Review: The Walking Dead Season Two Episode Four: Amid The Ruins (PC)

walking dead box s2The Walking Dead Season Two Episode Four: Amid The Ruins
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Genre: Adventure
Release Date: 07/22/2014

While the last episode of The Walking Dead was a tad stuck on rails in terms of the story they were telling and how they wanted to tell it, the good news is this one is far less on the rails, but a lot of what you end up doing still feels out of your hands due to things well beyond player control. The illusion of choice is definitely back, but this time around it feels like no matter what you do, you’re getting punished for just existing, and while that’s definitely the style of The Walking Dead in all the media, an episode to catch our breath might have been a wiser option that sending us running and looking for cover while continually yanking the rug out from under us and twisting that knife in while we’re still wounded. Does that mean I think this is a bad episode? No, quite the opposite actually. This episode is heart-breaking in all the right ways, and still managed to make me want that last episode to see how it all finally plays out. Let’s take a look.

2014-07-22_00055First up, if you haven’t played the other games in the season, you’re about to get spoiled. Skip ahead a few paragraphs to where I’m talking about visuals or gameplay. Now, in Episode Three, we were forced into a situation where we were being held prisoner, so I could really forgive the kind of on-rails storytelling where we didn’t have many options. It fit the episode and played out well. When the episode ended, the group had taken care of the crazy person that had carted them to the old store or warehouse and covered themselves in walker guts to move through the herd that had hit the side of the building. Gunshots were flying and the group started falling apart as they moved through the zombies, which left Clementine with a big choice as to whether or not to give one of the group a fighting chance by cutting off an arm. Having played through this episode now with both options chosen, there is something of a change here in how this episode works after the initial rush to get away from the compound, and either way you handle it, there’s a lot to work through with another member of the escaping survivors.

There are options in where you investigate first and try to figure out what to really do next, and I think this is back in line with what we’ve gotten from past releases, but a lot of the decisions in this episode still lead to the same outcome for different characters no matter what you do. While I think they’re gearing up for something with this and trying to deliver on it in the next episode with a specific story set-up, this is really disheartening and gut-wrenching, in both good and bad ways. It really does feel like that illusion of choice has been kind of stripped down this season in favor of the story that Telltale wants to tell, and there hasn’t been signs of that changing. I think this is a bit more noticeable, especially coming off the end of The Wolf Among Us, where the player ultimately decided on a number of things, even through that last episode, where it figures in very differently here.

2014-07-22_00156Story wise though, despite taking away some of that player illusion, the game is still dealing with telling the story through Clementine’s eyes well, and as the season has moved along, her role within the group has definitely grown and they’re treating her more like one of the group and someone who’s capable, rather than coddling her like the child she first appeared to be. This is still the heart heavy story-telling we got with the first season, it’s just that some of the illusion has been stripped away in favor of what is shaping up to be a more focused story. The ending to this episode, while not out of left field, will kick you while you’re down, a lot like the ending to Episode Three did. They like leaving us on these cliffhangers this season, and I hate cliffhangers. I do have to admit that they’re working, as I am every bit as anxious for the next episode as I was for this one.

Visually there isn’t much separating this from previous episodes. The comic book look is still preserved and is even more evident in one of the characters they come across wearing glasses that are most definitely of the sketchy line variety. It made me realize I hadn’t noticed it so much throughout the previous episode or this one, and I don’t know if that’s helping or hurting the season at this point. It still feels like the comics in video game form, albeit in color, but muted ones at that. You can instantly tell the difference between this and The Wolf Among Us, so I definitely think they’ve got art style separation down pat. The animations look okay. There were a few instances where they didn’t match up with movement on screen, but I only caught that on my second run through the episode. Depending on how you play this episode and what dialogue you pick, you’re going to get some differing lines and reactions from people that instantly change the tone of the scene you’re playing in, which is both good and bad. There’s one instance where Clementine completely lost it for me, and the delivery of the line just felt off from everything going on. On the other hand, there’s an instance where Clementine completely nails one of the other characters to an emotional wall, depending on how you play it, by bringing up their attitude, and if you killed Lee last season she will take that axe or pick of hers and drive it right into their emotional spine. So we’re running the spectrum from amazing to somewhat okay and needing a little work, but overall the voice actors do an incredible job with the dialogue here.

2014-07-22_00204Control and gameplay aren’t changed much at all from other entries in the series. If you’re looking for a bigger breakdown check out my review of the first episode of the season here. As for replaying the episode, you may want to just to see how they handled things differently, but still ended up at similar places. There was at least one major scene with a character from the first season that played out very differently in the end of the conversation, depending on how you ended up dealing with the conversation and what you did to end the previous episode. For my second play through I just let it generate random choices and was pleasantly surprised that the result was mostly the same as my previous playthroughs, with a few minor changes that let me play it differently just to see the responses. Ultimately though, this is up to personal preference, and I think this episode, like the last episode, is going to leave people just wanting the one playthrough just for emotional drainage. I’ll end up playing it again later on my PS3 version, but I still haven’t gotten through Season One there yet.

The gameplay elements are fairly interspersed throughout the episode with no area being insanely hard over the rest. The start is going to be far more harried for most than later as you’re escaping from a zombie horde. Gameplay time is around an hour to an hour and a half depending on how much time you spend exploring the smaller areas you’re in. My second time through was about an hour. Yes, this is a little shorter than the other episodes and it’s something that happened with The Wolf Among us in its last two episodes as well which means you’re looking at shorter than a ten hour play time when all the episodes are put together and that’s ok too. It’s still really well priced for what you get and while the story-telling method has shifted a bit the quality is still there. Telltale has excelled with telling their own stories here based off original properties. While this is definitely in the same setting as the comics and carries the same bleak tone as the tv show and comics, it is very much its own thing this season and definitely telling its own story. While we’re seeing a lot of similar themes show up from last season, it is something the regularly happens in the comics as well, but definitely being handled very differently making it feel less like a road we’ve been down before. I would like to see them shake up the episode formula a bit between each to give it a bit more variety though.

2014-07-22_00376I did end up playing this one all the way through. The story is engaging enough and I care about enough of the characters that I really want to see what ringer they’re put through next and who will make it or who I can save. The only time I had to break was in my second run through because I timed the start poorly before I had to leave for work. This one, despite its flaws, keeps things moving enough to keep interest. Telltale have done a great job with Clementine this season and they’ve kept up an engaging storyline. While I do think The Wolf Among Us has been a bit more solid than this second season of The Walking Dead, it’s still a great bang for your buck and has the benefit of being accessible to a large audience even if you’re jumping in with the first episode of the season. I don’t recommend it, but you could. There weren’t any glitches in either of my run throughs. It loaded up fine, ran great and despite me hammering my F12 key to get screenshots behaved and played wonderfully. I’ve really loved what Telltale have done with this series and I do hope they continue it for awhile yet as both this and The Wolf Among Us have been a blast to play when it seems nothing else was coming out that I was interested in. While I bemoan having to play these spaced out it’s still fun when another episode shows up and I can dive in an play in that world all over again.

Short Attention Span Summary
The Walking Dead Season 2 Episode 4 is closer to being back to a less on rails experience for the player but some of the events are set up to happen no matter what you’ve chosen to try and will slap you with them later leading the player to ask what the point of trying was in the first place. That’s not to say it’s a bad episode, just that Telltale has decided to take some of that illusion away from the players for the sake of their story. The episode is still well done, still very much the heartbreaking set-up we’ve come to expect from The Walking Dead, and it still leaves you hoping that things might get better in the next episode even though you know when that happens it’ll all just fall apart again. While they’ve changed up a part of what made the formula for the series work so well, it’s still a great title and definitely worth the sub price to play through the whole thing on PC.


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