Still. Not. Bitten.
Platforms: PC (version reviewed), PS3, Xbox 360, iOS
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Release Date: December 17th (PC, PS3), December 18 (Xbox 360, iOS)
(This review is spoiler-free of this game’s content, however it will make references to Season 1 and the 400 Days DLC. Make sure to play these first for a more enjoyable experience!)
For all intents and purposes, 2013 is the year of the narrative. Whether it be almost-gameplay-free stories like Gone Home or meta-narrative parodies like The Stanley Parable, gaming is in the midst of evolving to involve storytelling success beyond the cinematic action-adventure game. Telltale Games has been at the forefront of this change, as their episodic, story-driven look into The Walking Dead universe has resulted with universal acclaim for Season 1.
As we close out 2013, what better way to cap off the year of the narrative with a return to The Walking Dead.
Now entering its second season, we follow the story of Clementine 16 months after the walker outbreak in Georgia. Broken and disheveled, it’s up to her now to make it in this horrible world. Clementine must use the skills, cunning and wit she learned from Lee to survive. Throughout “All That Remains,” we see her do just that. Whether it be a stranger, old friends or even stray dogs, our protagonist has had to do what everyone must among the walker wasteland; adapt to survive.
The Walking Dead’s overall design continues to impress. Even the smallest details are included in Season 2, with Clementine saying “S*!#” instead of “Shoot!” if, when you play as Lee in the first season, you used salty language offhandedly. The attention to the overarching narrative is important in a game where your choices matter, especially when there is little gameplay involved.
I’m not sure if it is because you play as a child this time around, one who is weaker and less intimidating than the adults that surround her life, but the sense of dread and sorrow has increased tenfold this time around. Walking around barren forests with few supplies available to fend for yourself drives fear and suspense. Not knowing who to trust creates a general distrust and dread for others. The scoring is what brings it together. Each track puts the scene in the appropriate mood, with additional music by Anadel being the cherry on the top.
That said, because this is a Telltale Game, familiar tropes have negated some of this goodwill. Based on past projects, we know that there will be 5 key decisions to be judged upon after all is said and done. We know that the end of the episode we will have to make a huge make-or-break choice. Cliche story beats with hinted turns cannot be avoided by pro-active thinkers, even though no survivor, regardless of age, would dare to make a foolish lapse in judgment. All That Remains does a great job at utilizing dialogue options you wouldn’t expect. The story’s means of pathing is all too predictable.
To make up for it, we see a great deal of improvements made to the visual aspects of The Walking Dead. All That Remains, from minute 5, shows us just what excellent cinematic direction can do to change the mood of a scene. The composition of the level design are done well enough to make you forget you are playing down a linear path. This is done in a large part to the settings, with the scale of the wilderness setting the stage as a comparison to the isolation of Clementine.
Additionally, the animation of the characters has been given a much-needed upgrade. No longer are players sliding into infinity along the few invisible walls. Facial expressions are detailed to show even the most subtle of emotions, giving the player implicit thoughts into the actions of those that interact with Clementine.
When you go almost all-in on the story, it is important that you know maybe this other character might be a bit too clingy in the eyes of the observant protagonist without hitting it over the head. There is enough of that conundrum when you have Clementine by herself, as she has to speak out loud to herself to drive the narrative. Regardless, Telltale has done an admirable job of maintaining the level of game design excellence they set for themselves.
It has ultimately, once again, left the company behind in the technical department. Just after release especially for those who bought The Walking Dead through Telltale’s own store, we saw many unable to log in to the game. That is because they needed to connect to Telltale Games’ servers in order to play. Despite the prevalence of Steam’s own DRM policy paired with the difficulty of pirating console games, this double-dipping on restricting game use without online access is confusing.
Furthermore, leftover technical bugs remain. Telltale really needs to fix whatever engine they are using, because it is not working at optimum use. Flickering foliage, fidgeting animations and frame rate drops persist. Pressing the wrong button in repetitive QTE’s doesn’t matter in the heat of the moment, counter-acting the intended nature of the scene. With the wider successes of The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, the time is now to solve what has been plaguing them for years.
Without going too much into plot details, The Walking Dead’s All That Remains sets Clementine down a path more grim than what seasoned players could have expected. In this episode alone we can see her use what she can to the best of her abilities, including manipulating others in interesting ways. The negatives of technical issues remain a dull spot on an otherwise great story.
Episode 1 is meant to set the table. The meat of the game will rely on the evolution of young Clementine as she becomes more of a strong individual throughout the season. Just as long as she remembers to keep her hair short.
(A Steam code was provided to GameSided for the purpose of this review.)