The Walking Dead: Season Two – Episode Three (Spoiler-Free) Review: Survival, From a Certain Point of View

the-walking-dead-season-two-episode-three-headerFor some reason, my views of this season of Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead skews opposite of that of most reviewers. While I absolutely loved Episode Two, many were lukewarm relative to me. Then I look at Episode One and most critics liked it more than I did.

Episode Two introduced William Carver, the antagonist for this season of the game, and the story made a turn for the darker which is something that strikes a chord with me. The majority of critics called it the best episode of TWD Season Two when it came out. I won’t go that far but that doesn’t mean this isn’t a good episode of the game.

Spoiler Alert: “Spoiler-Free” refers to the episode being reviewed. I’m assuming that you’ve played the preceding Telltale TWD games when writing this review. If you haven’t played through the previous episodes, you may want to stop reading now.

In the last The Walking Dead: Season Two review that I did (far too long ago), I picked out a central theme of the episode. Episode Two was about trust, both who you can trust and who you should trust. The TV show tends to be themed around survival. This episode was all about perspective.

One thing that makes TWD so fantastic is the characters. They all seem fairly realistic as far as survivors of the zombie apocalypse go. Sure, they might come off a little one note or clichéd at times but the characters, on the whole, act like normal people would in the situation. The exception to that rule is Clementine who is basically a ten-year-old superhero but I’ll get to that momentarily.

Everyone sees the group’s situation and the whole downfall of society from a different perspective. For example, while Luke may have disappeared at the end of the last episode, those who know him best or are closest to him believe that he hasn’t abandoned him but is biding his time. Those who don’t know him assume that he’s run off to save himself at everyone else’s expense.

the-walking-dead-season-two-episode-three-screenshot-02This perspective is what makes Carver such a fantastic villain. To our heroes, he’s a violent mad man who runs his survivor commune under his oppressive dictatorship. From his perspective, it’s all about survival. He’s doing what needs to be done to ensure that his group of survivors can carry on surviving and thriving in a world that’s gone to hell. More importantly, he’s interested in keeping Rebecca’s child safe which from his perspective is his child.

The best villains are always the ones that are justified in what they do, at least from their perspective. From any objective point of view, Carver is a vile piece of filth that represents just about the worst of humanity when faced with adversity. From his own perspective, there is no action too extreme to ensure the safety and survival of those at his camp. Carver is very much an “ends justify the means” type of person. In this episode, there are moments where you have to justify to yourself if the ends justify the means and the results can be troubling to you and those around you.

One interesting thing about this episode is that this is the closest that The Walking Dead has come to a bottle episode. We’re used to Clem’s group of survivor’s going from place to place looking for food, shelter and other survivors. In this episode, Clem and company are imprisoned in Carver’s settlement in a hardware store and expanding to other parts of the big box store complex they’re located in.

the-walking-dead-season-two-episode-three-screenshot-01Without the travelling and dangers posed by that, In Harm’s Way greatly benefits from having the additional time at its disposal to focus on the characters. With the story not advancing beyond the confines of Carver’s camp, the characters were all given time to breathe. New characters were all given time to have motivations and personalities which is something that was sorely lacking from new characters in the previous two episodes. With Luke removed from the rotation, focus can go to the other characters of the group which will only serve to make you care about them more and add weight to your decisions as they come down the line.

And, as usual, Clementine was the star of the show for our heroes. With Carver’s help, it seems as though Clementine’s character arc is about to kick into high gear. Carver quite correctly picks out Clem as the strong one from her group. While many others don’t see it, she’s the leader, thinker and doer for her group and Carver realizes that they’re both leadership material. The way they approach decisions and what they do with leadership makes them different but what if the horror of the zombie apocalypse wear Clementine down? What if she begins to do whatever it takes for her group? Could the strain of leadership make her (and you) that much different from Carver? Call me morbid but I like the dark place that this could go.

If there was one issue that I would have with this episode of The Walking Dead, it’s that this one didn’t have a lot for you to actually do. This felt like the least interactive chapter of the story that Telltale has put together. While I can appreciate that plot and story are the real strength’s of Telltale’s TWD games, it would be nice if I felt like I was a part of the story rather than it happening all around me. Maybe that comes back to the mentioning about Clementine being a child superhero in this game.

the-walking-dead-season-two-episode-three-screenshot-03Perhaps worse than that, it felt like nothing was really going to change regardless of the decisions I made. Granted, if you do enough digging through the internet (and I do ahead of reviews because I don’t want to go in completely blind), you’ll find out that The Walking Dead games specialize not in choice but the illusion of choice. There really was no illusion in this episode. The decisions within this episode didn’t seem to matter as far as this episode mattered. A few things change based on preceding episodes, though, so In Harm’s Way has that going for it.

Speaking of previous episodes, as you likely guessed from Bonnie’ allegiance in Episode Two, the survivors from the Season One 400 Days DLC have joined up with Carver. Unfortunately, in keeping with the illusion of choice theme of this episode, these appearances are really only cameo appearances. They make an appearance and get a throwaway line but that’s the extent of it. I suppose it would be hard to have all those characters matter when there are so many permutations coming out of 400 Days.

Conclusion

the-walking-dead-season-two-episode-three-screenshot-04Despite my complaints about how this episode of The Walking Dead plays, that doesn’t diminish the fact that this is a beautifully written and acted episode of TWD. While I’m sure many people play games looking for games, that’s not what every game is going to specialize in. Telltale does point and click adventures so this isn’t going to be The Last of Us. The gameplay facilitates telling a story. While I’d like gameplay to complement the story a bit more, it just doesn’t happen in this episode.

And though I liked the story of In Harm’s Way, it just wasn’t as special as A House Divided. The character work was certainly better in this installment but it didn’t have the same emotional impact that Episode Two had. TWD can certainly have an emotional impact when it’s at its best. This, however, was not The Walking Dead at its best. This episode is very good but it doesn’t reach the levels that won Season One some GOTY awards. Mind you, I could have been spoiled by some of the amazing older episodes.

Rating: 8.0/10

The Walking Dead: Season Two – Episode Three: In Harm’s Way was played on Windows PC but is also available for OS X, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PlayStation Vita and iOS. The review code for this game was provided by Telltale Games. Your impressions of the game may change depending on platform played on, PC specs and a certain point of view.

Cross-posted from et geekera. For more from et geekera, follow on FacebookTwitterGoogle+Tumblr and RSS.

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