The Walking Dead: Season Two Episode 4 - Amid the Ruins - Xbox 360 Review

Oh Telltale Games, you masters of the cliffhanger.  You got me again.  When is episode 5 coming out?  Not soon enough. 

After playing ten episodes of The Walking Dead games (five from season 1, 400 Days, and now four episodes of season 2), it is clear that Telltale Games really knows how to work episodic content.  Each episode so far has had its own little arc, while tying neatly to the overall story.  They each leave you wanting more, but also feeling satisfied.  I feel that they really have the game length about right.  I was able to plow through episode 4 in a single night and yet, I don’t feel like it was too short.  In fact, towards the end, I could feel the ending coming and was already starting to think of the long wait to see how this season finishes up.

By now, anyone who has gotten this far knows the score.  The gameplay hasn’t really changed.  It is still about decision-making during conversations with a few quick time events and basic point-and-click, hunt-and-peck adventure moments.  The graphics are still the same old cel-shaded wonders we’ve seen all along (which is a good thing).  The voice acting is still best-in-class and the music is still appropriately moody. 

At this point, we’ve reached the penultimate episode in this season.  How does this episode stack up against the previous three?

When I first finished the episode, I sat back and thought to myself “man, that was good”.  As good as episode 2 (my favorite of the season)? definitely gave #2 a run for the money.  And to me at least, it was better than episodes 1 and 3 for sure. 

Interestingly, it felt like there were a lot fewer QTEs in this episode.  The game really started off with a bang, as the group is trying to escape the herd, but they really died off after that.  Well, maybe there weren’t necessarily fewer, the flavor was just skewed.  Previous episodes used the directional dodging/weaving mechanic a lot more.  This one seemed to be in love with the “tap A repeatedly to lift/move/push/struggle” and the “aim at the head/knee/arm and hit RT” mechanics.  So far, this season, I’ve died most when trying to do the directional dodges, so I wasn’t sorry to see fewer of those.

Ditto for some of the simple hunt-and-peck exercises that were really a problem in the first episode.  There weren’t really any tedious “find a lighter, go to the campfire, light the fire”-type exercises.  My feeling with those in the first episode was that they were really just filler that was trying to keep you doing something other than talking all the time.  Maybe by now, they realized that the talking is the best part and anything taking you from it isn’t necessarily good.

The story felt much tighter this time around, although it really is just the aftermath of the escape attempt from that last episode.  Our dwindling cast of characters is just trying to figure out what to do and where to go next.  There doesn’t really seem to be an end goal in mind (I’ll get to that in a minute).  Instead, we get some of the best character moments this season. 

Oh, Kenny.  I feel for you man.  I don’t know how you keep going.  I know that what you are feeling this episode could largely be seen as my fault, or just chalked up as just another way that the world they live in is bleak and unforgiving.  I really felt that my decisions caused him a lot of pain, but at the same time, I feel totally justified with the ones I made. 

But Kenny’s been there before right?  I mean, that is getting to be his thing.  Life gives him lemons.  And then it kills them in front of him in horrible ways.  And then taunts him by giving him more lemons. 

The ones that really impressed me this episode, though, were Jane and Sarah.

Jane.  Where the heck did you come from?  You were barely a character in episode 3 and suddenly, I want to do everything I can to keep you around.  You may act tough, but I know how much you really miss your sister.  By the time I was halfway through the episode, I was really thinking to myself “She is totally going to leave this group. it wrong that I think it would be better to go with her than stick with the rest of these guys?  Even the ones that I really liked a lot two episodes ago?”

And Sarah.  I want to help you; I really do.  But I can’t do all the work.  You have to learn to help yourself.  And that is why I really like what Telltale has done with her.  I have absolutely no problem believing in her character.  She’s clearly been sheltered by the group and just doesn’t have the mental toughness to really make it on her own.  How many people have you met, that you care about, and just wish they would get their act together?  And how often does it feel like you just can’t do enough, but you want to keep trying anyway? And it feels hopeless, but you don’t want to just walk away….

Is she annoying?  Heck yeah.  Do you want to slap her?  Oh yeah. Is she realistic?  More so than most other characters in video games.

That right there is why I think Telltale’s writers are some of the best in the business.  They give Bioware a run for their money when it comes to creating compelling characters that you really get into.

Of course, they also give George R.R. Martin a run for his money by then killing off all those compelling characters.  This episode is no different.  The group continues to grow and shrink and shrink some more.  It is getting to the point, where you start to worry about getting too close to someone since you know they are probably toast soon.

“XXXXXXXX will remember that.”  Yeah, maybe if they make it to the next episode!  I remember when that little text at the top of the screen worried me.  Oh geez, did I make the wrong decision??  Nowadays...enh...they’ll probably be dead before I really have to worry about it. 

I mentioned earlier that there doesn’t seem to be any overriding end goal.  Season 1 was all about getting Clementine to Atlanta to re-unite her with her parents.  Each episode brought us closer and closer to it and it felt like you were really making progress.

This season isn’t like that at all.  It started out with Clementine just trying to figure out how to survive on her own and then get in with a new group.  The business with Carver seemed to be what the season was leading up to, but that really peaked last episode.  I honestly have no idea where they are going to go for the final episode of the season (although this episode’s cliffhanger really sets up for an interesting opening act next time). 

Right now, I don’t feel like it is a problem.  So far this season, it has been more good than bad, so I’m willing to give them the benefit of doubt.  I just have this nagging suspicion that at the end of episode 3, I’m going to look back and say “well, that season was really great and all, but what was it about?”  It has had great characters, great relationships, and some interesting set pieces, but no overall theme other than Clementine’s change from being a liability to somehow being the only level-headed, reasonably competent person in the apocalypse.  Seriously, I’m surprised how much the adults have come to rely on her. 

In any case, I can’t wait to see how it wraps up.  I’ll keep my expectations down a bit.  They can’t all be as good as the even-numbered episodes (what is this, Star Trek?).

Review by Jeff

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