By: Mike Chen
Please note that since each episode of The Walking Dead: Season 2 features the same graphics engine and control setup, those elements will not be repeated in our reviews for the final four episodes. To read our thoughts on that, refer to our review of All That Remains.
Episode 3: In Harm’s Way is a grim and twisted look at what people will do in order to survive. Filled with shocking and dark moments, its journey mirrors the look at the Governor/Woodbury in both the comics and the TV show as Bill Carver looks to build a community and keep it safe through an iron fist. Safety — both what it means and what it’s worth — are debated in this game and often lead to the series’ trademark no-win situations.
This provides for an engrossing, thrilling, and sometimes disturbing experience that builds up Carver as a strong antagonist, though he’s lacking much dimension except for one brief exchange where you kind of get some greater insight into what makes the man tick. Otherwise, he might as well be twirling his moustache as he barks orders at his henchmen.
As for Clementine, it’s remarkable how she has organically grown from the scared girl in the tree house to the brutal survivor and leader she is now. Telltale smartly frames this with the final choice of the episode, something that leads to two very different but necessary choices — decisions that Clementine approaches with unflinching determination.
The whole experience clocks in around two hours, and it’s a lean, mean story with little downtime and plenty of anxiety. Telltale overwhelmingly succeeds in building this tension through dialogue, character and atmosphere. However, as with recent episodes in The Wolf Among Us, In Harm’s Way feels a bit funneled. Yes, your dialogue choices matter, but they continue to push you through the story without much room to actually indulge in the standard adventure game fare of exploration and puzzle solving.
There are several sections where the game could have maintained the tension but integrated the actual gameplay aspect by forcing the player to come up with a creative solution to situations. Without delving into spoilers, there’s a brief section near the middle of the episode that involves some stealth choices, or at least they do on the surface. In reality, you’re waiting for someone to walk away before you push a button.
The inherent creativity that players rely upon for adventure game puzzles just doesn’t seem to exist in Telltale’s world now, and it’s disappointing because the genre’s best have often shown how you can weave in exploration and puzzle solving into a narrative without it feeling like an out-of-nowhere pause in the middle of the situation.
You won’t forget the experience of In Harm’s Way. The storytelling and pacing are probably the strongest this season. However, there’s a feeling that Telltale has forgotten that it’s possible to integrate strong adventure gaming into an excellent storyline and believable characters. It’d be nice if the game developers could re-discover that for the final two episodes of The Walking Dead Season 2.