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The Walking Dead: Season 2.4 - Amid The Ruins (PC) artwork

The Walking Dead: Season 2.4 - Amid The Ruins (PC) review

"Baulking at the light near the end of the tunnel"


Episode 3 concluded on what felt like two very important choices. The final choice dealt with a dire short term issue; a friend finds themselves in a struggle with a walker, and, frankly, whatever you choose to do, it isnít going to end well for anyone. You did what you thought was best in the few seconds you had to make a choice, and the first couple of chapters of Episode 4 deals with the fallout. People are lost, tempers are frayed and minds threaten to break. Thereís a kind of desperate scramble to regain some sense of normality and to salvage a sense of safety thatís never going to last. Itís a good way to transition between the chapters; to start slowly dialing back your sense of hopelessness -- but itís a comparative bump on the road. Circumstances will tell, and whatís left of the group will have to move on.

The choice that preceded this dealt with Clementineís simmering sense of retribution, and offered players a huge choice in how to balance her rage with her humanity. Telltale has thoroughly robbed her of any and all childlike innocence, but do seemingly leave it to you to muddle through all the other grey areas of her survival. Who she helps or condemns, what she risks and why have all been placed in your hands, and when bloody revenge is presented, she canít (and wonít) stop the shit from hitting the fan -- but she can decide how much of a part of it she becomes. It feels like a huge pivotal moment on who you want Clementine to ultimately be, juxtaposing her sense of outrage with her morality. It could be the point where you finally tip her over the edge, and she starts to become an unfeeling monster. It could be the point where the horrors of the world sheís forced to survive in finally push her past the line.

Amid the Ruins does exactly nothing to build upon such a pivotal feeling moment. Aside from one angry, throwaway exchange with a fellow survivor, itís not referenced again.

A lot of this is down to penultimate chapter syndrome, where episodic games traditionally start bullrushing through things to try to tie all the threads together ready for the big finale. As such, Episode 4 goes at the surviving cast like a maniac, thinning their numbers out in a series of deaths that register so little emotional reaction from player or cast, it makes you wonder if youíve just hardened to the world or if youíre just not as attached to the people involved as Telltale might have hoped you would be by now. Perhaps some of this is because the new seasonís episodes have been purposefully shortened. Season One made a point of holing your group of survivors up at points, and allowing Lee the chance to spend time amongst them, allowing them to develop beyond tropes and stereotypes. Doug was a weird nerd, but he surprised people with bursts of bravery; other people openly liked him and taking the time to establish that make him instantly more accessible. On the other hand, Larry was an unlikeable prick, and the series went out of its way to ensure you disliked him from the start. But he had his defenders among the group, and slowly bleeds sympathy for his hardarse actions.

Season 2ís cast are afforded no such time to develop, but that doesnít become obvious until this chapter, because theyíre rushed from one disaster to the next , and you simply donít need to care about them; you just have to survive and drag as many people to safety as you can. Youíve lost people up to this point before, but, until now, their deaths have been wrapped up in greater meaning. They sacrificed for the group and they sort of earn their stripes posthumously. For the first time this season, some of the deaths in Amid the Ruins deny the characters that sense of grizzly nobility and youíre asked to care for the sake of caring. I didnít. Perhaps Iím just a bit of a jerk; Iím certainly called worse on a daily basis, but that would taint the entire remaining Season Two cast under the same blight. The loss of life-long friends is expressed with a shake of the head better suited for that time someone moved your car keys and youíre already running late. Deaths that should shake the group to the core resister striking indifference and are never referred to again.

Amid the Ruins is little more than a linear checklist of things that need to happen before the end of the season is presented, and woe betide anyone who tries to deny it this. Anyone brave enough to peek behind the veneer of the seriesí constant choices know that theyíre only really cosmetic in nature, but they do conspire into letting you think youíre making a difference. You can share in the highs because your decisions helped shape it; you can feel like shit when everything goes wrong, because one of the calls youíve made has come back to haunt you. For the first time yet, Episode 4 makes it perfectly clear that no matter when you do, it doesnít matter. The pivotal choices scattered through the episode all boil down to the exact same thing without any real differences throughout. Be noble or be cruel; attack or panic; follow or rebel. It means nothing.

The Walking DeadĎs freedom of choice has always been an illusion of sorts, but itís always cared enough to at least try to sell you the lie. The blasť attitude displayed in Amid the Ruins simply lacks the pre-established depth to fall back on when it decides to only make things happen lackadaisically in the now. A strong finale will undoubtedly help plaster over these issues which only really exist in order to set up a strong finale. But this doesnít stop the newest episode from being a stand alone disappointment.

EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (July 27, 2014)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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Masters posted July 31, 2014:

Nice review, Gary. I agree wholeheartedly, though as you recall, I didn't until I knew that the 'difficult' choices I made had no consequences. Entertaining as always, but ultimately disappointing. Good to see you still writing, and getting better all the time, it would seem.
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EmP posted July 31, 2014:

I feel kind of bad for making you peek behind the curtain. Amid The Ruins got plenty of good press (my counterpart at this very site enjoyed it a lot more than I, no less) but it continues to strike me as the weakest episode yet. I'll effortlessly forgive it if the series ends on a high, but I'm not reviewing the entire season. Yet.

Thank you for your kind words, and thanks for reading.
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EmP posted August 26, 2014:

So.... that ending just happened.

I'm annoyed because the release is still buggy. I don't much care that the achievements didn't pop, but I don't think the choices I made will be popular, but choice percentages didn't pop either and now I have to replay it all over again if I want to know for sure. Blargh.
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EmP posted August 27, 2014:

Oh -- yay!

Yeah, for me, my choices for 2 and 5 seem very unpopular but were very much who my Clem turned out to be.

Episode review by the end of the day.

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