Last time we saw Clementine and the gang, all manner of messed up things were happening. And let’s face it, that could be the description of any episode of The Walking Dead to date. What episode two was missing, though, was character, and more importantly, the ability to make the player feel any strong emotions towards the cast. Episode three fixes that with a bullet.
During the 90 minutes of In Harm’s Way, Telltale managed to get me entirely back on board with the series by doing what Season One did so spectacularly well. It made me care again.
If there was anything ambiguous about Bill Carver and his intentions, there are no questions left about him after the credits roll. In fact, I felt a murderous, brutal rage toward him that I don’t think I’ve ever felt towards a video game character before. He’s crazy, sure, but we’re talking The Walking Dead comic-book crazy – and as a fan of the books, Carver sickened even me. Michael Madsen’s performance is pitch perfect. In fact, the voice cast perform wonderfully throughout Episode Three.
Set in an enclosed area, In Harm’s Way features a horrifically oppressive atmosphere, and like the best parts of The Walking Dead, it proves yet again that human beings are far more scary than the potential walker attack that is ever-present.
But Episode Three is also about other characters, and honing in on them makes the entire thing feel more successful. Returning characters are fleshed out, of course, but for the first time in Season Two, some of the more peripheral characters – whom we previously may have even forgotten the name of – seem to have a place and purpose. New characters are introduced as well, and they seem immediately interesting and useful to the group.
Thanks to a new character, there’s even a slight bit of comic relief, and unless I am misreading things, there are even nods toward the stigma attached to mental illness, which is a new, welcome additional layer to the story that proves Telltale are always looking for new ways to engage the audience.
Interestingly, In Harm’s Way actually hosts a contained story all of its own that wraps up by the credits. As you are supposed to be reintegrating with the community that Carver lords over, there is an oncoming horde (and it’s massive) that is a secondary concern. Your gang is exhausted and circumstances mean they are basically prisoners here, and want to get out. While plotting to escape, you’re forced to do chores, and with every minute that passes, you learn more about your host.
There are some truly exceptional set pieces, and despite fears after Episode One that there would be excuses to gross us out, every time there is any violence it is in service of the plot and justified, even when it’s hard to watch.
The only real negative isn’t a new one: sometimes it can be slightly off-putting when you realise that you’re playing yourself, and not a young girl. During some of the key plot points my own instincts took over and I was playing as myself, not Clementine. That’s a disconnect I’m not sure there’s any way to solve, but it’s also the mark of a very emotional experience that drills into your primal instincts to survive.
By the end, I felt utterly drained, yet ready for more, because it’s all coming together nicely. Though you’d traditionally expect a slightly duller, more filler-padded middle episode, this is anything but. One thing to note is that the version I played was entirely bug-free, with barely any noticeable slowdown whatsoever. It could have been the press build I was playing, or it could be that Telltale have been working on their engine.
VERDICT: The Walking Dead is back on track, after a slightly dull Episode Two, this is exactly what the series needed. It will make you care again, it will make you angry and sad in equal measures, it will remind you that nobody is safe in this universe, but best of all it recaptures The Walking Dead’s brilliance. I cannot wait for the next episode.
SUPERB. This is the mark of greatness, only awarded to games that engage us from start to finish. Titles that score 9/10 will have very few problems or negative issues, and will deliver high quality and value for money across all aspects of their design.