Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Platforms: PC (Version Reviewed), PS3, Xbox 360, iOS, PS Vita
(The first page of this review will try to remain spoiler-free of this game’s important content, however it can make passing references to Season 1 and the 400 Days DLC. Make sure to play these first for a more enjoyable experience! The second page contains a full review with spoilers for all of Episode 2.)
The Walking Dead Season 2 continues where Season 1 left off…this time, in the shoes of Clementine. Clementine is no longer the frightened little girl she was in Season 1. She’s been scarred. She is strong, resilient, and able to stand up to the zombie apocalypse and all its horrors, living and dead. The game begins with nine-year-old Clementine, but it quickly jumps ahead sixteen months. This additional age is exactly what Clementine needed to abolish the last of her helplessness that we saw in the first season, and stand up with the adults as a believable, capable character.
Clementine is no longer the frightened little girl she was in Season 1. She’s been scarred. She is strong, resilient, and able to stand up to the zombie apocalypse and all its horrors, living and dead.
The Walking Dead is a story-based game. The player makes decisions and explores the world as Clementine. Telltale reminds you at the beginning of each episode that all of your decisions matter, and that the story is “tailored by how you play.” If you have them turned on, you will receive reminders periodically in the top of your screen as you make choices: “They will remember that.” These decisions, and many of the decisions you made as Lee in Season 1, will color the dialogue and actions of Clementine and those around her, whether they are small decisions such as how to comfort a grieving friend, or big ones, such as deciding who is most worth saving in a critical moment.
Unfortunately, most of these decisions do little more than shift the tones of conversation. I respect the developers’ need to keep most of the major game events the same regardless of what Clementine says, but I felt that my decisions mattered even less in Season 2 than 1. Saying nice things to certain characters made them feel good in the moment, but unlike 1 there was no moment where my loyalty was rewarded, or not, depending on how I had acted. No lives could be saved or lost or sent in different directions based on my decision, not until the very end.
Although Clementine is capable, she’s still a child. In Season 1, Lee was constantly breaking up fights, protecting the weak, and spurring the unmotivated into action. Lee was a leader. Clementine is not. Many times I sat helplessly while my companions fought, because Clementine did not know how to make them stop. With Lee, I felt in control of my environment. Clementine was merely along for the ride.
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A similar problem was found in the game’s quick-time events (QTE) and exploration. I loved the addition of using the directional keys during QTE to dodge zombies, but I hated the changes to Q and E when pushing objects or struggling with walkers. In Season 1, the difficulty of completing the QTE added to the tension in the moment–as I mashed my Q button I felt Lee’s struggle with whatever he was facing, or the helplessness of being unable to complete a particular action. Clementine’s QTEs were all too easy. They felt like mere gimmicks.
Exploration, too, was lacking compared to Season 1, where Lee had a snarky remark for even the most mundane items. Clementine looked on in silence at a few key things. She solved no puzzles. The extent of her interaction with the world was to look, and retrieve an item. And there were less opportunities for such exploration. The game flowed more like a slightly-interactive movie than a video game.
This lack of freedom also eliminated opportunities to speak with other characters. Clementine never had any optional dialogues with characters while she was exploring. I used to relish these little breaks–as Lee, I spoke to everyone. Clementine never got more than a one-line response every time I tried to speak to someone outside of the narrative. As a result, I felt detached from my companions this season.
In a world where you don’t know who you can trust, betrayals and acts of heroism are always gut-wrenching, because they always come out of those you least expect.
Without spoilers it is difficult to talk about the narrative. The story is beautiful and painful, and though there were some slow moments (especially episode 4), there were surprises along the way. Your final decisions are intensely difficult. In a world where you don’t know who you can trust, betrayals and acts of heroism are always gut-wrenching, because they always come out of those you least expect. Story is where this game shines.
Most problems I had with this game occurred because Clementine was believable. Her inability to affect change, her silence, and her jadedness belonged to her. And the ending I got on my first playthrough, though not as heartwrenching as Season 1’s, was still beautifully sad and concluded her story perfectly…for now. I hope that Telltale brings her back in Season 3, either as a supporting character, or an adult.
The graphics were even better than in Season 1 and considerably less awkward. The background music wasn’t noticeable most of the time, but the credits songs by Anadel were just gorgeous.
Keep reading onto the next page for some of my thoughts about the game, with full spoilers, all the way through the game’s dramatic conclusion.
I give The Walking Dead: Season Two an 8. You need to play Season 1 to really get the full impact of this game, but unfortunately when you do, it’s easier to see the flaws in the second, especially the lack of gameplay. But Season 1 was so awesome that it would have to fall pretty far for Season 2 to be a bad game by any standards, and it’s certainly not that. Play this game for the story and the journey, and bawl your eyes out at the end. It’s worth it.