After an excellent beginning to the season we arrive at the forth and penultimate episode. Telltale has undoubtedly been successful in building up to a finale, question is though after the drama and what happened in episode three really be beneficial for the narrative, or has Telltale written themselves into a corner?
Although we will be avoiding all spoilers there will be general references to previous episodes so before you proceed please read the previous reviews
After the drama at Camp Carver our heroes and heroines find themselves in the wilderness – well i say wilderness – they actually find themselves in the worlds most obvious metaphor. Camped in a civil war museum our survivors are waiting to regroup and catch their breath, this being ‘The Walking Dead’ however we know that this plan will not go as planned; nor will it be without drama and incredibly hard decisions.
Lets get the bad news out-of-the-way first. This episode is a real missed opportunity. I thought that after the drama of Episode 3 we would get a slow burning episode that would build upon the loss that Clem and the rest of the group have endured during their time together. I thought that tensions would boil over and real hard decisions would have to be made by me – and apart from one or two notable scenes this is simply not the case. Almost as soon as things are brought up (loss etc) they are quickly forgotten by the cast. Clem is increasing becoming a leader and while this is empowering to the player it is unrealistic in context (she is a young girl after-all – why would adults listen to her?) we can look past this – it is a game, players are meant to be empowered!
What I can’t look past is characters being disposed of merely because they do not fit into the direction the story is going – often without warning and without any real closure after. Maybe Telltale are trying to comment on the world and that loss is so prevalent it goes relatively unnoticed; if this was the case however one earlier scene would make very little sense.
The biggest issue the fact that because Carver is no longer in the picture the story needs a new villain in order to set up the finale. We get that here – the problem is there is absolutely no motivation for this new villain, he appears out of nowhere and the choice you make has absolutely no bearing on how it pans the story out – which is incredibly strange in this franchise and the whole thing begins to feel contrived.
Here we have issues that really detract from the emotional impact Telltale are aiming for and the fact that they off so many characters this episode really cheapens the choices players make. The last episode pulled the curtain back slightly – here they are ripped wide open and the sunshine is reminding us of what we’re missing. I want my choices (that are bloody difficult to make by the way) to mean something in the long run; not be rendered worthless five minutes later.
These issues are a real shame as the episode starts off brightly, the group tensions have hit boiling point and the drama is ramping up nicely, as Clem you have to diffuse a conflict almost immediately and move the group on. The episode is a slow-burner and when it takes the time to explore relationships and personal turmoil it is incredibly powerful and the emotion resonates within the player. We have a character who is openly contemplating suicide because of the loss he has endured and Clem must talk him off the ledge (metaphorically speaking). This scene is the standout, it is handled with the care and respect you’d expect from Telltale and is one of the most powerful scenes in the franchise to date! It reminds you that these avatars are real people not just the plot-point fodder they’re being used as here.
Another strength is the characterisation of Jane, the opening third of the episode is spent with her and aside from learning about her tragic past that has shaped her as a character – again the grace and finesse Telltale approach this with reminds you why you love this franchise so much! Jane is also teaching us new tricks that will undoubtedly play a much larger part in Season 3 than they do here.
Episode 4 is a real disappointment in the grand scheme of things. While they characterise the cast well and there are a few scenes of true emotional impact it is off-set by strange design and narrative choices. This is a rare misstep from the series but I have ever faith it will as my last words in this chapter were genuinely “What have I done?” – proving that even a poor episode can have a real impact on you.