The Walking Dead Season 2, Episode 3: In Harm's Way
Warning: This review contains spoilers for Telltale's entire Walking Dead series.
It's time to put your money where your mouth is. In Harm's Way, the latest episode in Telltale's The Walking Dead series, presents the toughest moral dilemmas to date. It's not just about who you save and who you leave behind; it's about how you choose to define Clementine. Is she a moral, empathetic team-player, or an efficient, unbending survivor?
This, of course, is the tension that runs throughout all of The Walking Dead: are you going to be nasty or nice? But in "In Harm's Way" it feels like it all comes to a head. This isn't the climactic episode of this season, but the choices you make here feel like ones you can't ever row back from.
Case in point, the excellent exchange between Clementine and certified bastard Bill Carver. He says he admires Clem, says he was impressed with the way she managed to keep looking him in the eye, even when he was threatening to kill her. You then have a choice in how to respond. You can tell Carver to go eff himself and that you're nothing like he is. Or you can agree, nod along, tell him that you know what it takes to be a survivor.
If you go that way, Clementine will answer in a calm, eerie tone. Her face will carry none of the worry or horror that it did in season one. In fact, she'll look and talk like Carver. The dialogue options throughout In Harm's Way invite these level, monotone responses. When the group ask you to do something for them, you can either whinge and say "Why do I have to go?" or forthrightly ask them "OK, what's the plan?"
Stick to your guns
If you want to make the most of this episode, pick a personality and stick with it. If you think Clem hasn't hardened yet, pick the soft responses. If you reckon she can handle herself, play up the tough guy act. It's worth it for the ending. Stick to your guns and play your character out, and the climax of this episode will be ever so much more poignant.
This is the best episode Telltale has produced so far, either in this season or the last. What seems like a fairly predictable chapter – group taken to a well-stocked township, overseen by charismatic mad-man – soon evolves into something much more surprising and tense.
Bill Carver, played to perfection by Michael Madsen, seems, at first glance, like a knock-off of David Morrissey's Governor. But he's much worse. It's not that he's more brutal or more unhinged, it's that he's so demanding.
He runs his group with the authority and oversight of a Kommandant. Lateness, poor performance and even smoking are punished with a beating. Everyone has a set bedtime, everyone is expected to get up and get to work at dawn. There are no barbecues or recreation, like in Woodbury. Carver's place is a survival factory, where people are expected to be gears.
Every transgression is punished
It's written so well. There are several moments where in any other game – any other Walking Dead game even – things would go your way. But here, you're constantly stoppered by Carver's watchful eye. There's a section that lasts a good half hour where you have to steal one of the guard's radios then bring it to a member of your group, who's agreed to meet you in secret somewhere on the base.
It's set up like a typical videogame objective: you meet the guy, he tells you what to do, you do it, then return to him for the reward. But here, you get to your rendezvous spot only to find that your contact has already been discovered and beaten by the guards. The walkie talkie ends up going back to Carver and another member of your group loses an eye as punishment.
Every transgression is punished. When Sarah, a young girl about the same age as Clem, is caught talking during one of Carver's sermons, he orders her father to punch her in the face. Held at gunpoint, he's forced to do it. She lies crying on the floor. Carver tells him not to coddle her. It's a truly vicious scene, hammering in a sense of misery and oppression which so far this season has been missing.
The best word for In Harm's Way is brave. It doesn't handle Clementine with kid gloves, nor does it cut away from the violence in Carver's camp. Clem, finally, is as much a screw-up as the rest of the group: scarred, combative, flawed. And the writers do a fantastic job of just throwing Carver away.
When he first appeared in episode two, it seemed like the game was about to retread the comics and the TV show. But Telltale had the good sense to know when Carver had run his course. Once he's come in, beat up some of the characters, and revealed Clementine for what she truly is, he's disposed of.
And he gets the best death scene in the entire game so far. It's painful, slow and bloody. That you get to decide whether to stay and watch is just another example of how In Harm's Way is all about your Clementine. Is she sick of the gore? Would she rather just step outside and not give herself another thing to lose sleep over? Or is she too far gone? Does this do nothing to her? Can she take it?
It's time to put your money where your mouth is.
- Gameplay: 9/10 – Interesting and thought-provoking choices given throughout. A great action scene at the end.
- Graphics: 8/10 – Grey metal, old tools, stained floors - the design of Carver's compound is spirit-sappingly mundane.
- Sound: 8/10 – Solid voice-acting all round, particularly from Michael Madsen. The noise of the zombie crowd in this episode's climax is enough to put the willies up anyone.
- Writing: 9/10 – Confident, provocative and surprising throughout. Kudos for not repeating the shows or the comics.
- Overall: 9/10 – The best Walking Dead episode so far. If you aren't playing this series already, seriously, get started.
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