With a season and a half in the bag, it feels like now’s the time one would expect Telltale‘s take on The Walking Dead to slip and falter and begin its gradual downfall from the pedestal it’s been standing proudly on since the first episode debuted over two years ago now. Thankfully, that seems to be as far from truth as one can get.
Many reviews heralded the previous episode, A House Divided, as being the best Telltale has yet given us. I agree that it was a solid entry, but didn’t quite get that “best of the best” feeling until the latest installment, In Harm’s Way.
You should know before reading further that spoilers are to come in the following paragraphs. You have been warned.
After being captured by Carver and his lackeys (including 400 Days veteran Bonnie), Clementine and company are left to deal with being prisoners in his town in an effort to “gain his trust” through manual labor and working for scraps. You might imagine what kind of taste this leaves in everyone’s mouths; those returning are not too keen on rejoining Carver’s way of life, and newcomers to the scene definitely want no part of it. Thus the cunning use of Clementine as a small, stealthy, battle-hardened infiltrator begins.
Unlike episode 1, All That Remains, which was full of exploration and moving around and talking to people, this episode as a whole plays out much more like an interactive movie, littered with cutscenes and exposition and one-on-one time with a variety of people. There are very few instances where you find yourself roaming and solving puzzles. This proves surprisingly effective, as it allows you to pay closer attention to what’s happening without worrying about walking around and talking to everyone around to see who’s going to progress the story.
Carver himself does a good enough job at moving most scenes forward. Now, can I just take a moment to gush about how much I have enjoyed Carver as a character? He’s been pretty great. They allude to his menacing presence in All That Remains, then little Clementine has a face-to-face stare-down with him in A House Divided while everyone else is away. Now his antagonism comes to a head in In Harm’s Way. The group experiences firsthand just how cruel and deadly he can be, all the while getting justification for it by basically saying it’s for the greater good. Kill one to save many.
That said, possibly the best part about this guy is that, unlike the television show’s Governor, who is in a similar position, Carver does not overstay his welcome in the game. He gets his time to shine and murder innocents and impart some wisdom on our Clem, then most definitely gets taken care of. Now I’m sure that’s spoiler enough for some, so I’ll leave HOW it happens a mystery. We’ll just say that his death is extremely effective in setting the tone moving forward.
Speaking of moving forward, Carver isn’t the only threat featured here. Let’s not forget about the nearby herd of walkers, closing in on the encampment. They don’t have more than a single passing scene before the episode’s climax, but boy, oh boy, what a climax.
It seems every decision made leading up to that closing scene is more important and weighty than ever, too. What In Harm’s Way lacks in exploration, it more than makes up for in hair-trigger choices. So many lives hang in your balance, and you really feel responsible when someone else dies. And I’m not talking about those times where you HAVE to choose to let one person die in order to save another – it’s all much deeper and more involved now. You may not know that you’ve just sentenced someone to death until two or three scenes later. It’s all very impacting and meaningful.
Contrarily, there was one piece of the otherwise delicious pie that wasn’t so tasty or meaningful. Leading up to the release of episode 3, Telltale teased on all their social media outlets and press releases that your 400 Days playthrough would really begin making a difference from here. Now I don’t want to be a stick in the mud, but so far there has been barely any reason to play 400 Days if you’re looking for differences in story and how events unfold.
Aside from Bonnie, who has obviously been given a larger role, each of the other 4 playable characters from 400 Days (Vince, Russell, Wyatt and Shel) gets a single, obligatory “Sup, I’m here” scene with Clementine, provided they joined Tavia (who also features fairly prominently herein) at the end of Days. They literally had zero impact on anything, and could easily have been cut. I only hope they continue to be relevant and appear in further episodes. We’ll just have to wait and find out when episode 4, Amid the Ruins, releases in a couple months.
Oh, one more gripe. Telltale, I love you. Always have, very likely always will. But come on. Can we please, PLEASE work out the glitchiness and framerate failure when new scenes load in your games? The Walking Dead plays out slightly better than The Wolf Among Us in this regard, and from what I understand the problem is primarily only a problem on the 360 version, but since that’s what I play on, I can’t let it go unsaid.
At the end of the day, Telltale’s The Walking Dead is not unlike a puppy. You might get frustrated with it when it tips over the rubbish bin and starts rolling around in it, but you can’t help loving it anyway and want nothing more than to play with it all the time. You just can’t stay mad at it because it’s filled with love and joy and zombies and drama and death and wait, what are we talking about again?
Published and developed by Telltale Games, The Walking Dead – In Harm’s Way is available to buy now on PC, iOS, PSN and Xbox Live for $4.99.
A season pass is also available for the game which includes episodes 2-5 for the reduced price of $14.99.
A digital download of the game was supplied to Save/Continue for the purpose of this review.