Off The Rails
If the previous episode of Telltale’s second season of The Walking Dead was light on choices and interactivity, it might be because they were saving those elements for episode four. This latest chapter, Amid The Ruins turns a hard, serious corner for this season, taking what had been a story with less engagement than the first season, and ratcheting up the tension, choices and emotional exhaustion. Amid The Ruins may not necessarily elevate the entire second season, but it’s easily become an equal to the better episodes of the first.
The writers for this fourth episode have decided to take the training wheels off and push Clem down a hill littered with broken glass and land mines. The PS3 is still having just as difficult a time executing this game as it has past Telltale games, but at least the performance hits are largely confined to loading up new scenes, and it’s a minor detraction that doesn’t kill the overall experience. That’s a good thing, because Telltale has put in a lot more of everything; more choices, more action sequences, more tension, more violence, more zombies and, perhaps most necessary of all, more growth for Clem.
Without getting into spoilers, episode three ended in a cliff hanger of life and death proportions, and episode four gets right into a FUBAR, chaotic start where shocking things happen from moment one onwards. After that, the rest of the game is an emotional rollercoaster with a little bit of much needed downtime that manages to combine some important story development moments with a few choices, and then the rollercoaster takes another plunge and things get even more intense.
A couple of very interesting things are happening narratively in this next to last episode. The first, most long awaited thing is that Clem finally gets a chance to come into her own. Over the last few episodes, she’s been occasionally forced to take action to save herself, but mostly it felt like she was merely there to link up to the real drama of the adults. This episode—maybe unconvincingly to some—Clem is suddenly a very important member of the group, often being the one that takes decisive action and showing off leadership potential. This needed to happen if Telltale was going to justify Clem’s role as the main character, but some will argue this transition could have been more gradual and seeded in past episodes, rather than have the chaos of episode four’s start suddenly, conveniently make Clem a key figure.
The other more impressive (and to some more depressing) element of episode four is that Clem does some growing up. And by growing up, I don’t mean physical adolescence, so much as the stripping away of the innocence that players cherished so much about her in the first season. Where season one portrayed Clem as a reason for the others to go on, a symbol of the good things people should cherish from civilization, season two now gets underway with the business of even Clem being forced into making tough choices that will affect her survival. It will be disturbing—perhaps even infuriating—to some, but episode four constantly asks Clem’s group, and the player holding the controller, just how important ethics are when faced with survival. Is stealing always wrong, even when it means that theft will result in an innocent’s death? Should no one be left behind, EVER, even when the person is a clear liability to the rest of the group’s survival? Is it more important to be polite, or alive? Fortunately these are questions that most people in the first world will never have to seriously contemplate, but Telltale presents them to players in this episode, and it finally brings this second season to a place where it can stand tall with its first season sibling and truly belong. Amid The Ruins is an intense, almost non-stop adventure of both physical and emotional conflict, and it sets the season up for an emotionally exhausting conclusion. Purchasers of the season pass will have little to complain about for this download.