This review will contain some spoilers for A House Divided, the previous episode of The Walking Dead: Season Two. It’s recommended that you complete that first before reading any further.
Things are only getting more difficult for Clementine and her new group of survivors in the latest episode of The Walking Dead: Season Two. In Harm’s Way is interesting in that, much like the second episode of the series’ first season, it’s not so much about the constant threat of zombie attacks as much as it is about the horrific lows that humanity finds itself brought to as a result. And while it’s obviously not the most pleasant journey to take, as was the case with previous episodes, it’s still one worth taking.
After the standoff that wrapped up the previous episode, Clem and company find themselves the prisoners of William Carver’s group, who have taken control of a fortified structure that’s chock-full of supplies to use as sanctuary from the never ending hordes of walkers. As enticing as that might sound, it’s far from paradise, as Carver and his higher-ups prove to be anything but pleasant, compassionate, or even safe to be around. Naturally, it doesn’t take long at all for escape plans to start forming, but how smooth that will turn out is anybody’s guess.
As always, it’s still interesting to see how your fellow survivors react and argue over each situation, and immersive to choose what Clementine says and does during each one. As was the case with the first season’s third episode, though, the cracks of Telltale’s dynamic choice-based system are a little more evident here, mainly because characters who could have been killed in the previous episode have greatly reduced roles and dialog this time around. Still, your individual actions are not without consequences, as a supporting character aptly points out in the opening scene. For example, an action midway through the episode that I meant to be supportive led to disastrous results.
The engaging group dynamic that The Walking Dead is known for is in full effect here, too. Arguments about how to escape Carver’s clutches are frequent, and as Clementine, you’ll have to pick sides. One of the more interesting plot threads that also becomes more prominent than ever before in this episode is the relationship between Clementine and Sarah, the only survivor close to her age. While her previous adventure and advice from Lee in the first game have helped shape Clementine into a hardened survivor despite her small stature, Sarah is much more naive and sheltered – literally to a fault at certain key moments. It’s an interesting way of Clem inheriting Lee’s role as a mentor, and I’m curious to see where it goes in the last two episodes.
As far as the problems I had with In Harm’s Way, there are a couple worth mentioning. While the game’s trademark stuttering and glitchiness is kept under better control for the majority of gameplay, the loading screens would lock up for several seconds every time – I honestly thought my PS3 had frozen when it first happened. The first several seconds after loading ends (or whenever the game autosaves) noticeably stutter as well. While I suppose it’s better than randomly occurring throughout the entire episode, the fact that last month’s latest episode of The Wolf Among Us ran fairly well had me hoping that Telltale was making a bigger attempt to crack down on this sort of thing.
When it comes to the actual gameplay, hardened players may be disappointed that direct control and actual puzzle-solving are even less prominent than before. I don’t mind the lack of puzzles since I’m typically terrible at them, but it would be nice to be able to interact with the environments and personally control Clementine a bit more.
Finally, while the game still has plenty of quality story to tell (Carver manages to come across as even more twisted than the end of episode 2, thanks to a few key scenes), I’d be lying if I said any of it was as gripping as episode 2’s fantastic last act. Also, Telltale repeats their biggest mistake from the first episode here, by abruptly cutting In Harm’s Way off in the middle of the climax. I know that there are many players who prefer waiting for one of Telltale’s games to put every chapter out so they can go through the whole thing in one sitting, so that probably won’t be as big an issue for them. But for those of us who want to play each one immediately, I really do wish they could wrap up more conclusively.
Regarding the very end of the episode, I’ve already read multiple impressions where people were asking themselves if they made the right choice with the decision that wraps things up. Yet, to be honest, the way the game presented things in terms of the interface and situation, I wasn’t even aware there was another choice besides the admittedly brutal one I went with.
All these issues may make it sound like this is easily the weakest episode of the season so far, yet for all its flaws, I still consider it better than the also-solid first episode. The plot and characters genuinely evolve and progress, the action and dilemmas are intense, things run smoothly outside of initial loads, and despite clocking in at less than two hours total, it didn’t feel too short like the last Wolf Among Us episode or too stretched out, a sign of good pacing.
Honestly, what it really comes down to for me is that I was extremely impressed by the last episode, and it was admittedly a tough act for Telltale to follow up. I remember the first season having a similar pattern, with episode 2 being when I officially fell in love with the series, but episode 3’s tedious middle portion dragging it down for me a bit.
Fortunately, the following two episodes immediately picked the momentum back up, and I have confidence that this season will do the same. In Harm’s Way may be a slight step down from the peak A House Divided reached, but it still provides a dark, gripping, and gruesome story from beginning to end with no notable slow points. And given the turn it takes in its final act, which I can honestly say I wasn’t expecting, the potential for where the story could go next has expanded immensely. Given Telltale’s knack for storytelling, that can only be a good thing for The Walking Dead: Season Two.
This review is based on the PlayStation 3 version of the game, which we were provided with.
In Harm's Way does a great job of developing The Walking Dead: Season Two's cast and furthering the story, even if its highs don't match those of the previous episode.