The Walking Dead Season 2, Episode 4 Review

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Developer: Telltale Games

Publisher: Telltale Games

Platforms: PC (Version Reviewed), PS3, Xbox 360, iOS, PS Vita

Release Dates: July 22 (PC, PS3, PS Vita), July 23 (Xbox 360), July 24 (iOS)

The Circle Of Death.

(This review will try to remain spoiler-free of this game’s important content, however it can make passing references to Season 1, the 400 Days DLC and frames of reference surrounding Season 2′s Episode 1, Episode 2 and Episode 3. Make sure to play these first for a more enjoyable experience!)

The very first thing I mentioned in the review of the previous episode of The Walking Dead Season 2 was that the facade of choice was starting to fade, and that even though players going into the series knew that events were scripted to reach a foregone conclusion, that the attempt to keep the illusion up was weakening.

It took less than 10 seconds for your most recent choice at the very conclusion of Episode 3 to be completely pointless at the start of Episode 4, “Amid The Ruins,” breaking an unwritten record for Telltale Games. And you know what? I’m willing to trust Telltale Games on this one. It led to gripping drama, harsh realities and grim situations. I couldn’t be happier to be dipping into uncharted waters this time.

It’s not just the dramatic conclusion that has me invested in the season’s finale, but the cumulative efforts from the Telltale Games staff that helped to formulate one of gaming’s most believable and exciting protagonists: Clementine.

Still acting as Clementine, players in the newest episode of The Walking Dead Season 2 find themselves separated from their group once again. Amid the chaos and walkers comes a certain shift in the assertiveness in our protagonist’s persona. The shift from a little girl surviving the zombie wasteland to a young woman blossoming as an intuitive leader has been a gradual climb, but what Clementine does in order to survive her recent ordeals has begun to push her to the top of the pack. She has physically, emotionally and mentally grown up.

The same can’t be said for the majority of her camp, as depression and hunger start to settle in. Arguments about how plans unfolded start to reach boiling points, and certain harsh words cannot be taken back. A great deal of “choices” that arise throughout The Walking Dead Season 2 involving people have to reach a merged conclusion in the narrative path, yet somehow the writers manage to provide as many unique forks in the road as possible in their recent addition. Nothing felt forced, as the writing team did an excellent job of crafting believable scenarios in which to lovingly rip out your heart.

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Speaking of the writing, I have to applaud the writing team of JT Petty (Outlast) and Eric Stirpe, who brilliant weaved a grim tale together and peppered it with deep, engrossing dialogue throughout “Amid The Ruins.” This is a series that has lived and died on its storytelling, and the team did a fantastic job of bolstering the personal anecdotes, character traits and mannerisms of an ever-dwindling cast. Better yet was the voice acting, which ran the gamut of emotional turmoil, joy, despair, hope and optimism to perfection. Everybody owned their part, no matter how big or how small.

While I had harped on the alleged choice railroading on the narrative level previously, Episode 4 of The Walking Dead Season 2 brought back the core of the adventurous gameplay that the series had come to enjoy in the past. Exploring a vast courtyard, building or structure in order to find supplies drove home the sense that this is a game. I didn’t feel like my hand was being held throughout the game, or that I had been playing with an unplugged controller, but that I was involved with key moments within the plot. At the peak moments of thematic tension, it created a real sense of dread and panic, forcing me to react with a jolt. Never had I mashed the button prompts with such ferocity in my life!

One gripe I did have with the recent episode of The Walking Dead Season 2 was with the technical issues. Running the game on the PC means that there are fewer problems to deal with than on the consoles and iOS, but that doesn’t mean that there weren’t the odd times where objects were flickering in the distance. Additionally, especially when Clementine was at the abandoned museum, you could see the cyan-blue edge of the map peek through the foliage supposedly hiding the design imperfections. Finally, the subtitles featured missed words, misspellings and grammatical errors. It’s a service that is so crucial to deaf gamers, and is fairly difficult to screw up if you’re paying attention.

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One of the things about growing up is taking on or rebelling against the personality traits of your caregivers, which served as a great theme in Amid The Ruins. Clementine is (hopefully) destined to become a great leader, but how will she influence others? There’s a fair point in the way Jane operates and teaches Clem; lead with smarts, but have an exit strategy when the going gets tough. Others like to go on the fly, as prepared plans can go haywire in a heartbeat. Should your group do what it takes to survive, or be pushers of peace and forgiveness?

I appreciate that Telltale lets you as the player decide how you want to carry yourself as Clementine, as you become influenced by what theory or ideology attracts you the most. It’s that sense of character exploration that is at the heart of the graphic adventure game, relying on player input as well as a strong story. Even if the episode ends essentially the same way no matter what (and dear lord, what a harrowing conclusion!), you can’t help but feel passionate about the journey reaching the destination. Just like travelling, it’s what The Walking Dead is all about.

Verdict

Amid The Ruins serves as a wonderfully dark penultimate chapter, one that is par for the course in The Walking Dead Season 2. Not only do we get a real sense of characterization in no small part thanks to the excellent writing and voice acting performances by the cast, but it returned to the sense of adventurous, explorative gameplay that episodes from the first season utilized to perfection. It’s not just the dramatic conclusion that has me invested in the season’s finale, but the cumulative efforts from the Telltale Games staff that helped to formulate one of gaming’s most believable and exciting protagonists: Clementine.

I care about what happens next, and it took less than 90 minutes to pull that off since last time. Well done, Telltale!

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(A copy of this game was provided to GameSided for the purpose of this review.)

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