Review

The Walking Dead: Season Two Episode Four - Amid the Ruins Review

  • Game release: December 17, 2013
  • Reviewed:
  • PC
  • PS3
  • X360

A doom-laden atmosphere and a zombie buffet.

After taking the grim death march that is season two of The Walking Dead to its moral nadir last time out with the option of gawking at every little detail of what a crowbar can do to a cranium, Telltale Games really goes all out with Amid the Ruins. This fourth and penultimate episode of the current season hit a sweet spot for me, sticking with the same doom-laden atmosphere but moving away from the pensive moments that made me feel somewhat like a spectator at times during its predecessors. Tighter plotting, constant zombie attacks, and the introduction of mysterious new human adversaries led to more action sequences and stark dialogue choices that put me right in the middle of this increasingly bleak apocalyptic world.

Glimmers of hope are as hard to find here as shafts of light in a coal mine. The story continues precisely where episode three, In Harm's Way, left off, with the increasingly mature Clementine and the surviving members of her band of buddies using zombie-guts camouflage to sneak through an undead herd besieging the box-store empire of villain Bill Carver. A brief, if brutal, moment of optimism at the end of the last episode turns horrific in short order, and that sets the tone for the rest of the unrelentingly depressing two hours or so needed to play through to (another) cliff-hanger conclusion.

Based on the number of action sequences, Clem has to personally take out more walkers in this episode than in the rest of this season combined.

Most of the plot plays out in a Civil War historical battle site (the fictional Parker's Run) cemetery and tourist visitor center where the survivors of the opening zombie race regroup. This setting is oddly apropos (even if the continued attention given to a statue of one soldier carrying another off the battlefield beats you over the head with the thesis that we all have to help one another in tough times), given the conflict developing between members of the group. Kenny is unfairly blaming Clementine. Luke gets slammed for taking part in an, um, entertaining interlude with Jane. Sarah is still a total mess who continues to aggravate everyone. And despite all of this, the group still has to work together to find a safe spot for the heavily pregnant Rebecca to deliver her baby.

The focus remains on Clem, largely due to a tremendous number of twitch action sequences where you have to dodge and kill zombies with button mashing. Zombies attack constantly, which is a refreshing change from prior episodes, where long stretches would go by without your having to do so much as respond to a question or shove a dresser in front of a door. In this episode, the whole gang is menaced, from the frenetic opening escape from Carver through to the zombie wave assault waged on the Civil War site gift shop just as Rebecca goes into labor.

This Mexican standoff with, er, Russians shows how other humans are still the deadliest adversaries.

Clementine also evolves as a person, but not in a particularly admirable way. Where the first three episodes in this season revealed more about how pragmatic--if not out and out cruel--the growing kid has to learn to be to survive in this new world, the story now moves well beyond the shocks of once-friendly dogs mauling you for a can of food and men being casually murdered for acts of kindness. Here, the brutal stuff becomes more prosaic. Before, these deaths were huge moments in the plot. Now, they're sort of just there, part of the everyday background noise that is a slice of everyone's life after the end of the world.

Some of this is because Clem is growing up. There is a brief but telling moment here when she gets stuck trying to sneak through a security gate and comments that she isn't as little as she used to be. Much of the casual acceptance of anything and everything nasty is also due to the influence of lone-wolf Jane. She can be a little too much of a one-note whiner, constantly harping about how helping other people just gets you killed. But as much as I came to sort of tune her out, Clementine didn't. The kid falls increasingly under the sway of Jane's Ayn Rand-ian tutorials, beginning with learning a sweep-the-leg zombie attack that would impress the guys from the Cobra Kai dojo.

What's more, Jane is proven right through the course of the game. No matter how much I chose the good-guy path in dialogue selections (which seem to have increased both in number and in the starkness of the choices they offer in comparison to the previous episodes), bad things kept on happening. Encouraging Jane to change her ways and start helping other people only succeeded in delaying the inevitable. Meaning that the person I was trying to save died anyway, but with the added benefit of putting other lives in jeopardy, too. This was finally hammered home toward the end of the episode. After I convinced Jane to take a huge chance on trying to save a helpless friend, I was given a prime seat at the table alongside a zombie buffet.

Will Jane save Sarah? Does Sarah want to be saved?

Reactions to these deaths (which are unavoidable no matter which dialogue choices you select, according to Telltale) are also becoming increasingly muted. The chowdown referred to above would have been a defining moment just last episode. Now it takes place and everyone moves on almost instantly. Granted, the gang is a little preoccupied with the birth of Rebecca's baby, and this death is one that has been telegraphed for a good long time now. But it's incredible how the group watches this horrifying scene and adopts a "Well, that happened" (a fitting line that Mike uses to describe an incident with a zombie earlier in the game) attitude, and then the next scene you see is Clementine and the others taking a nap.

With Amid the Ruins, there is no more room to be a spectator. While Clementine could often sit back and observe everything during the first episodes of this season as still something of a little kid, now she is an almost-grown-up soldier on the front lines of every zombie attack and every life-and-death situation determining the fates of her friends. Given a last-second surprise death and the fade-to-black gunfight, those fates are not likely to be good ones. Still, Telltale's masterful storytelling keeps us hoping for the best even as that optimism is continually shattered by what is proving to be one of the most memorable tragedies ever told in gaming.

The Good
Tense, fast-moving, and tightly plotted storyline
Constant zombie attacks make for more action sequences than in other recent episodes
Clementine's dialogue choices are now more frequent and more meaningful
Fascinating character development with Clementine, as she becomes more pragmatic and even accustomed to watching her friends die
The Bad
Very, very bleak
9
Superb
About GameSpot's Reviews
Other Platform Reviews for The Walking Dead: Season Two - A Telltale Games Series

About the Author

Brett Todd spent about two hours contemplating the futility of human existence while not coincidentally playing Amid the Ruins for this review.

Discussion

59 comments
RobGrizz
RobGrizz

No way close to a 9. The episode was actually kind of a bore.

I'm going to detail a specific scene to make a larger point about how Amid the Ruins (and Season 2 as a whole) has been a let down:

*SPOILERS*

When Sarah is too scared to escape the house from Walkers, You are tasked with talking into coming with you. As this doesn't work, you can either leave her to die, or force her with a slap. On two occasions, including the slap, a prompt pops up saying "Sarah will remember that." 

This proves to be inconsequential, because even if she is saved from the house, she still dies 15 minutes later when the deck collapses. The trouble you went to to keep the character alive is wasted, and even when she was alive she plays 0 factor in any of the following events until her demise.   


This is the crux of my problem with Season 2, and most apparent in Episode 4 overall; The choices you make are beginning to matter less and less. Literally no decision  in this chapter has any baring on where we end up going into 5. This goes for Jane leaving, fighting with Kenny, and even being encouraging to Rebecca when she's having doubts about the baby. The game insists they will remember, but unlike Season 1, where characters might spit something back in your face from three episodes ago, not much of what you say this season really affects the other characters' behavior towards you. Sit with Kenny instead of Luke at dinner? Doesn't matter, it's never brought up again. Still don't trust Bonnie after her betrayal? That's ok because she'll still be nice to you. Shoot that new guy with the meds? Nope. He's still let go, because the story dictates he has to come back later.  And that's why I don't feel connected to this new group, or my own story as I did in Season 1.

*END SPOILERS*


Amid the Ruins had us waiting at a rendezvous, search an old museum for water, and then find a loft we don't even stay at. The episode is over in a flash, it feels like there wasn't much story progression, and the same old point-n-click zombie encounters have become the least interesting thing about the game. Perhaps the novelty of what TellTale accomplished is wearing off, but The Walking Dead's bag of tricks is starting to get a little old.

mkygod
mkygod

The story is fine, but I felt like I wasn't make any decisions that had any impact on the story.


For example *SPOILERS AHEAD*, the biggest game changing decision you could make was whether to save Sarah or not. You could leave her to die in the trailer or slap her and get her out of there. However, she still dies by the end of the episode regardless of what you do. Also things like whether to steal from Arvo, taking the water along or not, and whether to go to the next town or stay for a few days did not make any difference in this episode. Your group gets ambushed by Arvo's group regardless of whether you steal or not. Rhonda dies regardless of having water or staying to rest. The whole episode just seems like an exercise in futility and you're just a viewer along for the ride. I mean, a lot of the episodes have decisions that dont really matter, but this episode had more bad stuff happen than most that you cant do anything about.

Candyman_GR
Candyman_GR

I think this game is changing more and more from a game to an interactive movie.
Is not so much of a game if your choices don't matter anyway.

P.S. The narrative is still great though. I enjoyed it, but it is not the same game as it used to be.

Jedi4ce28
Jedi4ce28

Nice article and you actually touched on a lot of what I also saw as the good and bad of this episode. Some of the characters are just god awful and you really do just know who's going to bite the bullet, so you really don't care what their story is cause you know it won't lead anywhere, that's just not good in this kinda game. Much like Ben from last season, I just don't like how Telltale adds these so obvious "screws everything up and you know I am gonna be zombie food characters"


Choices just don't seem to matter in this game though which is my biggest gripe, as the article mentions, no matter what you do really, good or bad, everything ends in the same place. I mean of course life never works out the way we wish and bad things happen, but even in the show, there are moments of hope too when one chooses to keep their humanity and not give into their baser instincts. Here it's just bad bad bad no matter what you do, like in an earlier episode you get chewed out simply for having taken a picture of a girl who desperately wanted a friend. There is a fine line between painting a bleak world, and then just leaving no surprise for the player, when you can go "saw that coming" I think you are failing in the narrative. Don't get me wrong, it's an entertaining ride, but they are moving too far into cliche territory for me, I hope they end strong with the next episode, seeing as how they've already been greenlit for season 3.

maximo
maximo

i just got this but when i try to launch it i get a blank screen. 

Any suggestions how to solve this? :(

Aaronp2k
Aaronp2k

the bleakness is what i love most about the walking dead franchise. If it were me I would give the game the same score I would put for the bad (for every episode) that the quicktime events need to go. they should just turn this into a 3rd person hack n slash with rare guns but keep the quicktime events as well but use them more rarely. Keep the dialogue, story etc the same because that part is genius. It would make for a much more interactive experience. I don't really play the walking dead games for the gameplay anymore I just play to advance the story and quench my curiosity. this is a bad thing, because if the gameplay were better then I would probably play through the entire series (when its done) over and over again, and also more people would play it.

Phooey442
Phooey442

Bleak in the bad column? How do people think a zombie infested planet would work out?

robertcain
robertcain

Only one more episode to go then I can finally get into the full season 2, can't wait! I'm guessing "No going back" will be out at the end of the year right?

RogerioFM
RogerioFM

Great game and nice review I suppose, but you don't review the FOURTH episode of the SECOND season of a game that is bleak through and through then use it's bleakness as a negative, not even 'taste' can justify it, it's kind of silly.

lmyyyks
lmyyyks

I figure it is quite difficult for reviews on this type of game not to do have too many spoilers, especially when you put on screenshots with captions. At any rate, I think Gamespot should have at least waited a few more days before releasing this review.

kozzy1234
kozzy1234

Great episode, this season has been getting better with each ep.

Bond_Villain
Bond_Villain

Sounds good, I've only played the first 2 episodes which I thought were very well done. I might pick it up again

warriors30
warriors30

Sounds awesome. Can't wait to play. Zombies must die. Over and out.

SoNin360
SoNin360

I rarely look at reviews anymore, but is it custom to just blatantly spoil the game in a review? I mean, I guess these aren't completely direct, but they aren't exactly subtle. Whatever, I don't read reviews before I play something anyway.



pip3dream
pip3dream

Compared to the last episode, this episode didn't quite have that special spark for me.  While it wasn't a bad episode, I don't see how rating quite as a 9.  Or maybe it's just me, and I"m getting a bit desensitized to these episodes...  I might actually be fatiguing of this story because it pretty much repeats its own tropes over and over again.  The reviewer mentioned it, what use to be outrageous moments, are becoming more par for the course.  Although I was still mortified at a certain death that caught me by surprise....  


Anyway,  for me in comparison to the other episodes, this was about a 7.  

Thesuperstar2k
Thesuperstar2k

Very good episode that make this one really exciting to see what's happening next.


8/10 very nice! 

Jacanuk
Jacanuk

I agree that this is a great episode but i think Telltale has grown a bit complacent and they don't seem to try as hard , particular with the choices, for the first time it felt like i was on a rail and no matter what i did it didn't matter i was always headed into the same place.  Also a few of the dialogue options didn´t make any sense. 


But great episode not as good as the others in season 1 but still a decent experience.



cgobeil
cgobeil

Geez, I was waiting for all episodes to be released to play TWD Season 2 again (having played only the first two episodes), but with this review... I'm tempted to play right away!

immortality20
immortality20

Awesome, can't wait to download it tomorrow when it comes to Xbox. 

Morphine_OD
Morphine_OD

So a lack of choice and lots of unavoidable deaths are now nothing bad? Pff. Walking Dead is a mess, much inferior to TellTale's own Wolf Among Us.

001011000101101
001011000101101

Okay, so this episode is a clear 10/10, judging from the pros and cons. 

foodrules
foodrules

Game release: December 17, 2013
Reviewed: July 22, 2014


Ermm, okay

balrogbane
balrogbane

I can not wait for Telltale Games to do Game of Thrones.

berserker66666
berserker66666

Another great Walking Dead episode. Telltale's proven to be one of the best choice driven storytellers in video games. Eat your hearts our Bioware.

ringringabel
ringringabel

@RobGrizz al5houth i enjoyed this episode, and the ones before it...you do make some solid points. season 1 choices seemed much more important than in this season. i wonder if telltale will be able to actually branch out w/ their narratives w/ these types of games. it would be for the better

RobGrizz
RobGrizz

@mkygod 

I know what you mean. Like in ep 3, I was kind of annoyed that whether I help Sarah or not with chores, that guy still gets thrown off the roof. The decisions we're making aren't changing the story, so what's the point?

RobGrizz
RobGrizz

@Jedi4ce28 

I agree. When almost every character introduced becomes a trust issue it gets a little tiresome. And even when you say certain things, it doesn't seem to affect the way people behave towards you- which was a big difference in S1. 

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@lmyyyks 

I doubt that a review of a story-centric game could steer clear of spoilers without turning out all vague and dumbfounding.

I have written reviews for such games before, trimming as many statements about the games as possible to stave off spoilers, with no screenshots either.

Having myself and some other people proof-reading them had me realizing that only people who have played the game could have an idea of what the review is trying to say - people who haven't won't know sh*t.

lmyyyks
lmyyyks

@Morphine_OD If you do understand a thing or two about choice makings in this game, you should know all avoidable deaths are unavoidable deaths.

smitherean
smitherean

@Morphine_OD It was true in Season 1, it was true in Mass Effect 3, and it's true here: a focus on player choice does NOT entitle you to have exactly what you want happen.

RobDev
RobDev

@Morphine_OD the unavoidable deaths are called "story" and it's pretty much what the walking dead is known for.

StarsiderSajun
StarsiderSajun

@001011000101101 Sort of like that 8 out of 10 they gave some game a while back and it literally had no cons listed, not even any mention of any negative aspects in the review. So the moral of the story should be: number scores do... not... matter.

jecomans
jecomans

@balrogbane The entire cast will die in the opening credits, and the series will end. Oh, SPOILERS.

jecomans
jecomans

@berserker66666 I have the distinct feeling I got a great many people killed at the end of this episode...

jecomans
jecomans

@Gelugon_baat @lmyyyks I figure with games like this the majority of readers will come here after they've played it to see what other people thought of the episode,?

cgobeil
cgobeil

@Ultra_Taco Well, you've convinced me!  But I have to restart from 400 Days since I made the bad choice with Vince and he stayed back at the camp, so he's not with the village of Carver in episode 3.  I'm going to go back and pick him up because I want to see him in Season Two and I leave no one behind!  (Except Lily) LOL.

Morphine_OD
Morphine_OD

@RobDev that explains the lack of proper story in Walking Dead, since it's all about deaths.

loafofgame
loafofgame

@Phooey442 I know, I know, that's why I winked. Also, you seemed to make a general statement about zombie infested planets...

The Walking Dead: Season Two - A Telltale Games Series More Info

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  • First Released
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    The Walking Dead: Season Two - A Telltale Games Series consists of five episodes and will continue the story of Clementine, a young girl orphaned at the outset of the undead apocalypse, now left to her own devices to seek safety and survive in a world gone mad.
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