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Common Struggles

We’ve been through our share of trials in Telltale’s The Walking Dead, from tragic deaths to power-crazed leaders. At this point, expecting the worst is easy. On one hand, this bleakness offers great moments when something provides a glimmer of hope. On the other hand, this also means events can get predictable. Just like the survivors in The Walking Dead’s world, I’ve grown numb to death and distrust. Above The Law treads familiar territory with its zombie fights and shady characters; it doesn’t have the emotional pull or shocking revelations of previous episodes.

Above The Law picks up right where episode two left off. The group has made it to Richmond in hopes of saving Kate from her gunshot wound. What they didn’t expect was running into David, Javier’s brother and Kate’s husband, who was thought to be long gone. The episode focuses on your relationship with David, forcing you to question his motivations for joining with the New Order – a rival group that has caused plenty of pain for Javier and company. Last we saw, David didn’t have a good relationship with Javier, but he seems to have mellowed out due to the current circumstances.

Telltale does a better job at fleshing out characters and making them more morally ambiguous and not one-note in this chapter. I hated David before but started questioning my initial impression after seeing him show concern for Javier. At this point, I don’t even know if I always trust Clementine, who I’ve been connected to since the start of the series. Everyone has done things they aren’t proud of in life-or-death situations. Fragile mental states are commonplace and people can change in a heartbeat. As we know, survival often brings out the worst in people, making for selfish decisions. The core Walking Dead staples and themes are all here, but they feel recycled. After all, didn’t season two put us face-to-face with corrupt leaders, survival-of-the-fittest mindsets, and in-group struggles for power?

Even so, I enjoy how Telltale is showing different sides to every character, especially the flashback sequences to explain their motivations. Seeing more of what happened at the end of season two with Clementine is a highlight, as it clarifies why she’s more hardened. Additionally, observing Javier’s family get more complicated adds an extra layer of drama. Learning more about characters and watching those relationships grow is still what keeps me invested, even if I have yet to find any of my choices meaningful. As a series that continually emphasizes player decisions, this is a serious problem. This has been a persistent issue for Telltale and The Walking Dead, and I’ve given up hoping that it will get better. In addition, the heat-of-the-moments decisions that force you to go with your gut were mostly missing here, which is a shame because those are the most effective.

As for the action, fights are losing their luster. I can only tap so many buttons to kill a string of zombies before it all starts to blend together. Telltale has tried to alleviate this by adding some different mechanics to ratchet up the intensity. For instance, as your group is fighting off a swarm from breaking through a gate, you must secure a safe place. In another scene, when you finally confront an awful person, you can choose how many times you want to hit them to illustrate your anger. Telltale has done this in the past, but putting justice in your hands feels more satisfying.

Unfortunately, Above The Law ends on a lame, predictable cliffhanger that left me cold. Now that we’re in the third season, Telltale needs to stop retracing the same path and provide legitimate surprises.  

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