The Walking Dead Season 2 Episode 1
A continuation of Clem's journey, beautifully set up, and masterfully pulled off.
Hi, I’m Clementine.
She’s just standing there. Staring at the sky from between the immense trees in a dense forest. Alone. The loud silence that thunders through the trees surrounding her like some deadly and inevitable fog. The worst of it all being that she seemed right at home. No place to go, but nowhere to be.
She blended more in with the harsh forested surroundings and seemed more comfortable than you would think a child should. It was purposeful, though. One of the strongest parts of The Walking Dead season one was the creative, impactful, yet simple comic-style art scheme. In season two, Telltale Games made this scheme even more effective.
Rarely in the first season did the environment detract from the story, but it did have its limits, at times seeming more like individual set-pieces and less like an open, dangerous world torn apart by the fervent dissolving of humanity. This was addressed in the new episode through more interactive, open and dense worlds. Tension and fear were combined brilliantly with the rare feeling of tranquility and hope through the adjustment of depth of field, movement of background pieces and well placed blocking materials. Limiting the players ability to see what was forthcoming created a sense of urgency, oft combated by the placement of pieces of an old, healthy and happy world. A Frisbee. A home. It almost made the fear go away.
The snap of a twig and the faint growl of a walker woke her up. Slow, labored footsteps were approaching.
So many times in horror or survival titles, loud screams, creaking doors and faint voices take players out from under the veil of ignorance for an instant, forcing them to catch their breath. In some instances, this is a useful mechanic for promoting urgency, but in so many others it does the opposite. Sneaking around a house to find a way in, or succumbing to death via horde is scary by itself. Add the faint crunch of a leaf, followed by the moan of a beleaguered lost soul, does enough motivating without removing one from the experience.
The sound design was balanced such that it alone would unconsciously draw the player further in to this terrible world, and nearly create it’s own narrative on the absence of life. Telltale did a phenomenal job of placing sound at appropriate environmental volumes and locations, while still making the violent and loud intrusions of noise seem innate.
A low growl followed by a sharp hiss of a scream. She had to hit it over and over again with discarded masonry, but brick by brick the walker fell back to his doom.
In any point-and-click adventure, garnering control of the protagonist can often be a feat greater than needed, and in season one of The Walking Dead, this was the case. Sporadic mouse movements, and the simple four-way directional scheme many times proved more difficult to conquer than the battles themselves. While not changing much about the controls this season, Telltale added many elements to counter-balance the shortcomings they’ve previously dealt with.
Less cluttered and more directionally motivated level layouts, combined with new button prompts and instances where the game takes control of simple movements to allow the player to make the complicated moves make for a much better experience. Combat was greatly improved as well, allowing more room for error in location, yet compensating for that with a more challenging time limit on attacks. The more detailed environments also made the fights seem more organic in their development, forcing the player to may more attention to surroundings and bury themselves even deeper in the experience to be able to think on the fly in a tense situation.
The bricks weren’t enough. It was caught, but not dead. She reached for the hammer, not realizing they were watching from the doorway. She wasn’t a little girl anymore.
It’s easy to say that one the strongest parts of any Walking Dead production are the characters. Unfortunately, no matter how you played through season one, many of them died, leaving large gaps to fill. The clear antagonists are the walkers, but that’s never good enough for the writers behind these stories. Many of the characters are so strong it’s almost preferable to know you’re fighting a walker, and not some broken down psycho.
The ability of Telltale to quickly and efficiently create characters that bond with the player, whether that bond is good or bad, is enviable. This success continues in the season two. A wonderfully voiced, and written, cast of people surround the growing Clementine, treating her differently and revealing their true selves via the interactions they share with her. Clementine herself is confounding when it comes to her attitude and ability. Looking and thinking one way, and showing an entire other person to the rest of the world. With the use of saved games and choices from the past season, Telltale made it abundantly clear that your past actions influenced many small pieces of Clem’s psyche, but still allow you to control her development further in season two. She grows exactly how you want her to, but still shows parts of herself you didn’t know were there, which bodes well for her continuing development.
In awe, a tear welled in her eye. Immobile, she seemed trapped in her own body. What could she have done differently?
Before the opening credits even rolled in this game, I was teary-eyed. Not one to shy away from shocking developments and result of actions takes, this time I was unsure how much I actually had to do with the people lying motionless before me. Could I have paid more attention? Thought ahead and not left my gun out? None of it mattered, I guess. What happened couldn’t be undone, and it felt deflating. I sat in my chair, jaw open, wide-eyed, silent.
The story in Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead has always ratcheted players one way, only to turn them in another direction. Spinning your view of characters in mere minutes of gameplay, making you regret decisions you were only too sure of seconds ago. The intercepting character arcs always came together at just the right moment, making me want to be a good person in this game even though so many people tried to hurt me. The subconscious illusion of player certainty is challenged so well again by Telltale, I’m not sure how much longer they can keep outdoing themselves. Bringing to light that maybe we don’t have all the answers. In a society that enjoys speculative investigation into apocalypse when it comes to weaponry, location, supplies, etc., Telltale reminds us we are all human, even the ones crawling bloodied on the streets. It quietly asks players whether or not they think it’s worth keeping a shred of humanity in themselves, and then no matter the choice, making them feel wrong and insecure in their decision, and giving only an option to keep playing and trying to find the right answers.
Devoid of the ‘next-gen’ graphics we’ve been saturated with over the past months, missing big name music producers, lacking AAA budget, this game still out performs most of what I’ve played in the last year. My only regret? Not squeezing it in during 2013. Going to be hard to beat this one.