Telltale Doesn’t Play It Safe
by Kimberley Wallace on May 13, 2014 at 07:36 AM

Clementine hasn’t had a moment to catch her breath since she left Lee’s side. Season Two has her coming of age in the middle of the turmoil, and her journey is jam-packed with bombshells. Whether you’re watching an ally perish or choosing between force and rational discourse, this season has stayed true to the gruesomeness of The Walking Dead. The story is bleak, jarring, violent, and it’s all on Clementine’s shoulders. Episode 3 takes on an even more somber tone than previous episodes, and some of the situations are downright twisted.

As the story continues, Clementine is forced into a prison headed up by a cretin named Carver. This dictator has a survival of the fittest mentality; if he sees you as weak, you’re better off dead. He’s equally scary because he’s brainwashed inhabitants to believe in his vision for the new world, so seeing Clementine in this situation is instantly frightening. Does she have what it takes to survive? What will she have to sacrifice in the name of survival? Tackling these questions and watching Carver increase the stakes is what keeps this episode interesting. 

The hate-worthy villain isn’t the only character who makes a mark in this episode. Familiar characters (expect some 400 Days cameos) and new ones all react differently to being imprisoned. Some are rash, looking for the fastest way out. Others are just desperate to survive, obeying Carver’s tortuous requests. A few characters are just flat-out losing their minds. I won’t spoil anything, but this episode does a great job of exploring the sheltered child Sarah and the implications of not growing up fast enough in the zombie-infested world. 

We see how being held captive affects the people around Clementine, but the effect on her is harder to see. Some extremely wicked events occur, and Clementine remains too calm and rational. She’s still young; a breakdown or even just giving her a good cry every now then would not only feel realistic, but help cement the difficulties surrounding her situation. She’s supposed to be coming-of-age in this ugly world, but we don’t see it much in this episode.

Gameplay remains centered on your choices and the relationships you want to strengthen. A lot is happening in the plot, but you’re not doing much more than making choices. That said, the dilemmas are some of the better ones Telltale has created. Episode 3 continues the trend of frenzied, heat-of-the-moment decisions. These instinctual choices – like finding the right words to say to someone in the middle of chaos – made me feel like my wits for survival were being tested.

For those who like more calculated choices, plenty of those are available as well, providing a good balance. These decisions are especially interesting – do you want to watch something bad potentially happen to Clementine, or watch another character get harmed because you just stood by and let it happen?  Telltale masterfully continues making you choose between two undesirable outcomes, always leaving you with some regret and guilt no matter what you pick.

While Telltale is handling choices and relationship-building wonderfully, it is struggling with action sequences involving Clementine. She’s not Lee. She can’t just use brawn against enemies, which makes it hard to give her a place in the action. Some of the attempts work well, but her small stature becomes the go-to reason for why she’s the one to complete a task. It starts to feel repetitive and uncreative. In fact, at one point you do have the option to say, “Why is it always me?” Obviously, Telltale is aware that it’s placing a lot on her. However, I found the constant “Clementine must do this” fixation frustrating when the other survivors could also help and have a greater role in her victories.

As the title “In Harm’s Way” suggests, Clementine is always in danger, but I wasn’t expecting things to get so grisly. I felt emotionally drained and dejected after finishing this episode – but what’s so fascinating is never once did I want to stop playing. I want to see Clementine win. This connection and hope is something that Telltale has excellently crafted, and it speaks volumes about why the increasingly disturbing subject matter hasn’t been alienating. I’ve come to expect violent deaths and deranged scenarios, but even so, Episode 3 left me aghast. However, I’m still hopeful for Clementine’s future, and that says something. 

Note: This review is based on the PC version. The Walking Dead is also available on PS3, Xbox 360, and iOS. 

Clementine learns the ropes at a tormented camp with both familiar and fresh faces
Not much has changed, but the visuals look sharper compared to earlier episodes
New and old voices still are a natural fit. When music and sound effects are used, they bolster the tone
The controls are minimal and forgiving, providing a smooth experience
Season Two continues to engage, surprise, and build on the already fast-paced momentum