Warning: there are unmarked spoilers for all of Season 2 of The Walking Dead below. Going forward, PC Gamer will review episodic games like TV episodes: critiquing and discussing the story of each episode as the season progresses, before assigning a score at the end of the season. Read more about how we review games in the
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"I've seen you take care of yourself more than any three adults put together," a bitter Kenny says to Clementine in The Walking Dead Season 2's fourth episode Amid the Ruins. I've tried to convince Kenny that I need him--that the group needs him to survive after escaping, battered and exhausted, from Carver's compound. He's not buying it. And he shouldn't.
In my review of The Walking Dead's last episode
, I wrote that Clementine seems more capable than most of the adults she travels with, far more capable than an 11-year-old should be. Episode three delivered some of the series' most dramatic moments by sacrificing some of Clementine's believability and what little freedom of exploration The Walking Dead has had. Episode four continues down that path, charting a straight course toward the end of the season by minimizing player control even further. Telltale clearly has a specific story to tell, and episode four tells it well—it's just not very interesting to play.
Episode four of The Walking Dead finds Clementine's group scattered and barely surviving after the attack on Carver's hardware store. Most of the characters introduced in episodes one and two are dead, and the survivors soon have a new crisis to deal with: Rebecca's impending childbirth. Most of the episode revolves around pulling the group back together and finding supplies to help Rebecca give birth. Even moreso than in episode three, it's up to Clementine to do most of the work.
Episode four drops any pretense of having Clementine act coy or slyly maneuver her way through adult conversations. She's the driving force of the episode, heavily influencing decisions and physically saving other survivors when they're in trouble. In one of the episode's only scenes that lets you walk around and explore, she has to find supplies in an area that other survivors have already been searching for at least an hour. They're apparently very bad at scavenging.
Other than about five minutes of walking around and exploring, episode four is all dialogue and cutscenes and QTEs. While playing the previous episode, I was sometimes frustrated that Clementine seemed so capable while Telltale gave me so little control as a player. The episode made up for that with dramatic, unexpected story moments. Episode four, by contrast, mostly seems like it's on autopilot. Other than the brutality of its opening scene, none of the story beats are surprising or lead to particularly difficult decisions.
The most interesting dynamic of Amid the Ruins is the relationship between Clementine and Jane, a tough lone wolf who recognizes Clementine's own survival skills. I was hoping that the game would give Clementine the option to abandon the rest of her group and strike out with Jane. Unfortunately, after a few exchanges of dialogue—and Jane teaching Clementine a few tricks to survive on her own--Jane starts spilling her backstory, which turns out to overtly parallel the events that take place in Amid the Ruins. It's a technique that gives weight to some of her actions throughout the episode, but you can also see it coming from a mile away. It's too convenient to be particularly effective.
I found it hard to be too invested in Amid the Ruins when its most dramatic moral choices centered around Sarah, who's been nothing but dead weight—both as a character, and to the group—the whole season. Telltale delivered two exhaustingly intense episodes in a row, and episode four seemed more like filler, moving the plot forward into what will be a bloody, painful finale.
Despite few opportunities to shape Clementine's character in episode four, I think this season of The Walking Dead will end strong. I may not find Clem's survival skills believable, but I still care about her and want to see where her story goes. I have a feeling that if she lives to see a season three, she'll be the Mad Max of the Walking Dead universe, more road-weary and scrappy than Lee ever was.
: A weaker episode than the two preceding it that fails to offer interesting character exploration or heartwrenching decisions.