The Walking Dead: Amid The Ruins Review

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Last week Telltale games released The Walking Dead: Amid The Ruins in a continuation of the story of Clementine, a young girl growing up in a world destroyed by the shambling undead. While I tried to avoid as many spoilers as I could, merely talking about the events of this episode will undoubtedly ruin many plot elements for those who have not been keeping up with the season, you’ve been warned.

Throughout this entire season something has been bothering me about the Walking Dead, and more specifically how Clementine interacts with the world and other characters around her. With each subsequent review I’ve mentioned how these interactions haven’t quite sat with me. The issue is that that Clem is treated in almost the exact same way that Lee was in season one. But our pint sized hero ended the first season as a young girl who was entering her teenage years amid a total zombie breakdown of civilization.

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So many feelings

Sure, it is perfectly acceptable for her to have learned a lot during the time skip between seasons, but her small stature meant that she lacks the physical prowess to overcome adult zombies. This season had originally been pitched to public as a new way to experience the world of the Walking Dead, from a position of dependence on those around her. She would have to heavily rely on others, who may or may not be making the best decisions. That sounded scary, to be further out of control in a world that is all about a lack of control.

Yet she’s treated as an adult, and as one who is expected to make crucial decisions and be a lynch pin member of the group. This is precisely the role that Lee filled and it was more than acceptable then as it was believable for him to fill that position within the group. She’s 12, not 25, and repeatedly are the words “so and so’s death is on your head” levied at her, which create a huge disconnect between the reality and the story.

Why is it her fault that anyone dies? And why is she more responsible than almost all of the adults around her? It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for the adult characters to place so much responsibility on the shoulders of Clementine, and sadly it’s a disconnect that Telltale never really moves beyond.

Through the constant pushing off of responsibility onto Clem the adults come off as at best unreliable, and at worst inept. The writers have lost a chance to explore the character that the gaming community fell in love with at the end of season one, who still remained at the start of this season. She was beholden to a new group of people, who we as players new little about and whom made questionable decisions. Instead we’re given a girl who is in large part the reason the entire group has survived this long, let alone hold together under the weight of their inability to act.

In what seems to be a meta response to the criticism from fans and press about this very issue, Clementine frequently has this annoyed look on her face every time an adult ask her to do something that they clearly should be doing. You can almost see her thinking “why are these idiots asking me this?” and it’s clear through the dialogue that she doesn’t hold many in the group to a high standard. Eventually one of other adults even comments on the fact that they’re putting so much pressure on her shoulders when they should be doing more – as if the writers knew too.

In the end this makes Clementine a non-character; instead she’s whatever the plot needs her to be at that moment, and that breaks the immersion for me. She can’t be a young girl one moment and then a fully capable killing machine of an adult the next. I understand that the source material has a history of hardening children, but there are limitations to how far this can road can be taken before it stretches plausability to breaking point.

However, Amid the Ruins still has some of the better character moments of the season between Clementine and Jane, who takes the form of the older mentor figure that has been lacking up until this point. It was reminiscent of Around Every Corner – season one’s fourth episode – with Lee and strong female character Molly both teaching Clementine a few things about surviving in a post-outbreak world. There are even a few throwback lines recalling past choices I had made, and I appreciate that as someone who’s stuck with each episode.

But as good as Telltale’s writing usually is in their games – looking right at you, The Wolf Among Us – this episode, and to some extent the season, is full of zombie clichés. How over-used is the woman giving birth during a zombie attack situation outplayed? It’s straight from the books, and the mystery over who the father is is rendered moot by killing off both of the candidates.

The more I play games from Telltale the more the illusion of choice breaks down, and it has become easy to see which choices are going to be forced choices. For instance, if you ever have to choose between saving one of two people – and trust me you will – it is either a forced choice where your decision doesn’t matter, or both will eventually die. Your choice will only determine how much blame is assigned and to whom. This is only worsened by repeated playthroughs and really makes the game a one-time deal, which isn’t a problem  as that first ride is great.

How do I know this? Well while reviewing the game I was met with massive technical difficulties, more so than usual. I was playing Amid the Ruins on a PC and periodically the games visuals would cut to white while it kept running in The_walking_dead_amid_the_ruins_05the background; I retained control and had to tab out to close the game. Ultimately, I was forced to let the scenes play out with minimal control over their outcome so I could hit the next auto save and could load the game back up past the broken bits.

The game does end on a cliffhanger, but it is so predictable that you’ll be able to see both “big” twists coming a mile away once the stage has been set. All of that being said, I’m still invested enough to see this through to the end and I’m hoping that there will be some big pay offs to conclude the season. Most of the complaints – aside from the technical ones – are ones that I’ve had with the entire season, its only now at the end that they are going to impact my final opinion.

It is good to see that a third season was official announced last week at San Diego Comic Con, and I beg of Telltale to not make Clementine the main character again. She’s great and many people love her, but this season has been awkward at best when it comes to how she’s handled. Now she doesn’t have to die, but let’s face it; nothing is going to end well here, and eventually things will get worse than they are. Sorry show fans but you know what is coming as much as I do.

Unlike most, I view these games as a new form of interactive storytelling rather than a traditional videogame experience, and nobody wants a show to end after a short two seasons. But videogames are still viewed differently than most other forms of media and people’s interest in Telltale’s version of The Walking Dead seems to be wavering. It is going to be interesting to see how the fifth episode ends, and where the third season will eventually go and whether Telltale can return to the high quality bar they’ve previously set for the series, but it is safe to say that I’m no longer on the edge of my seat in anticipation.

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Brian Kale
With a firm belief that the day doesn't start without a firm cup of coffee, Brian has been writing almost as long as he has been gaming. Based out of Brooklyn where he spends his days discussing the rise of robotic singularity and the modern RPG revival.
Brian Kale
Brian Kale

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