Review: The Walking Dead: Season 2 Episode 4 – Amid the Ruins (Sony PlayStation Vita)

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The Walking Dead: Season 2 Episode 3 – Amid the Ruins
Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Telltale Games
Genre: Interactive Drama
Release Date: 07/22/2014

Previously on Telltale’s The Walking Dead

The last episode was kind of like a mid-season finale. The group found themselves captured by Carver and forced to do manual labor to try and earn their way out of the dog house. Of course, it turned out that Carver was a complete lunatic who’d kill a guy over some poorly trimmed berry plants. The group devised a plan to draw in a herd of walkers, cover themselves in undead guts, and leave while the compound was distracted. Things took a bad turn when Carlos was shot and Sarita was bitten.

This time around, the game kind of follows the show. After the major event that is compound, the story slows down. This time it’s about getting the group together and trying to find someplace for Rebecca to have her baby. This means there are plenty of moments to talk to the remaining characters one on one. In particular, you’ll really get to know Jane. That doesn’t mean there isn’t any action though. There are plenty of opportunities for zombie killing this time around, as you’re stuck out in the open for the entire episode.

twdep4pic1While I found the character struggle interesting, this episode pretty much lost me on the whole season. The reason for that is you’ll have to decide whether or not a character lives at a certain point in the episode. While that’s hardly rare for the series, your decision here is made almost immediately pointless when the character in question dies later on. There is no way to save them. I’ve seen every possible option and outcome. That person dies. It’s not even like you can initially save them for some interesting conversations or story progression. They say all of two sentences. For a series that is supposedly about making important choices, this is unforgivable.

Look. I get that you can’t have the story branch out in every possible direction based on every possible choice the player makes. There would simply be too much game to make to account for that. However, Telltale has found ways to work around this. In The Wolf Among Us, there were a couple of characters that lived or died depending on your actions. The game found ways to keep them from getting needlessly killed off ten seconds later. Sure. They weren’t around for pretty much the rest of the season, but at least it felt like the life or death decision you made actually mattered. The Walking Dead has made a habit out of killing off characters that you’ve saved. It’s not a thematic choice the writers made. It’s simply done in order to make things easier for them. Ether way, I’m sick of it. If you ever have the choice of whether or not a character dies, let them die. It’ll save you time down the road.

The big problem here is that the story doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. There were a bunch of plot thread that have been cut off. The Carver bit ended prematurely, although it was a great chance to explore how Clementine has changed. Another interesting storyline is killed off in this episode, leaving very little left to wrap up. It’s basically going to boil down to “Has Clem become a bad person in order to survive?”. I have a feeling the answer won’t matter, because we’ll get Season 3 either way.

twdep4pic2This is a review for an episodic game. The next big chunk will be copied from my earlier reviews in order to save time. The mechanics are identical after all. There’s no reason to go over them again. The old stuff will be in italics. Feel free to skip past them to read the rest of the new stuff.

Visually, 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.

twdep4pic3Conversation 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.

Exploration 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.

twdep4pic4It’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.

This was the buggiest episode yet. The visual hiccups were everywhere. The last screen shot shows you what I’m talking about. Shadows crawled over faces like they were alive, hair became a couple of pixels floating near someone’s head, and the framerate died constantly. I even had the game crash on me a couple of times. There was also a bit where pausing the game skipped the conversation along by about ten seconds, which was odd. It just doesn’t feel optimized for the Vita.

Short Attention Span Summary

diehardjack1-150x150While The Walking Dead has proven itself a series that can create interesting characters and intense situations, it’s decision to give the illusion of choice continues to hobble it. Your choices don’t matter. The story will progress in pretty much the same way no matter what. If you save someone, they’ll die later on to some random event. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about Ben from the first season, or Nick from this season. They’re all just throwaways. It might as well be a slasher flick. I pretty much have no faith for the final episode at this point.

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