Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Platforms: PC (Version Reviewed), PS3, Xbox 360, iOS, PS Vita
Release Dates: May 13 (PC, PS3), May 14 (Xbox 360), May 15 (iOS)
(This review will try to remain spoiler-free of this game’s important content, however it will make references to Season 1, previous episodes of Season 2 and the 400 Days DLC. Make sure to play these first for a more enjoyable experience!)
I get that Telltale Games has crafted The Walking Dead graphic adventure games based on choice, even if your choices along the journey don’t affect the final destination. I understand that, because there are overarching decisions made by players from previous episodes, seasons and even downloadable anthology content, it’s difficult to craft the story to match the flair of several portrayals of our protagonist, Clementine. To play a video game, to watch a film, to flip on the TV and watch your favorite series; they all require you to suspend your disbelief. Your efforts are supposed to be met halfway by those in charge of producing the content, which is Telltale Games in this case.
For the first time in the series, it’s clear that the magic of perceived life-or-death decisions is starting to fade.
Don’t misconstrue my worries as disliking the core of The Walking Dead anymore, as Season 2, Episode 3’s In Harm’s Way does highlight the ongoing growth and development of the cast as best as possible. As we left off, Clementine and her friends are being forcibly transported via truck to Carver’s camp after a grueling standoff. It’s up to her and her team to break out of the makeshift prison that is the Carver-run grocery store. Depending on your choices from the end of the last episode, it would seem like there should be a noticeable degree of differences between timelines of alternate events. However, those who can live or die have a negligible effect on the plot. They’re simply kept in the background, a mere afterthought to be dealt with at a later time.
Additionally, depending on the actions taken in 400 Days, Clementine will bump into a variety of that episode’s cast, but never more than for a brief moment. Unless a dramatic event occurs by the end of The Walking Dead’s second season, the best you can hope for (save for one important 400 Days cast member) is a nod-to-the-camera of an appearance. It plants the seedling of doubt, the ongoing reality of gaming determinism that no matter what you do, nothing else matters but the end goal. You can’t help but feel despondent in that realization.
In Harm’s Way feels like it is servicing the fans in its actions, and for the most part, The Walking Dead pulled it off well. While bereft of a great deal of puzzles and challenge, the voice acting was on point yet again. This episode features the likes of Silicon Valley star Kumail Nanjiani as helpful, yet goofy Reggie and sees a more prominent role in Reservoir Dogs star Michael Madsen’s menacing Bill Carver. They played well off each other, serving as the Yin and Yang of what a model apocalyptic survivor should be, while bringing added depth to an already-excellent crew of actors.
Even the dialogue itself stands up to the Telltale Games seal of approval. When gameplay aspects of a title are set on the backburner, the story has to be really cooking in order for it to work. In an episode that is light of progression, In Harm’s Way shines brightly through the conversations Clementine has with her fellow broken, disheveled man. There’s nothing worse than forced labor with an ongoing zombie threat clawing at your skin, and the writing staff really contextualized the gritty dejection of living under a totalitarian rule in an absolute monster of a human.
Unfortunately, outside of the gripping conclusion that single-handedly saves The Walking Dead Season 2‘s third chapter, In Harm’s Way is born into the middle of what looks to be two very different halves of a story arc. Because of this, the episode suffers from acting like the middle child; bouts of short, aggressive passion spaced out at imprecise times to compensate for its lack of attention (the attention being to story purpose). It seems like an odd thing to declare of 2 hours of trying to get out of a contained space with a clear mission goal, but ultimately the player is left with a ton of new questions and way fewer answers than one would hope at episode’s end.
Plans will be hatched, people will die, some will survive. The Walking Dead operates in familiar tropes to be used to keep the story going, but at the end of In Harm’s Way the main question left for players to ask is, “What now?” We don’t get full closure after Episode 3; there’s still two more chapters left to go. However, players are left with a sense of unease, like there’s a lack of purpose for Clementine. She no longer needs to get to Savannah like she did in Season 1, nor does she feel the immediate need to do anything other than survive.
And that leads to the biggest problem that The Walking Dead Season 2 has as a whole product; outside of a very few particular camp members, there simply hasn’t been enough time in the story for Clementine to develop a strong relationship with the rest of the cast. She’s known each of them for, what, a few weeks at most? It helps reinforce the notion that what you do and what you choose inevitably doesn’t matter, as there are few people that can be threatened/put in harm’s way that leave an impact if you make the wrong move. What is relayed throughout the episode is the indelible maturity and darkness growing within our protagonist as she seeks outlaw justice. She is a sponge of knowledge, and serves as the anchor of her collective group. Unfortunately, it ends up being that most everyone else weighs her down.
In Harm’s Way serves both promise and disappointments. While not ultimately a bad way of spending a few hours, the remarkably brilliant story of Clementine in the zombie wasteland is limited mainly through her acts. The sense of urgency within conflicts, outside of immediate danger to our heroine and her closest friends themselves, leaves players not caring as much about the full proper cast of protagonists. In the interim, The Walking Dead Season 2‘s newest episode does its job in carrying the patent Telltale Games way of storytelling to its logical conclusion. In the long run, it casts the first shadows of doubt. The few moments of gruesome violence lead to immediate satisfactory conclusions, but do little to satisfy the needs of the collective story.
Telltale needs to give me a reason to care for more than just protecting the little girl.
(A copy of this game was provided to GameSided for the purpose of this review.)