With the story being such a huge focus of The Walking Dead series, every effort has been made to keep this review spoiler-free. That being said, small hints to the story are present.
As an apt foreshadowing of things to come, "In Harm's Way", the third episode of Telltale's The Walking Dead: Season Two
opens on a moth carefully disguising itself on the bark of a tree. The adaptation to blend into one's surroundings has allowed various species of flying insect to survive while those without the particular adaptation get picked off by predators. Such adaptations are at the heart of natural selection and have allowed species like the peppered moth
to evolve and survive as their environments slowly change.
In many ways, the story of The Walking Dead
is about natural selection. Those who are equipped with the skills to survive in this new world carry on and those who do not have those skills gradually, and often times horrifically, die off. As we sink deeper into Season Two, this heightened form of natural selection continues and gamers are left to determine whether or not Clementine has the skills to adapt and carry on.
When gamers last left Clementine and her companions, they were being taken back to Carver's compound to meet an unknown fate at the hands of a new madman. Picking up almost immediately where "Episode 2" left off, the choices that have made the series notable are once again thrust to the forefront; who do you trust and with whom do you side? While the first two episodes of the season introduced a new cast of characters, little reason was given to actually care for them. This made the task of making "hard decisions" somewhat easy, as the emotional stakes invested in these new characters was low to non-existent. This problem is quickly remedied with "Episode 3". While there are still some unlikeable characters that are easy to brush off, the decisions that Clementine is forced to make are much tougher in this episode and the hairs are harder to split. Furthermore, and as a surprise that was equally pleasant and unnerving, this was one of the first episodes where the option to stay silent felt like an incredibly valid choice.
The ongoing theme of questions surrounding Clementine's skill level continues to be a narrative thorn in the side with "Episode 3", however. While this narrative dissonance isn't as egregious as it was in "Episode 2", there still seem to be wild swings in what the group thinks Clementine is and is not capable of. The saddest part of this continued dissonance is that the villain of this episode is the only one who truly seems to understand who Clementine is and what this world has forced her to become in order to survive.
Fortunately, these issues of trust and competence cannot hold back the excellence of the interactive storytelling in "Episode 3". This is by far the most excellent episode of the season to date. Throwing Clementine's group of survivors into what amounts to a prison camp raises the stakes and focuses the (previously meandering) action to a point like a whetstone to a knife. The setting up of definite terms of good and bad/captives and captors allows the minutiae of decisions amongst friends to shine. Each decision and conversation choice feels vital and important and the few action sequences are equitably tense (and fortunately free of hassle). As an added bonus, "Episode 3" introduces a few new characters that quickly ingratiate themselves by showing aptitude and skill... something that was sorely lacking with the new cast.
In further good news, "Episode 3" seemed to be void of the small technical bugs that have occurred with this season's previous episodes. Unfortunately, while the old bugs have been squashed, a nasty new one has arisen. The episode seemed to be plagued with audio sync issues where the voice acting never quite matched up with the characters' mouths. When a game relies so heavily on story and presentation, such bugs can seriously harm a narrative experience.
On the achievement front, like all previous episodes, all of the achievements are progression based and unmissable. Furthermore the episode took just under two hours to complete, making it a quick, 100G score boost for those who are still in competitions.
While the first two episodes did just enough to stay interesting, "Episode 3" takes the entire season up a notch, making it feel vital and necessary. While "Episode 1"
felt novel in giving gamers the chance to control Clementine for the first time, and "Episode 2"
felt more like a set up for things to come, "Episode 3" cuts the pretenses and gets straight to the stuff that made The Walking Dead
so good: providing tense situations, vital decisions, and (at times) shocking consequences. If you were one of the gamers who felt that Season Two was beginning to lose its way, this episode shatters those concerns and sinks the hooks back in, possibly deeper than before.
Much like the moth at the beginning of the episode, Season Two is challenging Clementine to adapt and grow as she moves forward and survives. Now that gamers have passed the midway point for the season, we're getting some sense as to what she might become as she goes through her season-long metamorphosis. The question the final two episodes will have to ask (and answer) though is, at the end of this journey, just what kind of moth will she be?The reviewer spent approximately two hours adapting and sneaking through the episode, popping all of the achievements along the way. The copy of this game was provided by Telltale Games for the purpose of the review.