Season Two of The Walking Dead hasn’t been quite the runaway success that the first season was. It has come under some criticism for not deviating enough from the pattern laid down in the first series, for suffering from uneven pacing, and not delivering the same sort of really gut-wrenching decisions that really set the game apart for other titles. Amid the Ruins attempts to address as many of these issues as possible, but it doesn’t convincingly deliver in every way.
The following review assumes you have played the previous episodes, though spoilers are (as always) kept to a minimum.
Being the penultimate episode in the season, you’d expect that the seeds sewn in early episodes would be showing by now. And to some extent that is true, but the main issue that episode four seems to suffer from is the feeling that your decisions don’t seem to make much of a difference in where the story is going. Most of the decisions in this episode are skin-deep, and often proven to be only superficial within minutes of making your choice.
Amid the Ruins follows directly from where we left Clementine, when we were faced with a terrible decision to make regarding a bite. The consequences of that decision bear fruit immediately, which is pleasing to see, but it also seems to negate your decision-making somewhat, and feels as though whatever you chose doesn’t really matter. Whilst it does successfully show how Clementine has developed as a survivor, perhaps something slightly more unique would have been a more interesting development.
Throughout the episode, the pregnancy of Rebecca is at the forefront, and the group have to try and pull together to help bring a small ray of light into their very bleak world. As such, you might expect the pace of the episode to suffer, and this to become a more conversational episode. Episode four does manage to fit in some much-needed character development for some of the newer members of the survivors, but it also ticks along at a pretty good pace. In fact, I felt that a little too much happens in this episode.
There are a lot of difficult moments packed into this instalment (be prepared for a lot of grisly moments) but you might also need to be ready for the fact that you might not care all that much. You quickly realise that if a character seems useless and like dead weight, that will probably be the case, thus you might have written them off in your head to some extent. So if anything happens to them, its a minor development as you were already prepared for it.
Also, with such a large group of survivors there are inevitably some who you become more attached to, and others who you don’t. Deaths are always a big thing, but if it is an under-developed character, it comes as no real surprise and seems like an easy option. It is the surprise tragedies that hit home and carry the real weight. The Walking Dead season one was very difficult to predict and Telltale proved that they weren’t scared to take a risk – but season two feels far closer to a traditional Zombie story where the obvious expendable characters tend to bite the bullet, and some of the emotional impact is lost.
That isn’t to say that Amid the Ruins is bad, it’s just that Telltale have simply set high standards for themselves, narratively. The fact they flesh out the new character’s personalities more will allow for a stronger finish to the series, and perhaps the aim of episode four was to set up the grand finale, rather than be a strong entry in its own right. It should also be said that the game has never performed better, with the slow-down and stuttering problems that have plagued them for years seemingly a thing of the past.
One major issue, however, is the way in which Clementine is treated by the other characters. Of course she will be the focal point for the series as players have developed such a strong bond with her, but it begins to put a strain on believability when in every little decision, and every difficult situation, all of the adults turn to Clem for guidance. Yes, we know that she is stronger and more competent than the majority or adults in the series, but it becomes a little silly when each time a hard choice has to be made, Clem seems to be responsible.
VERDICT: Amid the Ruins has its fair share of shortcomings, but it also ticks most of the boxes of what we have been asking for in the past. It maintains a good pace throughout, and avoids getting bogged down with trivialities. It also manages to provide a mix of action sections, emotional scenes, and conversational passages – yet we also get some much-appreciated character development.
In the first season of The Walking Dead, you really had to worry about each and every choice, whereas here there seems to be a tragic inevitability about everything. It’s hard to say whether that is actually an issue, or a reflection of the harsh world Clementine finds herself in. Maybe by making it seem like everything will go wrong, despite your best efforts, Telltale are trying to show just how hopeless the situation has become. This might be a stretch of the imagination, but if it is intended to make us feel numb to the horrors of the world, then they have played a master stroke. Time will tell on that front.
GOOD. A game that scores 7/10 is worthy of note, but unworthy of fanfare. It does many things well, but only a few of them incredibly well and, despite a handful of good qualities, fresh ideas and solid mechanics, it fails to overwhelm.
Review code provided by publisher.