It will be no surprise to hear that things are not looking good for the latest group of survivors as we approach the third episode of another terrific season of The Walking Dead – not the shooting one, the arcade one, the book, TV series or comic. This is the talky one, the one which has gamers wrestling with things like 'decisions,' 'morals' and 'should I hack her arm off now or in two episodes' time?'
Clementine and Kenny are still with us (more or less), but the line-up otherwise has more changes than a tour by The Fall (that one's for the kids). But, if you've played the previous seven episodes, you already know this. Why, then, should you invest in this episode?
Because you have to, that's why. Because you have to continue a long, gripping narrative that tugs and pulls your feelings like two children trying to get their parents' attention. Because you've invested emotional time in seven other episodes. Oh. And money. That too.
So what do you get for not an awful lot'a buck? Not much bang, but what you do get is the continuation of an excellent series that although not as fresh as it once was still has the potential to provoke shock and awe.
After surrendering to Carver and his followers at the end of A House Divided, Clementine and co are bundled to the warehouse where Carver has made his base. Addressed as workers, the group are well aware of their prisoner status, but at least at this point they are safe. But what cost that safety? Carver is sadistic, a bully and murderer, but claims he acts so as to keep his group safe. Is that not what Clementine does? Does she not undermine other survivors, steal, assault and manipulate to protect herself and those close to her? Perhaps they are different; perhaps not.
As is the way, if you're in prison and not a guard then there is a good chance you are looking to escape. This is The Walking Dead's prison break episode. Much of the action involves intrigue and avoidance, the hiding of intentions and damage limitation. The player appears to have less control over the decision making process than in previous episodes, with some conversations staged more or less like this:
I think you should climb up the drain-pipe. Everyone agree?
I think you mean yes.
That's settled. Up the drain-pipe you go.
It's not that this is necessarily destructive or distracting to the gameplay, but The Walking Dead has normally been better at hiding its linear form. Instead, most of the decisions depend on your sadistic or sympathetic nature, rather than anything that will really move the story on.
And that's a shame, because the narrative turns are still The Walking Dead's strongest point. It's genuinely involving, and you care about those whose lives you may (or may not) have influence over. But not as much as you perhaps once did. Characters come and go with such velocity that you could be a shop clerk on Oxford Road. When did they appear? When did they die? Have they died, or taken a three episode toilet break?
Perhaps age and the formulaic (for better and worse) nature of The Walking Dead means that it is becoming harder to really appreciate the nuances. The voice-acting is fantastic and the art style mesmerising, but seven reviews and countless awards already testify to that. Maybe it's a mid-season blip, and Amid the Ruins will return it to form. It is hard to see, however, where exactly the series is going at this point. That, indeed, is a problem.
This review is based on a digital copy of The Walking Dead: In Harm's Way for the PC, provided by the publisher.