Amid the Sorrow
In the zombie apocalypse, tragic death and loss is inevitable, “Amid the Ruins”, the 4th episode in the second season of Telltale’s critically acclaimed, The Walking Dead video game series makes that incredibly clear. In this episode, we continue to follow protagonist Clementine and her group; unlike previous episodes in this season, the elements and the search to fulfill basic human needs represent the major threats and the location is the key plot device. As usual, Telltale does a fantastic job of conveying story in the video game space. On the heels of a solid cliffhanger ending, “Amid the Ruins” leaves players to pick up the pieces and deal with the ramifications of the previous episode.
Much of the conversation elements taking place in “Amid the Ruins” puts you in a place that makes it easy to forget that this is a video game. In a medium that typically features overpowered heroics and characters that are incredibly resilient to pain, everything Clementine’s group has been through demonstrates the various ways human beings react to traumatic experiences. Supporting characters have very different reactions and gamers as Clementine have to the opportunity to choose to either nurture their feelings or keep them focused on the nature of the zombie apocalypse and all that entails. The interactions with these characters stand on their own and are representative of any trauma, but amplified due to the constant threat of being overrun by the undead. Simply put, ‘Amid the Ruins’ is some of its best storytelling and character development this season.
Unfortunately, the time dedicated to character development takes away from the gameplay elements. For the second episode in a row, Telltale crosses over the fine line between conversation being the key gameplay mechanic and becoming more of a viewing experience than an interactive one. Truthfully, this has become typical with penultimate episodes in Telltale games, as much of the storytelling is used to set-up for a climactic Episode 5. However, it is disappointing that there was not more to do here. Essentially, beyond playing a part in some of the character’s development, Clementine’s contribution to the game is one moral decision. Just as in the previous episode, nothing happens TO Clementine, and she is never in any real danger. While this does not diminish the overall quality of this episode’s plot, it does diminish its overall experience as a game. Additionally, some of the supporting characters seem to exist only to die a tragic death. While you expect characters to die in this game, the problem is, this episode does not give players enough reasons to care about these characters nor does it feel like players have any effect on whether the group’s members live or die. For instance, there are some gameplay elements tied to preventing a character’s death, but the plot made it clear that said death was pending regardless of your actions.
In summary, “Amid the Ruins” continues Clementine’s adventure, and that can never be a bad thing, especially since the writing in this episode is of such a high quality. But as an “interactive drama” there is not enough interaction here. One of the plot’s strengths, making it easy to forget that this is a video game, also becomes its biggest weakness, as it is hardly a video game at all. This is a major contrast from the earlier episodes of this season and the recent finale in the developer’s “Wolf Among Us” franchise. Despite its faults, there is enough in this episode’s plot to keep gamers locked in and to set the stage for what will likely be strong Episode 5.
+ Good character development
+ Tough moral decision
– Not enough interaction with environments
– Clementine is hardly in danger
– Meaningless deaths