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Thursday, 27 November 2014

Telltale Games' The Walking Dead Season 2 Episode 4: Amid the Ruins.

Telltale Games' The Walking Dead
Season 2, Episode 4
Amid the Ruins.

Remember how in my last review I mentioned that the third episode of the first series was a kind of slower, breather episode where not a great deal really happened? Well, Episode 4 is that episode for Season 2, it turns out. 

Which isn't surprising, the preview made it pretty obvious that that's what it'd be, and the purpose it serves is clear: To give players some breathing room before the dramatic conclusion, and to give characters time to develop and endear themselves to the player so that it will be more tragic when they inevitably die. 

Amid the Ruins has Clem and company meeting up (more or less - Luke and Sarah have to be collected, we'll ... get to that) at what I think is a hiker's centre, and being forced to find shelter in order for Rebecca to give birth to her child. While there are two set piece zombie attacks in the game, it's mostly a character driven episode, with Clem having to deal with Kenny's grief, Jane's totally understandable pragmatism, Sarah's everything, and a dalliance between Luke and Jane that Luke may have taken a lot more seriously than Jane did. 

Which is good. Character driven episodes may not make for the most exciting playing, but they are necessary, and in this case, it also builds on an arc that started in the first episode of this season: The 'Clem is stronger than the people around her and they only drag her down' arc. That arc has been brewing in the background in every episode so far, but it was acknowledged outright in her interactions with Carver last episode, and this episode has Kenny acknowledge it and Jane quite frequently urge Clem to accept that fact. This is clearly going to be relevant in the final episode, to one degree or another.

Also, snow.

This episode deals with the problem of Sarah, too. Sarah is, I know, a fairly popular character amongst the fans. I'm not sure why, though, because I take issue with her, and this episode actually has characters acknowledge my issue with her: Sarah doesn't try. She acts less like someone who is neuroatypical in any sense and more like someone who has no sense of personal responsibility, and characters have died because of it. The game finally acknowledges it in this episode, with Jane and Luke both noting that Sarah doesn't seem to try at all to ensure her own survival, and Sarah herself indicating more than a little awareness of what she's doing. They also liken her to Jane's sister, who just wanted to die rather than be left in a ruined world with very little hope, but Sarah clearly doesn't want to die. Suicidal tendencies are not the issue here. 

She also gets eaten by zombies in this episode. Which is a shame, but it's The Walking Dead, I'm not confident any of these characters will survive to the end of the next episode, apart from Clem and maybe Kenny. The latter seems to have supernatural not-dying abilities, after all. How did he get out of that alleyway literally swarming with zombies too thick to even move through freely, in the city teeming with crowds and crowds of zombies? We've never had that clearly explained.

Actually, let's talk about Kenny for a bit. When we find him, shortly after Sarita dies (chopping her arm off didn't do much good) he's devastated, angry, suicidal, all of the things you'd pretty much expect him to be. But then what can only be a matter of hours later at most, he seems mostly better. Sure, he's getting creepy about a baby, but he's functional. He's functioning again a lot more quickly than I can rightly believe anyone would be after losing someone close to them, especially given what Kenny has already gone through.

This is not how she died in my game. It was much more violent
and bitey.

That's not a criticism - and even as I write this, I'm recalling that Kenny was in exactly the same position during Season 1's 'slow episode', having just lost his wife and child, and was still able to adequately function enough to drive a train - but it is interesting to me. I don't really like Kenny much as a character, because I'm still not over how he hated Lee for about three and a half episodes because we weren't entirely happy with him smashing an old man's face in with a brick, but his reaction to grief stands out as all the more odd and unhealthy in an episode where we have Sarah pretty much shutting down entirely after her father dies.

The episode's dramatic climax comes with Rebecca giving birth while zombies besiege the building the survivors have taken shelter in. It's the standard issue Walking Dead set piece, not all that dissimilar from the one we had at the end of the last episode. Quicktime events and a choice - in this case, whether to try to save Sarah. I didn't, because at that point she was already neck deep in zombies and had literally no way of getting to safety, so it seemed better to focus my attention elsewhere.

The set pieces are getting a bit repetitive by now, but they serve an obvious and important role in breaking up an otherwise very talk-y game, so that's fine. Oddly enough, this episode was very set piece heavy for an otherwise very slow episode, though. We have the conclusion of last episode's set piece zombie attack at the beginning, then another involving zombies besieging a house that Luke and Sarah are hiding in, then another very short one at a museum, and then the dramatic one towards the end.

Woo, zombie set piece.

In contrast, Episode 3, a much more quickly paced episode with a lot more plot developments and action, only had a single one, and it worked all the better for it, even if we were rather railroaded into it.

Overall, a good, if slow episode, and one that ends on both a tragic note and a cliffhanger. It'll be interesting to see how that pans out into the final episode, for which we had no preview this time. That's - concerning. Potentially.

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