When people talk about a ‘hard-hitting, satisfying, choice-based story’, it’s always invariably about a AAA-Title; some game with a honking huge budget that features more bells and whistles than you can shake a stick at. But at the end of the day, it’s the story that sticks with you that should matter. Telltale’s The Walking Dead Season 1 was certainly not a triple-A title, but it was a story that stuck with you. It had multiple varied characters, all of whom felt like actual flawed people trying to get by in a world ravaged by the zombie apocalypse. Now, with The Walking Dead Season 2 beginning it’s run of episodic content, I eagerly dug into the first episode, “All That Remains.” I’ll be avoiding spoilers in this particular post; partially due to the newness of the game, but also because I feel you should experience the game itself. After the cut, I’ll be going into some general impressions on it, but nothing story-specific. That’ll be a later post!
One of the things that immediately jumped out at me is how much more smoothly the game experience ended up being. Starting with the install alone, it was a lot more streamlined than the previous season; I had to do a lot of technical wrestling to get Season 1 going, not to mention the configuration edits I needed to get it to go in my native resolution. Between those problems being resolved and the Skybound engine looking a hell of a lot prettier, you can tell Season 2 has a lot more going into the technical aspects this time around. Gone are the wonky camera-to-player angles; while the first one was never a bad camera angle, there were times where there was a slight disconnect between a direction on the keyboard and the screen, which could lead to some awkward moments. The UI itself has been cleaned up as well. It’s a nice, crisp minimalistic interface that helps highlight what you can interact with without being intrusive or demeaning to the player.
Outside of the technical trappings, the game started off on a great foot. It gives you a quick rundown on what happened previously without spoiling all of the previous season. You’re soon right back in the saddle as Clementine, the young charge of the previous season’s main character, Lee Everett. From the get go, you can tell the events of the previous season heavily affected Clementine and her fellow survivors. Especially Clementine–it’s hard to pull off subtle changes to a character, but her voice actress Melissa Hutchison pulls it off amazingly well. Clem is still very much a kid, but certain events pull a gravity out of her that’s both emotionally deep and authentic at the same time.
Randy asked me a good question–would the impact be as great if it wasn’t a kid you were playing as? There is some grounds to this, since admittedly some variant of “aww, poor kid” did play through my mind. A lot of this is due to the high quality of the interactions you had with Clementine in the previous season. You spend a lot of that game watching her grow up in the post-zombie apocalypse world, and now watching her fend for herself makes it strike home all that much more. Despite her age, some of the events you have to go through would make me cringe even if it was a big, burly biker having to do the same thing. In the end, I’d liken it to a TV show; you’ll be more invested if you’ve watched the previous season and grown to know the characters.
In “All That Remains”, as you do play as Clementine, the gameplay feels substantially different. As Lee Everett, you felt more… rugged and tough. You could bash zombies head in and shoot a gun with the best of them. A lot of the action scenes in this one have more to deal with Clementine using her smaller size and wits to outsmart walkers; instead of bashing your way through a crowd, you duck and weave. If one grabs you? It’s a lot more of a struggle to pull yourself away. It’s a dynamic that does a great job of putting you in character, and makes the way you deal with threats very character appropriate. The other thing that makes this stand out above other zombie fiction is that the majority of the conflict isn’t between you and zombies; it’s between you and the other survivors. This means that the zombies aren’t treated with any more reverence than you would treat a bear or other wild animal.
Finally, the way choice is handled in this series is possibly one of the best ways I’ve seen it pulled off in a game. Now, to be clear, that doesn’t mean you’re going to change the outcome–events are always going to happen in some way or another. Instead, your choices manifest as real, tangible relationships; how you choose to treat someone has very clear repercussions on how that relationship plays out, and that does have a drastic effect in how things go down. Things still go down so the result is sometimes the same, but the means in which it happens vary drastically.
At around 20 bucks for around two-hours of play, the price feels a little steep, but the first season was hands-down possibly the best story I’I’ve experienced in a game. Considering that this season is shaping up to be at least equal, if not better, than the previous one, this earns my hearty recommendation for purchasing as soon as your budget allows.by