WARNING: THIS REVIEW OBVIOUSLY CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR PREVIOUS EPISODES!
As the penultimate episode before the season finale, it goes without saying that Amid The Ruins is more of a stage setter, getting the player ready for the climactic end. But even in that sense, comparing it to Season 1 it struggles at getting you that excited for where Clementine’s quest will end. Aside from the last few scenes episode 4 manages to fall a little flat.
We last left our surviving cast of a characters right in the middle of a zombie horde as they escape from Carver. The game reminding you at the start of the horrible Michael Madsen voiced character, and what became of him. Dropping Clementine right in the thick of it, with a heart wrenching choice right from the off, this episode certainly starts with a bang. Unfortunately the only way to go from that opening was down.
Writing this a day after completion and it’s hard to actually think of that many stand out scenes from the middle hour. A lot of the time is spent wandering around environments, looking at things, trying to find a safe haven with the occasional zombie encounter thrown in. There is one moment during this section that should really be infused with ounces of tension, but it just isn’t. Maybe the realisation is setting in that Clementine is becoming a far more capable character that one zombie on their own isn’t really enough to get the heart racing anymore.
Yes, you could say previous episodes have always had the quiet moment to split up the action, but never before has it felt so pedestrian. For the large chunks you’re just going through the motions of examining everything before a new scene is triggered.
Memories of Season 1 are a little hazy, but we remember there actually being puzzles that needed to be solved per episode. That’s something that’s sorely missing here. The classic point and click formula seems almost completely eradicated for a straight up story that plays out like a choose your own adventure book. Admittedly this is an issue that has permeated throughout the entire season, but previous episodes have always countered that with great character beats and, at times, shocking action set-pieces.
Amid The Ruins does start to find its way by the end. An explosive last half an hour or so certainly provides an intriguing setup for the finale. Thinking back it’s amazing how much Clementine has changed since the beginning of season 1, and best of all, it doesn’t seem jarring. It’s a slow character progression that is written so perfectly that she feels like a real person. Of course it all depends on how you play her, does she still contain some of her innocence, or does she become colder as her friends slowly whittle down? And that’s really the strongest aspect of not just this episode, but the whole of season 2 up to this point.
On the whole this review may seem incredibly downbeat, but when you’ve set the bar so high it’s going to be hard to reach, and episode 4 is where the big stumble happens. It’s not a bad episode per se, just a disappointing one.