on. As always, I'm very curious to find out how Clem's journey will continue.
Excellent writing as always; the regret returns in full force; memorable (if shallow) villain