Survivors hiding from zombies in a mall? What madness is this?
And so we hit the mid-point. As a long-term fan of Telltale (I bought Bone: Out From Boneville when it originally released, and my first professionally written review was of the second episode of Sam & Max: Season One) historically I know that in a five-episode season of theirs, the first episode will be very good, the second episode will be a little disappointing, the third and fourth episodes will be amazing, and the fifth will be a cool finale but light on gameplay. Pretty much all their seasons up to and including Walking Dead Season 1 and even The Wolf Among Us so far have followed this pattern, but Walking Dead Season 2 seems to be different. The first episode was a little disappointing, the second episode was amazing, and the third episode? Well, read on.
No spoilers for this episode but light spoilers for the previous episodes follow. In the last episode Clementine's new group met a few other survivors that included bearded grump Kenny, believed dead at the end of the first season but apparently still alive. Unfortunately before they could celebrate a man named Carver (played by Michael Madsen) arrived on the scene, as apparently the people Clem was hanging with were fleeing from him. After a death or two Carver takes them all back to his base - a shopping centre - and confines them to a fenced-off area. Episode 3 is, for all intents and purposes, a prison break story. With zombies.
Carver. Not a nice man
Looming over the entire story and dominating the proceedings is Bill Carver, played beautifully with matter-of-fact sadism by Hollywood's own Michael Madsen (the highest profile actor to appear in a Telltale game so far I believe, apart from Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in Back To The Future). He kills, he beats, he barks orders, and he even slaps Clementine hard (the bastard!). Despite pretty much everyone in the base knowing that he's getting crazier and wanting out they're all so afraid of him that no one challenges him. The perfect dictator. Yes, he's clearly meant to be Telltale's version of The Governor (as played wonderfully by David Morrissey on the TV series), but that's fine by me.
The rest of the characters are good too, with the story bringing in several familiar faces from 400 Days (if you were sensible enough to have picked that excellent DLC up). Some new folks too, and one of the cool points about In Harm's Way is that you really have no idea who you can trust. Clementine often seems to be the only sensible one, and it's really fun to see this little girl seemingly take charge of every situation - well, if you want her to of course. I personally loved the little moments where you could side with Carver, saying things along the lines of "actually, killing everyone who looks at me funny does make sense!". I'm paraphrasing of course.
The story itself is pretty good if a bit simple, and as mentioned revolves around your escape attempts from the mall-stroke-prison. There are several small twists, but overall it's young girl Sarah that causes the most problems. Older than Clementine but far more innocent to the point of living in a land of fantasy. She is absolutely incapable of common sense or seeing reality so that whenever something bad happens she either makes it worse or becomes a full-on liability, and I don't think that'll change. It's of course the way you deal with Sarah and the other characters and situations that makes Telltale's The Walking Dead so great, but in Episode 3 it's almost all dialogue-based. It's what you say to people that'll matter this time around, as the events seem to be mostly set in stone (with one big exception). I loved the story of Episode 3 overall even if it wasn't quite as incredible as Episode 2, but my one big concern moving forward is that there doesn't seem to be any more story left to tell with Episode 4 and 5. I'm sure there will be, but in the previous season at this point (and currently with Episode 3 of The Wolf Among Us) I couldn't wait for the fourth episode because I was so excited to see what was going to happen next - now I don't feel any excitement at all, and the "next time on" teaser didn't have anything of interest to say. Oh well, that's a problem for the next review.
If you press that key fast enough, Q from Star Trek turns up and magics the zombies away. I think
My big problem with In Harm's Way then is that apart from a few dialogue choices there doesn't seem to be much to do gameplay-wise. QTE-moments are kept to a minimum, there's only two zombie encounters in the entire episode, and one of those is utter garbage. Ignoring how it seemed thrown in there to remind the player that Walkers still exist, at one point you're told to "press and hold left" ('A' on a PC keyboard)... which I did, and nothing happened. Five times I replayed that scene, and each time Clementine didn't move and got eaten by a zombie. The sixth time I worked out that you're not supposed to press left when the game tells you to, you have to wait a few seconds first for the camera to change angles. Sigh. Apart from that though there's not much to do in any location apart from completing your objective and talking. At one point I thought there was going to be a stealth section, but you can run about all over the place and the sentry will never look in your direction.
THE WALKING DEAD SEASON 2: EPISODE 3 - IN HARM'S WAY VERDICT
Despite being slightly predictable in places I really enjoyed the story of In Harm’s Way and Clementine’s key role in it, but it’s a bit light on things to actually do. I don’t expect huge adventure game sections anymore but I do want to feel like I’m experiencing an interactive story rather than just an episode of the TV show. The dialogue options and the wildly different ways you can interact with the cast of characters make up a lot for this, and I felt like I was influencing how people saw me and shaping Clementine’s own character in interesting ways. However that was literally it, and otherwise I never felt I was in command of the story - which is a pretty big problem since that is crucial to what people like about The Walking Dead, and this was the first time I felt that the illusion of story-control was shattered. So to sum up: entertaining story, great characters, nice character-shaping dialogue options, better than Season 2 Episode 1 overall but probably the worst Walking Dead episode yet in terms of actually giving the player something to do. I’m still enjoying the series but Telltale have to pull out some major stops with the last two episodes to reach the same high quality as the first season - and based on the end of Episode 3 I’ve no idea where the story will go next, and I don’t mean that in a good way. I have faith in Telltale, but they’ve got a tough hole to claw themselves out of. So a little disappointing then. Eek.
TOP GAME MOMENT
“I’m not going anywhere.” Well, that was my decision anyway. No spoilers.