Review: The Walking Dead: Season 2 Episode 3 – In Harm’s Way (Sony PlayStation 3)

twds2coverThe Walking Dead: Episode 3 – Season 2 Episode 3 – In Harm’s Way
Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Telltale Games
Genre: Interactive Drama
Release Date: 06/03/2014

Before we begin, I’ve decided to start calling these games interactive dramas instead of adventures. There’s just almost none of the puzzle solving or exploration that tends to define the adventure genre. It might seem cruel to put this series in the same category as Beyond: Two Souls, but at least this is a heck of lot better than that.

Anyhow, let’s get back to business.

Previously on Telltale’s The Walking Dead…

Clementine found herself with a new group. However, that group has some serious baggage by the name of William Carver. Kenny from Season 1 showed up, which marked the least excited I’ve been for a returning character in something since Jar Jar Binks. Still, it gave us a chance to help Clementine juxtapose her new existence with her old one. This is continued through her interactions with Sarah. Sarah’s father kept her from the worst of the zombie apocalypse. So while she’s older than Clem, she’s as naïve as the younger Clem from the first season.

2014-06-05-135655This time around, there’s a lot less to worry about when it comes to zombies. The group is kept almost like prisoners on a work release program. Carver’s got a whole compound full of diehards ready to do his bidding, and he’s looking to expand by means of forced labor. However, Carver also has a motive to create a new society where the strong rule and the weak perish. While he’s looking to force the group to get things done, he’s also looking for more potential foot soldiers.

This creates a very interesting first part of the episode. At this point, we haven’t seen Carver do anything that can’t in some way be morally justified. He chased after the group because he assumed Rebecca was pregnant with his child. He killed Walter to keep Kenny from killing anyone else in his group. It was kind of an overreaction, but we’ve seen much worse in this series. However, the writers take a bad turn.

Carver becomes a sad attempt at creating the kind of captivating character that we’ve seen in the TV show. Sadly, he’s no Governor. He just starts doing evil things for no other reason than to be evil. On top of that, the other characters start simply reacting to him rather than interacting with each other. It becomes a straight up action game rather than a story driven experience. That’s really bad when all of your action scenes are overly simple quick time events.

The one good thing to come out of this is that we’re really starting to see Clem treated as an equal rather than just a little girl. Considering the things we’ve had her do in these games, that’s a step in the right direction. I just think they tried to get too much stuff done in this episode. It feels rushed, and nothing is given time to develop. Considering how much of the previous episodes were spent on getting us to this point, that’s a huge letdown.

2014-06-05-135720Visually, season two looks noticeably better than season one. Character models are cleaner and animate better without losing that comic book feel that serves the series so well. The color palette has also been upgraded. Each location and character feels richer and pops off the screen. It almost makes the first game seem dull by comparison. The framerate on the Vita version is still stuck in the old ways though. It often dips and even stalls during specific scenes. Usually this can be attributed to the game struggling to save and/or load. Either way, it’s no less distracting and annoying when it pops up. It’s a shame, because the technical issues were less prevalent in other versions of the game. The Vita has gotten the short end of the stick.

When you have a game like this that relies so heavily on voice acting for its exposition, it’s important that that voice acting be at lest tolerable. A bad voice actor can kill a character far easier than a herd of blood thirsty zombies. Fortunately, the cast here is up to the task. New and old voices alike do great jobs of bringing their characters to life. Clementine, as the star, is the lynchpin. As the character has grown up, so has the voice acting. She sounds more mature and more confident, while still keeping a child-like edge that keeps you from thinking she’s completely grown up.

Musically, the game is a hit. Between dramatic slow songs and fast paced strings, there’s a good song for each event in the game. Additionally, there are plenty of moments that have no music at all, which is a valid option more often than not. Combine that with a smart suite of sound effects, and the audio is pretty top notch.
Mechanically, the game is identical to the first season. Things are generally separated into one of three different types of gameplay sections: conversation, exploration, and action.

Conversation in the game sticks to the standard. When Clementine has a chance to speak, there will be up to four different options. Picking different options will steer the conversation towards a different direction or tone, even it doesn’t always affect the overall story. You can also choose to remain silent by not choosing an option before the timer runs out. The story will move forward either way. These sections are generally more about playing Clementine the way you want her to be. For example, a more cold-hearted Clem might tell someone to keep their sob story to themselves, while a more timid Clem might play up the fact that she’s “just a little girl”. It allows for a bit of role-playing, which helps keep things interesting.

2014-06-05-142912Exploration sections are pretty laid back. You aren’t on a timer and you’re free to walk around a small area. These sections have you trying to figure out what you need to do in order to progress. It might be restarting a fire, talking to the right person, or finding something to eat. In these areas, there are usually several different objects you can interact with. While many don’t directly affect your forward momentum, they do offer more depth to the story or setting. There’s no penalty for skipping them either. They’re completely optional.
Mechanically, the way you interact with objects and people is straight forward. Moving the right stick moves your cursor around the area. Move over an object you can interact with, and a series of icons will appear in your cursor. These icons correspond to the various PlayStation buttons. Generally, the cross button is for interact, triangle is for observe, and circle is for talk.

While Clem does have an inventory, you don’t have to worry about it too much. If you need to use that knife you picked up, you’ll simply be able to press a button when you’re in the right spot. There’s no inventory management here, which helps keeps things moving along.

Action sequences are incredibly simple. They’re basically quick time events where failing to input the correct buttons results in death and a quick respawn. These are generally well done, with the actions you’re asked to do logically following the action. For example, if your character needs to duck to the left, you’ll need to flick the left stick in that direction. If your character needs to duck to the right, you flick the stick to the right. It’s functional and gets the job done.

2014-06-05-143313It’s a pretty straight forward and simple. They figured they were better off keeping the gameplay intact and focusing more on the story and events that make up the game. While this style of gameplay certainly isn’t for everyone, it allows them to tell the tale they want. Function over form.

One thing I noticed in this episode was an abundance of visual hiccups that weren’t really all that present in the first two. In particular, there are some characters that have seams showing where their hair connects to their head. It’s really distracting, and kills the mood of several scenes. Also, there’s more slowdown than ever in episode three.

I was really let down by this episode. For starters, we finally get to catch up with the characters from the between seasons DLC. They only get cameos and there’s no chance to interact with them. Also, this episode ends in such a way that the future two episodes are a complete mystery. I have no idea where this season is going. I really think the camp could have been a great climatic hook for the series, but instead it’s just the midpoint. We’ll just have to see where this all goes.

Short Attention Span Summary

diehardjack1-150x150Episode 3 drops the ball in many a regard. It fails to create an interesting villain. That’s a shame, since the entire episode depends on that villain to move the story forward. As such, the whole thing feels like an on rails quick time event with nothing going on. It’s practically the Jurassic Park game. I expect better, and I hope that the next two episodes turn it around.

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