It was frantic.
Picking up where In Harm’s Way left off, Amid The Ruins started at a hurried pace and grabbed my attention immediately.
Once again aptly named, this episode of The Walking Dead made sure to hurriedly separate me from a majority of the group, although I had left the last episode assuming I’d be one of the few to make it out.
Something was off though. Everything seemed exactly as the last episode was, and as good as it was not to be jarred hard from my base of emotion immediately, it was decidedly not matching the theme of this season.
It looked too…normal. None of the purposeful environmental change that had become a season staple, no confinement like In Harm’s Way, no heavy color palette change like A House Divided, and no clear representation of an open and dangerous world like All That Remains.
With the exception of one small set piece, something seemed decidedly dull about the look of Amid The Ruins, not that it wasn’t clearly polished or looked good, but it was a large step back to season one – not doing anything for the advancement or change in my emotional involvement. Any apprehensiveness and insecurity was set up by the events of the previous episode, but weren’t being followed through with my surroundings.
To compound the lack of anomalous qualities in the visual surroundings, sound quality and continuity weren’t congruent with the emotional tone of the story trying to be told.
Many a time several character’s vocal tones and emotions changed largely after I made different dialogue choices, going from fraught with terror to bright and joyous, or the opposite. One conversation in particular tore me from my engagement with the game so badly I had to restart at the previous save just to re-immerse myself.
The voice-over work was patently Telltale – fantastic in its emotion and quality of delivery – but too many times it was ripped asunder by weird combinations of choices and what seemed often like a lack of solid direction with the story.
A piece of the puzzle that Telltale had seemingly fixed from season one was the somewhat broken and frustrating control scheme. Unfortunately in this episode, it seemed to work great, and was placed in most major areas with accuracy and effectiveness, but it only came every once in a while.
One of the finer lines when it comes to episodic point-and-click games like this is the control scheme, how much is too much or too little?
In episode 3 of this season, Telltale had finally nailed it. However, it regressed a great amount in this episode. For some reason the gameplay was so sporadic and non-inclusive, it felt much more like I was watching TV than playing a game.
Having a separation of player from the game in the form of a cut-scene is necessary to allow for the processing of events, progressing the story, or simply for a player to be able to catch their breath. Some of the separations in this episode were so long though, I found myself throwing my hands behind my head, kicking my legs up and relaxing for a few minutes before needing to grab my mouse and keyboard again.
One of the few bright spots in this episode was the character development. As so many times in a zombie apocalypse, tragedy strikes, and thus irrevocably changes people.
Character performance and investment was frankly the only thing keeping me motivated to pay a lot of attention to what was going on. The cast felt well put together and certainly portrayed their roles well, even while having to combat the aforementioned sound issues.
Development of Clementine seemed to stall as she attempted to change other characters, and some of her youthful naïveté was shown more than I’ve seen since she first met Lee.
It was a welcome and realistic separation from the guard Clem constantly portrays, and it was done in such a way that she never felt weak, but it showed what growing up in this world could take away in the form of simple pieces of knowledge we take for granted.
However, most disappointing was the story in this episode. Amid The Ruins often felt painfully guided and slow, leaving plenty of time for discussion between characters on the trail, and (in combination with all the other faults) managed to remove any anxiety or implied risk in some of the major fight sequences and horde encounters.
There was a distinct lack of stake for many characters, so little in fact, much of the emotional investment I’d made with so many of them via the previous episodes was washed away. It was stagnant, uninviting, and seemed to have the stereotypical lull often reserved for the middle portion of a television season, or second movie in a trilogy.
Being the fourth episode, this kind of slowed development and re-hashed trope story telling is to be expected, but until now I’d never lacked motivation to finish an episode of a Telltale story, no matter how painful the game play or broken the graphics, the story has always served as the resuscitating quality of the game.
Unfortunately, Amid The Ruins was hampered the most by its strange story progression, and if it weren’t for the very obvious, yet still heart-pounding and oh-so-typical Walking Dead cliffhanger ending, it would’ve received and even lower score than the one given.
In the end, Amid The Ruins’ biggest accomplishment was showing me that Telltale Games aren’t perfect, and The Walking Dead franchise is indeed fallible.
The bright light coming from the other end of the tunnel though is the fact that we have one more episode in this season, and despite the disappointment I suffered from this one, I still have faith in Telltale’s method and storytelling ability.
Now I just gotta hope nobody important died in that last scene.
The Walking Dead Season 2 Episode 4 – Amid The Ruins was reviewed with a copy of the game on PC, provided by Telltale Games.