It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of the episodic The Walking Dead: Season One by Telltale Games. This actually came as a bit of a surprise to me. Interactive fiction just wasn’t my thing… or so I thought. Right from the first of the five episodes that make up Season One I was entranced. What’s not to love? It’s got it all – amazing stories, great writing, complex and realistic characters and a tense atmosphere that never abates. So of course, I had to play the two episodes of Season Two that are out so far, because I just have to know what happens dammit! Obviously since it’s not all out yet, I can’t judge the whole story arc or give a fair review of the season, but I still wanted to get my thoughts down about the first two episodes, in case there are people out there who haven’t played it yet and want to know how it stacks up so far against the incredible first season.
This time we get to play as Clementine, the little girl from Season One who, in many ways, is not so little anymore. Obviously I don’t want to give anything away about the story as that would be like unwrapping your Christmas presents for you, so all I’ll say is that that Episode One ‘All That Remains’ and Episode Two ‘A House Divided’ finds Clementine travelling with a new group. Episode Two also introduces us to a couple of familiar faces and introduces a new bad guy.
Considering how much I rant about The Walking Dead’s story, it should be no surprise that this is again my favourite part of Season Two so far. The first two episodes contained plenty of nuanced writing, subtle characterisations and of course, difficult decision-making that challenges your idea of what’s right at every turn. Episode One throws you into the deep end immediately – there’s no happy, calm interval while you get caught up with what’s been going on. You’re immediately faced with gut-wrenching tragedy in true The Walking Dead style and some very very difficult decisions that will have you second-guessing yourself at every turn. Once again, I have to applaud Telltale Game’s ability to effortlessly weave hard issues about human nature, morality and existence into a complex and poignant narrative.
And it’s not just more of the same. Playing as Clementine introduces a whole new dynamic when interacting with other characters, both in terms of how you treat them and how they treat you. At first I expected to make many of the same decisions as my Lee from the first season, but soon I found my goals and beliefs subtly changing as time went on. I discovered that I was much more protective of Clementine and I wanted her to be tough and survive, as opposed to how I played Lee where I felt more comfortable just trying to make the morally right decisions, damn the consequences. She’s just a little girl after all. Despite the fact that you’re almost immediately shown just how tough, independent and capable she’s become, deep down she’s still vulnerable just like any kid. Although she can take down a zombie with impressive ease and dexterity, groups of human adults is a different ballpark entirely. As a kid she’s more easily taken advantage of, so trusting people becomes a very careful exercise. Although there’s a familiarity there as by now we all know Clementine pretty well, playing as her rather than Lee feels completely different and fresh experience. There’s also something really awesome about seeing an eleven year old girl kicking major ass and taking names.
As mentioned, this season features a whole new cast of characters, which is always a risky move. Although we still don’t know too much about Clementine’s new ‘friends’ yet, there are some great moments of character development, in the second episode particularly. Much as I liked some of the characters from the last season, it was great having a new cast with their unknown pasts and personalities to explore. As with all new characters that are introduced to this game, the question of how much you should trust them is always lingering in the back of your mind, creating that overarching sense of tension that The Walking Dead is so well known for.
There were, of course, a few flaws. It’s true that the first episode’s story didn’t quite shine as much as one might have hoped coming out of the first season. It does feel more like the first episode was all about setting things up and making sure you were introduced to all the new characters and consequently wasn’t the most exciting. The writing was at times a bit on the shallow side as compared with previous episodes and there was sometimes a sense of rushing through events to get through it all. Because of this, many of the new characters felt a little flat and difficult to empathise with, although by the end of the second episode they did start feeling more ‘real’. At the same time, it’s very early days yet and the introduction of a whole group of new characters was bound to feel a little bit stilted after having been so emotionally involved in another group that you’d gotten to know so well.
It’s been said that this season has so far had much more action than the last season and that’s certainly true. There’s much more combat and it’s also gotten much harder, although I’m talking about occasionally dying once and trying again, not the kind of dying over and over you get in the Witcher 2. It’s still a point and click adventure game after all. Personally, I think this has beens a good thing. The increased amount of action made it feel much more interactive and more gamey. Much as I loved the first season, it did often feel like I was watching a movie that required the occasional mouse click. I also felt the action only helped increase the sense of urgency and tension. However, at times I did think Telltale lost a little of that focus on your choices and their impact. A lot was going on and I did miss some of those quieter, more introspective moments and deep character development. In particular, many of the big decisions felt forced, in that no matter what you did the outcome would be the same. For a game were the decisions you make are supposed to be of the utmost importance, they too often felt futile. There’s certainly a difficult balance to strike. However, Episode Two featured many quieter moments of introspection and character development. Things seem to be going in an interesting new direction and we’re only 2 episodes in, so I’m looking forward to how the rest of the season unravels.
Overall the complaints I had were very minor and my experience with the first two episodes has been very promising. It seems strange to say that a game so full of tragedy and heartbreak was fun, but it really is. The beginning of this season has had all the things I loved about the last season – heartrending moments that feel like getting punched in the gut, more philosophical reflective moments, heavy decisions, interesting characters, a bit of exploration and a tightly told story that never seems to veer away from its vision. Are these 2 episodes worth playing for fans of the first season? Two words. Hell yeah!