"Clementine is having a bad day."
The first season of Telltale's The Walking Dead game came out of nowhere and surprised a lot of people. A few technical issues and a general lack of polish didn't keep it from winning over 90 Game of the Year awards in 2012, and now, at the end of 2013, Season Two has finally begun.
This is a review of the first episode of Season Two, and it will contain massive, game-ruining spoilers for Season One. If you haven't played the first season yet, why haven't you? Get out of here and correct that mistake before proceeding.
This first episode, All That Remains, begins a few months after the end of Season One and the soul-crushing death of protagonist Lee Everett. It turns out that the two silhouettes glimpsed in the distance in the previous post-credits scene were Omid and Christa, but from there it's not long before another 16 months have passed and Clementine is on her own again.
Clem is our player character this time around, and she's a little older and wiser than she was in Season One. She's taller and has a more mature voice, making her the only character in the history of the Walking Dead comic universe to visibly age. Lee was a brand new character when he appeared in the previous game, and his personality was at least partially influenced by the choices players made (running a cannibal through with a pitchfork versus allowing him to live, for example).
We already are familiar with Clem's thoughts and mannerisms. That fact might seem like it would lead to limited options where dialogue and actions are concerned, but that's not quite the case. Lee decided whether or not to crush an old man's head with a salt lick. Clementine's choices, though less obvious, are still important. They’re merely more subtle. Her dialogue options often contain the potential to be straightforward, dishonest, or manipulative. She's sneakier than Lee was, dealing with problems by trying to stay out of sight. Lee tackled most situations head on, axe in hand, whereas Clementine is more low key (and for good reason).
You'll quickly realize is that Clementine is significantly weaker, physically, than anyone else we've played as up to this point. She's overpowered by adults and she must inflict several blows to the head before a zombie will fall. Clem was largely sheltered from more direct threats when Lee was watching out for her, but now that she's on her own, she's exposed to more danger than ever before and Telltale isn't afraid to make her suffer. Don't think the universe will go easy on her because she's a child, and don't think you'll be prepared to deal with certain events just because you can sometimes see them coming. There's one particular moment that is clearly designed to make you grow attached to someone so that you'll be sad when something bad happens to them, and you'll know something bad is going to happen, and you'll brace yourself for it… but nothing can prepare you for just how powerful that moment of pain will actually be. The Walking Dead universe brings only misery to all, and joy only exists to make the rest of your character's existence hurt more.
The first season's gimmick of having your choices affect the story is back, of course, even carrying over your decisions from your Season One save file. Clementine will remember things that you said to her while playing as Lee. So far, nothing has had a major effect on the events of the second season, but Clementine remembers the last piece of advice you gave her at the end of Season One and that's touching enough to justify sticking with whatever platform already has your Season One save file. It’s worth noting that so far, nothing from last season's special 400 Days DLC has had a noticeable impact. One character from that content does make a minor cameo, but don't blink, or you'll miss it.
In less depressing news, the quick time events have been improved for Season Two. Much as in Telltale's other current episodic game series, The Wolf Among Us, QTE sequences are more dynamic than the previous standard within Telltale’s titles. You can make mistakes sometimes, and the scene will be affected without changing the ultimate outcome. Some input is still necessary to avoid a Game Over, but others will produce consequences for failure without leading to an instant death. Inputs themselves are more varied, too. Instead of just asking you to press or mashing face buttons, some events will require control stick movement, or a combination. This new input is put to good use in one particularly effective QTE sequence late in the episode. I'm still kind of grossed out by that one.
On an even more technical side, the game is still messy, sometimes pausing to load after selecting dialogue choices, and just not moving as smoothly as it could in general. The animations could also still use some motion capture acting, but they do the job. The character models have been given a new coat of paint, with spiffy new cel-shaded outlines. Characters are also well acted and the music is fittingly melancholy. It would have been nice to see a bit more polish in this game than in previous Telltale games, but it seems that they'll be sticking with their Telltale Tool engine for a while longer.
All That Remains is a worthy entry in the Walking Dead episodic game series. It feels much like a Season One episode with a few minor tweaks, and that's great. Season One was fantastic and if Telltale can continue to produce episodes that are as engaging and heart-wrenching as the first five, there's nothing to worry about. Season Two doesn't have to reinvent the wheel to be worthwhile. If you liked Season One, rest assured: Season Two, so far, is every bit as great.
Staff review by Rhody Tobin (December 26, 2013)
Rhody likes to press the keys on his keyboard. Sometimes the resulting letters form strings of words that kind of make sense when you think about them for a moment. Most times they're just random gibberish that should be ignored. Ball-peen wobble glurk.
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