Collins’ Crypt: WALKING DEAD Season 2 Episode 3 Review

BC takes a look at the latest installment of Telltale's WALKING DEAD gaming series.

If you, like me, only play through each episode of Telltale's Walking Dead game once (and more or less on the day they're released), you might want to refresh your memory for "In Harm's Way," the third episode of this second season, which is now available for PC, iOS, Xbox, and Playstation platforms (except for the Vita, which is coming). While it begins with the usual "Previously, on Walking Dead" recap to remind you of both the situation you're currently in as well as the relevant choices you made last time, the previous episode introduced some new characters that I honestly couldn't remember anything about, making dialogue here slightly aloof. "Where is Troy?" someone will ask, and my thought was "WHO is Troy?"

It's not a major issue, but it is one that got me thinking about the benefits of playing day of release (as I am with this season) versus playing it pretty much all in one go, as I did with Season One. It's a game based around the intensity of the moment, making tough choices on the fly, and more or less existing in a state of constant motion - which is somewhat diluted when you have nine or ten weeks off in between episodes. I mean, if you watched a TV show with a big cast at this rate, you'd likely have trouble keeping track of who was on who's side and the names of every single supporting character, and some of the intensity of the cliffhanger moment would be lost, right? So why would a game be any different?

This also plays into how much you care/don't care about someone when it comes time to choose between saving their life over another character's. Each episode only runs about 60-90 minutes depending on your choices - that's not enough time to form a bond with anyone beyond Clementine when it's been over two months since you last "talked" to them. Indeed, I was noticeably less stressed over my options in this episode than I was in any of the others; I found myself siding with Kenny more often than not simply because I remembered more about him, not because I personally thought he was right. And most of the other choices in this installment revolved around interactions with Carver, who sadly turned out to be a rather dull ripoff of The Governor (or Negan, albeit less colorful), so I never felt conflicted over how to approach him - I'd just choose the option that seemed less likely to get him fired up, basically, since after a few scenes it became clear that there wouldn't be another side to him beyond "Asshole who will kill to make a point".

There was one exception to my dilemma-free playthrough this time around (SPOILERS AHEAD - READ THIS PARAGRAPH AT YOUR OWN RISK): the character of Reggie, a new character voiced by the endlessly charming Kumail Nanjiani (currently kicking ass along with everyone else on Silicon Valley). He is introduced without an arm, claiming that a zombie bit him and it had to be amputated to save his life, though it seems a bit fishy and he is awkward about it - did Carver lop it off (sans any bite) as a punishment? Well, I guess we'll never know - not long after his introduction, he is tasked with showing Clementine and Sarah how to pick berries and weed out dead branches, a task Sarah is unable to perform. Whether you opt to help her or just focus on your own work, the outcome is the same - Carver comes along and gets angry that the job hasn't been done right either way. And then no matter what he tosses Reggie to his death, which I found quite frustrating - I originally chose to do my own work, and so when Sarah bungles it I assumed it was due to my not helping her. So for the first time ever, I rewound the game to choose to help her, but that just means Clementine never gets around to doing HERS. It seems that if they give you an A or B choice, there should be a different outcome - otherwise it's just window dressing; an excuse to press a button since it had been a while since you had to do that (even though Reggie gives you instructions on how to pick/weed, you don't actually DO anything here).

That actually got me thinking: how much of the game's choice system is just an illusion? I know there are some minor side characters who can survive or die based on your choices, but their role is so minimal that it doesn't really affect your narrative. For example, I didn't save the side character of Nick at the end of the last installment, but apparently if I had, he'd just be a usually silent, borderline anonymous member of the group in this one. This sort of thing stuck with me in particular this week, as I've been (finally!) playing Mass Effect 3 and just got to a point where I lost a beloved member of my crew - however I learned that the only way to save him now would be if I had sacrificed another beloved character all the way back in Mass Effect 1 (!). That is the sort of thing I'd love to see more often here, but now that Lee is dead and you know Clementine can't die, I find the choices aren't as harrowing; Lee would always have to think about himself and Clementine, who might have died. Now it's just her, and you know she's OK until at least the end of the final episode, subduing some of the power that made the first season so great. There isn't much of a bond between her and anyone else; the pregnant lady, for example - I want her to live just because she's pregnant, not because I care about her (indeed, I can't even remember her name right now).

And even if I did have that sort of connection to two of the supporting characters, would the game ACTUALLY let me choose between them, or would it just pretend to give me that option and then play out as Telltale wanted to anyway? If I can't even let a brand new supporting character live no matter what I do, how likely is it that anything I do or say will get a major one like Kenny or Luke killed if the game's designers needed him around longer, or be able to save his life if they had decided it was time for him to go? It makes the choices much less stressful, which is why I think the game works better when focused on decisions like "take the food from this person's car, or leave it in case they are coming back?" over ones where it seems a person's life is at stake. The closest they get to that sort of Lee/Clem dynamic is with Sarah, the very troubled girl who Clem often has to calm down for one reason or another. I was protective of her at first, but she's just starting to get on my nerves now, and thus I'm not as quick to defend or stick up for her during a tense moment anymore. I even let her get a good whack (from her father) at one point!

The episode vastly improves, oddly, when it just turns into a game, because it gives some of that missing panic back to the moment by just having you try to escape zombies rather than die and have to replay part of it. As with the previous episode, there isn't much zombie action here (there's one brief bit that seems shoehorned in for that exact reason, though it has a great kill via shelving bracket), but the big climax is pretty great, with a good ol' fashioned "let's smear guts on ourselves so we can walk past the zombies" sequence, a rather shocking death or two, and what may be the best slam cut to black to signal the end of an episode yet. These sequences provide the bulk of the "gameplay" this time out; there are still some conversations to be had, but otherwise it's pretty much all conversation until that point, without a single object interaction (some looking is about it). I know the conversation/choice-making element is what drives the game, so there's nothing wrong with a reduction of the more traditional adventure game elements in theory, but when those conversations aren't all that exciting (and it's been over 2 months since the last episode), I was hoping for something a bit meatier.

But, of course, it IS the middle part of this season's story, so we can expect some wheel spinning and dilly-dally. Again, I suspect it'll be better to play back to back with the second episode (and perhaps the fourth), as the plot threads would be fresh in your mind and the limited action/tension wouldn't even really be noticeable after the previous one (and what will almost assuredly be a faster paced next episode as it builds toward the "season finale"). If anything it might be a welcome bit of relaxation when played this way - but on its own, I couldn't help but want a little more out of it. The final ten minutes or so make it worth the purchase, and I really liked where the Carver storyline ultimately went here, but don't be surprised if you get a bit bored getting to that point.

(Reviewed on Xbox 360. All Achievements earned, no noticeable glitches beyond what seemed like longer than usual loading times in between chapters.)