After leaving players with one heck of a cliffhanger, Telltale wastes no time in raising the stakes at the start of Episode Four. Last episode, players found themselves presented with a difficult choice and sure enough, they're shown the aftermath immediately.
To quote Carlos in the previous episode, "Regardless of intent, there are consequences to rash actions." This episode shows the group at their most vulnerable and unhinged. Depending on your decisions, a lot of harsh words and condemnations are thrown at Clementine in this installment. In the exchanges Clementine shares with her deteriorating and judgmental allies, it's apparent that they've completely forgotten that she's just an eleven year-old girl who has had to shoulder burden after burden.
The focus of the episode centers around the survival of the group and the fate of Rebecca's new baby. It's here that Jane starts to act as sort of a surrogate big sister to Clementine. While many thought that Jane's only priority was herself, she proves to be a much more morally flexible and compassionate character in her conversations with Clem. However, it's hard not to think that Telltale is retreading familiar ground with a character remarkably similar to another character who appeared in the penultimate chapter of last season.
All the other supporting cast shines as well. Mike and Bonnie are more social and altruistic, Luke is more emotionally drained as more and more of his friends keep dying, and Kenny is in danger of losing what little of his humanity still remains. Every character, no matter how minor, leaves an impression in this episode.
Even the gameplay has marginally improved. The first three episodes of Season Two have been mostly streamlined, but this is not the case with Episode Four. For the first time since arguably Season One, players are tasked with using their head in several key moments where the solution is not always clear. There's a very tense and effective section where Clementine and Jane have to distract walkers who are surrounding their friends. While not on par with adventure games like Monkey Island or Sam & Max, the bigger emphasis on puzzles is certainly encouraging.
What stops this episode from receiving a completely glowing recommendation are two problems. The technical issues and loading times have not improved with this installment; at least not on PS3. The load-times really mess with the flow and and in a narrative heavy game like this, it's a huge problem. Secondly, there's a scene very late in the game that renders a tough decision you made earlier completely moot. It feels like a cheat and it's likely to provoke a few obscenities from angry players.
Regardless, Amid The Ruins is a solid episode and fans would do themselves a complete disservice by skipping this one. Recommended.