In the last few days I have heard much about how amazing and heartbreaking episode 4 of The Walking Dead is. That Amid the Ruins has the best writing, the most dramatic scenes, the most intense feelings of dread and anxiety yet seen in season 2. Well I’m here to tell you that’s all a load of crap.
NOTE: Spoilers will litter this review, pertaining to season 1 and season 2 both. Fair warning.
Following the group’s escape from Carver’s clutches, our rag-tag team of survivors must make their way through the massive herd of walkers while dodging a barrage of bullets from Carver’s cronies, then regroup down the road after getting separated during the escape, “tend” to the wounded, and find shelter from the cold. Oh, then deliver a baby.
Yes, it all sounds very exciting, and it was absolutely a fun ride, but Amid the Ruins is far from the best episode of season 2. If anything, much of it felt like I’ve been there before in previous episodes.
Depending on what choices you’ve made previously, three to four members of your posse get killed this time around. That seems pretty crazy, right? Except, none of the deaths herein could hold a candle to season 1’s tragic loss of Duck or Kenny’s supposed death or, of course, having to put down a zombified Lee. THAT is heartbreaking. Everything in Amid the Ruins is calculated decision-making. I admit, there were two instances where I legitimately didn’t know what to do, and both times I came out of the choice thinking I’d made a huge mistake. Of course, that is the point of the game, and it still does that brilliantly.
But I was still disappointed overall. Like I said before, it all feels very same-y. There’s a child who doesn’t fully comprehend the severity of the tragic world they now live in (Duck/Sarah), Kenny loses the woman he loves and has trouble coping (Katjaa/Sarita), he and Luke continue fighting to make Clementine take sides, and the episode ends with a climactic, hair-trigger decision to do something drastic in the middle of a chaotic situation. This isn’t even harkening back to the last season, but the last EPISODE. It was shocking when the time came, and I won’t spoil what the decision is because the event is sure to have MAJOR repercussions in the season’s finale, but it still felt like a bit of a cop-out after having done something similar just one episode prior.
I also had a big problem with the zombies’ role this time around. In episode 3, In Harm’s Way, you knew there was a herd incoming from early on. Scouts had spotted it, and you knew it was going to hit. Plus, being inside a “safe” camp, you could excuse the overall lack of undead until the climax when you make your escape. That said, when you DO leave, even with the preparation and gut-smearing to mask your scent, surely some straggling zombies would be able to keep up with and follow members of the scattered crew as they move in the opposite direction from the rest of the herd.
I mean, the herd is only a herd because they’re all heading the same way, right? So I find it hard to believe they wouldn’t notice when a dozen entities who smell like them had turned to go the other way, without following suit. Yet once Clementine and those with her make it to the clearing down the road – which is literally accessible from any direction – there are ZERO undead monsters to be found.
Regardless, you make it out and split up to find supplies for the incoming baby, then move on to the observatory and take up shelter there. No sooner have you laid Rebecca down to begin the birthing process when something like 15 to 20 moaning, shambling corpses encroach on the structure, actually climbing on top of each other to get to you. It makes no sense, and the zombies are very weakly used as a convenient plot device to move things forward and kill off another member of your team for no reason.
And can we talk about the utter incompetence of Clementine and Jane for a moment? Probably the two smartest people in the group, they come face-to-face with a kid hiding a bag of medication while scouting out this potential place to crash. Whether you choose to take the meds or let him keep them, Jane still takes his gun and threatens him to never come back to the observatory. He leaves with a sinister and foreboding message along the lines of, “You’ll regret this.” SURELY they wouldn’t think everything is fine and that’s an okay place to shack up now, would they? Oh, I suppose they would, as they do exactly that! Kenny is the only one with any smarts in that situation, insisting that they move on the next day.
I don’t want to spoil everything, so I’ll just say the episode ends soon after, with a lead-in that’s sure to start the season finale off right. Honestly, though, Amid the Ruins featured possibly the worst storytelling in the series to date. And for a company that prides themselves on and is highly praised for their excellent storytelling like Telltale Games, that is certainly disappointing.
Even my favorite parts of this episode, those with just Clementine and Jane, were just not believable. We were only introduced to Jane in episode 3, and she kept to herself. They only time she spoke was when she had a plan to escape Carver’s camp. She’s smart, she’s cunning, and she’s just the right amount of crazy to make it in this world.
It’s because of this that I was happy to learn more about her, but at the same time it just didn’t make sense. She barely said a word to indicate she was looking to make friends last time, and now all of a sudden she’s telling Clementine the whole story of what happened to her and why she travels alone. Part of the reason she was such a cool character is because she kept to herself, proving her worth to the group with actions, not words.
So yes, I realize most of my complaints are opinionated gripes and not necessarily indicative of the quality of the game as a whole, but when the story starts falling apart and the characters don’t act like you expect them to act, some eyebrows are sure to raise. Even so, there are some definite high points to note: Jane taught Clem a neat knee trick for taking out zombies and briefly feels like she could be the next Lee, watching over Clementine. While her back-story felt forced and unnecessary, it was still nice to see Clementine getting to know someone who actually might survive out here in this crazy world.
Also, you share a really nice moment with Mike and Bonnie in this episode. I won’t say here what happens – just look out for the raccoon. It’s a scene of humanity that just leaves you with the warm fuzzies afterward, and in series where everyone is always stressed out and high-strung and recovering from some traumatic experience, the event was nice and welcome.
Plus, I don’t remember ever playing a Telltale episode before now on the 360 that DIDN’T have terrible loading times and glitchy movement. It was bar-none the best experience I’ve had with the game, technically speaking, and it is an accomplishment to be applauded.
In the end, Amid the Ruins just underwhelms. It isn’t heartbreaking, it isn’t breathtaking, and it isn’t outstanding. But it is part of Telltale’s altogether fantastic take on The Walking Dead, and it does have me coming away from it quite happy that The Wolf Among Us has wrapped up its season, meaning we shouldn’t have to wait too long for the finale.
Published and developed by Telltale Games, The Walking Dead – Amid the Ruins 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.