The Walking Dead: Season Two - Review
Warning: This review contains spoilers for both seasons of The Walking Dead game. You've been warned.
The Walking Dead: Season 2 was a huge challenge for developers Telltales Games, no longer did they have the advantage of surprise, the first season of their point-and-click adventure game set in Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead universe garnered plenty of praise upon its (episodic) release. Whilst The Wolf Among Us saw the developer continue tuning their trademark formula, this second series is the first time they've had to return to a story they've previously explored.
Thankfully, season two starts off with aplomb, players are now cast as Clementine the smart and resourceful young girl who Lee shepherded throughout the first series. It's an odd feeling, to be playing a character that we've already cared so much about, but never actually controlled. It's a smart move, players, in general are likely to take the selfless options in games, they are the protagonist after all. Yet, by having us take control of a character we've already become invested in players are much more likely to place Clementine's well-being above the needs of others. It's an interesting dilemma and Telltale play around with its effects well.
Each of the series five episodes gets steadily bleaker, as Clementine attempts to find meaning in a world that has, in all sense of the word, gone to hell. Many of the games moral dilemmas are well constructed without feeling too "obvious" or ham fisted. Take one moment where you're left to convince a suicidal companion that life is still worth living. In many respects, life isn't worth living in The Walking Dead, and the game's writers have carefully skirted around easy tests of morality in favour of more difficult decisions.
Of course, many of the game's choices aren't really choices per se. In some cases things will play out the same regardless of your decision, albeit perhaps with a slight change in some dialogue. This will undoubtedly frustrate some players, but in The Walking Dead's defence, it's not necessarily your choice themselves that matter. It's more the ideas that surround your choices that Telltale care about, and not necessarily the ramifications of every single outcome.
More importantly decisions are that much harder this time around. The end of episode screen that shows what other players chose makes a return and a lot more of those decisions were close to the fifty percent mark, hinting that, in most cases at least, Telltale had succeeded in forcing the player make difficult decisions.
In many other respects however this is very much the kind of game we've come to expect from Telltale; warts and all. Even 400 Days played around with more unique ideas than season two does. Whilst Clementine is on the whole a fascinating protagonist, there are a few issues, writing-wise that hinder some moments. Without giving anything away, there seems to be far too much weight placed on Clementine's shoulders all of a sudden, many of the game's characters seem idiotic or useless when compared to this highly resourceful eleven year old. In some parts this seems to strain plausibility somewhat; as if the writer's sometimes struggled to keep Clementine front and centre of her own story without making the other characters much weaker in comparison.
Similarly, the second episode reintroduces Kenny from season one, and, while it's a nice shock moment to have, the game quickly warps around him and his relationship with Clementine, at the cost of the other characters.
Overall, none of the new cast such as Luke, Nick, Carlos or Rebecca are as memorable as those in season one. In fact, the death rate in this season far outweighs those from last time around. There's a sense, at least with some of the deaths, that Telltale has fallen into a pattern slightly of offing characters just to up the emotional stakes. This always happens in this type of fiction, but sometimes it comes across as slightly lazy and as the season progresses the shock begins to wear off.
The final episode in particular seems to be desperate to rush to its climax, slowly whittling the group down over the course of its two hour runtime. It's not terrible by any means, but feels somewhat rushed and forced - an impression that unfortunately pervades a lot of this season. Unlike with Lee, there's very little puzzles or quieter moments to punctuate the bouts of action making for a much more relentless pace, as if the writers are sometimes simply skipping through the highlights, meaning we never get as attached many of the game's new characters.
Ironically, this season of the game suffers from the exact opposite problems that the TV show has done. Whereas, Rick Grimes and company had to suffer through endless bouts of filler and a languid pace, the game jumps from A to B to C so quickly you wish it'd pull on the reins a little bit and just soak in the atmosphere.
Yet, for all these problems, it's still one of the best examples of video game writing done well. Clementine is a wonderful creation, and a character that has so many complexities and nuances that you forget that she's an eleven year old girl who, last season, was happy doing leaf drawings. Telltale's challenge with Season 3, which has already been announced, will be to step out from under Clem's shadow, and let us see a bit more of this post-apocalyptic world as well.
The Walking Dead: Season 2 was released episodically from last December. The final episode was released at the end of August.
The game was released for 360, PS3, PC, Mac, Linux, Vita, Android, Ouya and iOS. A PS4 and Xbox One version is planned for release later in the year.
This review is based on the PS3 version of the game.
I've written more about the game's writing over on my blog, here.
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