Developer: Telltale Games (2014)
Reviewed by: Jay
Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead is a revitalised point & click adventure. Much like S1, the game poses little skill challenge – the hardest being some QTEs or mild gunplay, with no penalty for dying. It’ll bounce between conversation trees, environmental exploration (investigating & talking to everyone at your leisure) and action segments. The heart of the Walking Dead is in the story: choosing your responses and making some big decisions with large ramifications (e.g. 2 people being attacked, save one). It’s all character-based, and you decide how yours responds.
A year after the zombie apocalypse. Whereas in Season 1 you play as Lee protecting Clem, in Season 2 you play as Clem (who quickly finds herself alone). The overarching story and acclimatising to your new group, hoping to find those in your old group, and treking North (towards Michican) and finding somewhere safe to live. And not dying of course.
Presentation: The art style is beautiful – cell-shaded ‘flat’ character models make it look like a living comic book. I absolutely love it.
The season consists of 5 eps, which last under 2hrs each. I’ll give a quick review of them:
Episode 1: All That Remains
Our first experience playing as Clementine -an 11 year old girl- which is a bold choice. The completely different dynamic works quite well, as Clem’s become hardened and self-reliant, emotionally stronger but still physically a child. There’s a shocking gameplay sequence in episode 1 where you patch yourself up, showing you just how resiliant she has become. You can choose whether her former personality is gone or still there, or manipulate people playing up being a child. The story is a bit all over the place, it takes a back seat to showing you the new Clem and meeting the new characters.
Episode 2: A House Divided
Befriending & teaching older (but much more sheltered) Sarah is interesting, like talking to clueless Clem before the apocalpyse. The compelling new villian, Carver, comes in two waves; a tense look around your house (when the group has left) and returning later in a massive action sequence, where the outcome of survivors is quite variable (great!). A strong point in the season.
Episode 3: In Harm’s Way
Your group is imprisoned at Carver’s camp. His underlings aren’t all that bad, but Carver’s harsh-but-fair words are quickly undone by his murderous outbursts. I felt the choices here were pretty straight cut (har-har) but the final choice actually really affects the first half of episode 4. Clem (thankfully) complains about how she has to do everything, which is a little exasperating this chapter. This and the prior chapter had some dodgy moments where the script calls for characters treat Clem (who’s 11!) like an adult – Alvin, a large, strong man, asks Clem to make sure a building is clear of walkers while he sits down; and evil dictator Carver says how she’s a tough leader just like him. An average episode I felt.
Episode 4: Amid The Ruins
S2’s high point. Continuing the escape of Carver’s camp and dealing with the fallout. Dialogue trees have never felt so important as you must talk a survivor into living. You spend a lot of time with Jane, a loner badass/clear-headed survivalist who teaches you a new combo technique to dispatch zombies (which is just great). A small point but I never got to give out to Luke for forgoing his duties and ultimately causes another survivor’s death, which still bugged me into episode 5! It’s not a huge thing but it’s noticeable, the scripting has a ‘most likely’ choice so sometimes your responses won’t entirely match up and it makes characters have some idiotic reactions (everyone wonders why Kenny’s so crazy despite something traumatic just happening to him). It doesn’t detract from this being an excellent episode!
Episode 5: No Turning Back
Felt like the aftermath of episode 4, mostly spent chatting (which is always enjoyable – same TWD quality) but just not a big blowout I hoped for. Any action sequences really just break up the chatting. Some character actions/choices/responses feel out of place (your last scene with Mike) and sequences seem hurried to get where the story wants to go (again, Mike). I went from loving Jane to getting annoyed with her. Between ep 4 and 5, she pushes her message (“you’re better off alone”, “we need to ditch him”) a little too strongly into “alright shut up” territory. The final sequences and choices are suitably huge, making the season end on 3 very different scenarios, which could spell the end for Clem’s story. Overall, still very enjoyable (as all episodes are), but falls short of episode 4.
Thoughts on the season as a whole:
• Clem’s a bad-ass. Saying that about an 11-year old videogame character is a new one!
• Great writing – Characters are colourful and interesting, sparking discussion. You care about their survival. Telltale have managed to craft a world both vivid and bleak with engaging and memorable characters.
• However, it’s just so depressing. It doesn’t have to beat you down the entire season – there’s only brief moments of reprieve before it gets much worse, Show a little bit of hope (like they did in S1!)
• Same with S1, although skillfully done, the game only gives the illusion of choice. In order to keep the game from spiralling out of control work-load wise, these loose ends are tied up in the same episode, if not early in the next one, so everyone’s at the same point again (i.e. someone’s always going to die).
• The game invites multiple playthroughs. You’d only find out this ‘illusion of choice’ by replaying the episode, discussing it, both hallmarks of a great game.
• 400 days (the between-season DLC) barely comes into play, just colouring your opinion of Bonnie. I didn’t trust her but your character does, which is annoying.
• Nothing to do with the game itself, but the wait time (2+ months) between chapters being released lowers the emotional punch starting the next one.
• In terms of gameplay it’s not much of a game. It’s a great interactive comic-book. It’s technical aspects has always been Telltale’s TWD’s weakest point. Depending on which platform you play it on, you might get some choppiness/audio-sync problems. I played it on PC and it was always perfect.
• Although this season never reached the heights of caring about Lee and protecting Clem of S1, Clem’s a much more fleshed out, excellent character, and a great follow-up journey.
• It’s worth noting that the positives outweigh any negatives by a wide margin – although there’s been recent point & click games (even by Telltale) which are similar, none have got it anywhere near so ‘right’ before The Walking Dead.
Overall: It’s an excellent playthrough, and with it’s low skill-level requirement, anyone vaguely interested should play it. A fantastic, emotional experience that already guarantees my purchase of S3, as well as Wolf Among Us, Game of Thrones, and probably Borderlands too. Unfortunately due to the extremely basic/somewhat clunky gameplay, I can’t rate it higher.
8/10 (but I strongly recommend)