This post was originally written for Junkies Nation. Since the site is on hiatus, I was given permission to cross-post my work there to my own blog. My first cross
-post is this review for “All That Remains”–the latest addition to Telltale’s The Walking Dead series. You can find the original post here. Enjoy!
Like many gamers, I thought that the first “season” of Telltale’s The Walking Dead was one of the best games I played in 2012–if not the best game. I loved the art style that harkened back to the series’ roots. I was thrilled that in-game decisions actually affected the storyline. And, like most people that played the game, I loved Clementine.
But that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t a little concerned when Telltale announced that the second season would have us play as Clementine. Would she be able to carry a story as the central character? How would playing as a child affect the story elements that made the first season so effective? For me, the first episode laid these concerns to rest. Playing as Clementine brings only minor changes to the tone of the game. The threat of the undead have been normalized, but the world is still a dangerous place. It’s also lonelier–you don’t have the companionship of Lee and Clementine anymore, and human interaction is a little more of a struggle all around. Do you play Clementine as a hardened girl, dealing threats and blame to those who wrong her? Or do you try to appeal to the humanity in others, protesting that you’re just a kid who needs help?
I have to admit, though, that I was slightly annoyed with playing as Clementine immediately after I finished playing the game. I felt like I had to constantly beg the other characters to listen to me, or to take me seriously. I knew I could handle what the game was throwing at me, but NPCs were patronizing or dismissive. There were a few that were accepting but, overall, I felt like the game treated me like a kid. And once I made that connection, I completely changed my mind regarding how I felt about playing as Clementine. The gameplay itself hasn’t changed. With the exception of fewer puzzles (at least in this episode), the level of difficulty is the same as in Season One. But the challenges Clementine faces while interacting with the NPCs are entirely realistic, and make the storytelling that much stronger. With all that she’s faced, Clementine is older than her years. She can’t connect with people her old age, but adults still treat her like a child. Clementine is often frustrated by those around her, which makes it natural that the player internalizes some of that frustration along with her.
This leads to a larger criticism that I have of the episode–the first half seemed to drag in order to get Clementine to the central conflict in the episode. Then the end of the episode came suddenly, with that rather ineffective choice and a cliff hanger that would fail to leave any new players desperate for more. Still, though, the episode was full of strong storytelling and effective plot devices. I, personally, loved the central conflict–but I also enjoyed the sickness storyline in the most recent season of The Walking Dead TV show. However, there isn’t much indication of what lays ahead. The first season made it’s story arc pretty clear from the beginning, but Season Two hasn’t told me why I should keep coming back.Other than the relationship between Lee and Clem, the distinguishing elements of the first season are still there, and still strong–mostly. The combat elements still mimic the frantic fighting style that would undoubtedly emerged when overwhelmed by the undead. The dialogue options remain deliciously diverse. The only fault I experienced came at the end of the episode. Two characters are in danger, and you have to choose to help one of them. However, since I didn’t get much time to get to know these characters, I was pretty apathetic about this choice.
In short, the first episode of Season Two of Telltale’s The Walking Dead is a true successor to the first season. While there are some visual bugs in the game, and my XBLA version had some terrible lags, the story elements of the game shine. And it is the story that Telltale emphasizes in each of its recent games–they describe The Walking Dead as an “interactive adventure”, after all. The zombie apocalypse is a different monster when you’re playing as a child. You face different threats and challenges, which means that the game feels fresh despite the fact that we’ve played in this manner and this environment before. And you determine the person that Clementine becomes in this dangerous and lonely world. This alone would keep me coming back for more, even if I was more concerned by the somewhat lacking central story arc.