Our last excursion with The Walking Dead Season Two saw a significant shift of focus from the undead lurkers to the antics of our survivors. In Harm’s Way continues in the same vein, while showing us that humans can be just as much, if not more, of a threat to themselves than the zombies ever could be. In another brilliant piece of storytelling from Telltale we get to explore the true monstrous nature that lies in the hearts of the living.
As of the beginning of In Harm’s Way, Clementine and the rest of our survivors find themselves in a massive warehouse which is stocked full of food and is well protected by another, larger community. On paper this would seem like paradise for our group, but of course fate wouldn’t be that kind. Clementine and co. are actually prisoners in this fortress, stuck under the thumb of a sadistic control-freak named Carver who runs the joint. In typical bad guy fashion, he will go to any means necessary (read as: maiming and murder) to keep his underlings in check.
This next chapter in the tale is just as intense and shocking as ever we’ve ever known, as the ever present danger of Carver looms over you. Compared to the previous episodes, In Harm’s Way is off the scale with its tough calls, and you will likely find yourself waiting until the very last second to make many of your conversation choices. With so many new and unfamiliar characters around you, it’s incredibly hard to gauge what is the ‘best’ option for the outcome you want, as you don’t fully understand how others will react. This makes you especially mindful of the statements you choose, but will probably leave you regretting quite a few of them moments later.
The addition of so many new characters does come as a double-edged sword, however. A lot of the characters become a blur of faces that you struggle to relate to, and when one such face meets a sticky end, it feels more inevitable than emotional. It was clear from the outset that they were supposed to be likeable, and when you pair this with Carver needing to flex his muscles the character was always going to get the cut. It was a real weakness in the otherwise solid story, and was, disappointingly, the first time in the entire The Walking Dead repertoire when I wasn’t fazed by a companion’s death.
However there are still many scenes you will walk into blind which will manage to throw you out of sorts completely. One such instance is the very significant exchange which takes place between Carver and Clementine. A spectacular piece of storytelling which will stay with you long after the credits have rolled, the short meeting marks a pivotal moment as a seed is planted in everyone’s minds over just what sort of person our little Clem really is. It is in fact quite an eye-opener to the whole season, a startling realisation, and the stand out moment of the episode which will make you insatiably curious about the future of our heroine.
While story, progression and revelations are mostly outstanding during In Harm’s Way, when it comes to substantial gameplay the episode is left lacking. Up until the last 10 minutes and a brief stint in the middle you do little more than make conversation choices and complete a few straight forward click-to-look-at-item actions. You also are regularly bounced around from location to location, only to make a couple of choices before moving on again without so much as a moment’s reflection. Considering you’re a prisoner that may have been the point, but it could have been done in a way to make the episode less like a predetermined series of events sandwiched back-to-back, because it makes you, as a player, feel pretty redundant.
As a result, In Harm’s Way can be quite disconnecting, to the point that I would have enjoyed doing some of the miscellaneous chores that Clementine gets up to, such collecting berries or loading magazines, to make you feel more a part of the experience. However, as you have little to no input in anything that Clementine does, you begin to feel more like spectator than the lead character. This lack of interaction brings down the pace of the episode considerably as you’re often left waiting for something to actually do. The conversation points are wonderful, but they’re not enough to keep you gripped from beginning to end.
Now don’t get me wrong, Telltale are still on a roll. The Walking Dead is just as captivating as it always has been, and due to most players’ long term investment in the series and its characters I don’t see that going away anytime soon. However, the spectacular narrative elements of In Harm’s Way felt overshadowed as the episode became less about the player and more about the act playing out before us. It felt very static compared to previous entries, which is certainly not something we are used to from Telltale. Here’s hoping Episode 4 ramps up the action and sees a return of more player driven activities, before we start to lose our grip on Clementine.