Going into a Walking Dead game at this point, you’re going to be realizing one thing: no matter how nice everything seems, or how safe it might be, it’s not going to stay that way for long, and the safer you are or everything seems, the worse that turn around is going to be. Season 2 kicked off with a running bang that left little breathing room for Clementine, as she found herself on her own after getting split off from Christa. It was fast paced and intense, and let you know immediately what they were intending to do with the story and that they weren’t pulling punches just because you’re playing as an eleven year old instead of a former college professor. What we needed was a breather, a chance to slow things down a bit and get to know the new group we ended up with, and while Episode 2 moves at a slower pace than the first one, it’s no less intense. It manages to get far more character moments in while driving home this tension that builds right up until that last chapter of the episode, then leaves you wanting more. Let’s take a look.
Whichever way you finished off Episode 1, you’re going to find yourself holed up in either a cabin or a broken down delivery truck with walkers banging on the door trying to get in with you, along with whoever you decided to go with. You’ll be looking for a way out and some kind of way to barricade the doors more effectively with what you have on hand. Clementine can end up making a few references to things that have happened in the first season, depending on who you’re with, but in the end, after a night’s stay, it’s time to make a run for it, and things can get even uglier than they already are. Clementine makes it back to the cabin from Episode 1, but several of the house survivors are out looking for Clementine and the other two missing men. The others decide to leave Clementine in the house with Sara, with instructions to keep the older girl occupied and keep people out of the house. Of course, things go south when an unknown man comes a calling an invites himself inside. Clementine can manage to convince him to leave, but not before he gets what he wants: information on the other house members. It seems he’s looking for them. When the others return, Clementine tells them what’s gone on, and it spurs them into moving on while going out to look for whoever Clementine was with the night before.
This all ends up with a few great character scenes and interactions, some intense action as you make your way across an older train bridge, and an altercation at the end that sets other things in motion that leads to some shooting and a confrontation that will define what’s going to happen in the next episode. This is a bit more laid back than the first episode in that regard, but it’s just as intense a situation, as they manage to keep piling that tension on throughout, while even doing some of the more mundane things. As always, when things seem their best is when everything falls apart and goes to its worst. Clementine, while only being 11 at this point, is treated very much as part of the group and given responsibilities and tasks they know she can do. The only one that really overprotects her is Sara’s father, who’s basically ended up sheltering his daughter so much that, in one scene where you can teach her to shoot and use a gun, Sara has almost no abilities to survive in the world they live in now, unlike Clementine, and it’s actually a little terrifying to witness. Sara hasn’t been prepped at all and is very much a detriment to the survivors at this point, and even Clementine can see it.
They do give you a few options, especially when a member of the original group from Season 1 shows up, to bring up past events as they happened to you, and you can choose how you interact with the returning cast member, especially if Clem was around for certain scenes they were involved with. It was still nice to see a familiar face and I couldn’t help but trigger the hug option when they first showed up. Despite all the tension that’s layered into this, especially with Clementine kind of being relegated almost to a scout at this point (which isn’t entirely unrealistic as we are only a hundred years or so removed from having children working in mines and factories), this isn’t a happy world she’s in. Through this, they’ve managed to tell a great story through Clementine’s eyes. She’s seen a lot and has been working her skills so she’s actually become a fairly valuable member of the group, as outsiders are going to instantly underestimate her just because she’s a child.
Episode 2 ends up being a very solid entry in the series after the kind of broken emotional action whirlwind of the first episode of this season, and it was good to get the chance to interact with the house members and get to know them a bit before it all fell to shit again. We get introduced to what I’m assuming is going to be a recurring villain this season in this episode, and is the same guy who runs the group the house survivors were talking about in Episode 1. He oozes this kind of icky feeling such that you know he’s up to something the minute you lay eyes on him and hear that gravelly and familiar voice. This is already getting far more involved than we were with Season 1, as that was geared more toward just trying to survive, but this one is starting to get into that post-apocalypse political landscape a bit as well, and instantly adds that extra bit of depth to the experience.
I’m not going to go into the gameplay and controls too much at this point as I covered them in the reviews I did for Season 1 and the start of Season 2. I do think there’s a bit more shooting this time, aiming is more involved than before and there are less dodging and timed events that way, so you’re involved more from a game standpoint instead of just reacting, which is an interesting change-up here from what we’ve been exposed to. I did play this with a 360 controller and it played just fine, although some of the areas are a little cluttered, and where sometimes it looks like you should be able to go, you can’t and vice versa. It’s not game-breaking and it’s not in key moments, but it hampers the exploration a little bit, where I think it would have been interesting to explore more in one of the later areas of the game.
There are some impressive visual moments in this episode that we haven’t really seen in previous episodes, all focusing on the mid-point of the story, the abandoned and falling apart train bridge. There are some really wide shots that look fantastic and would look right at home in a big blockbuster from a helicopter, and work oh so well in those particular moments. Most of the time the action is confined to tight areas and shots, and while the trees in the forests have looked foreboding and really well done, this is one of the few times they stretch the legs of the game engine and give us a really long shot. If you’ve played Walking Dead before or The Wolf Among Us you know exactly what to expect visually. They definitely keep with the same style as they’ve used before, and it’s still just as effective as it was.
As this is a far more character driven episode than the last, they fall back on their impressive voice cast a bit ore for this one. Melissa Hutchison nails it perfectly as Clementine, and no matter what conversation option you pick, they feel like they’re coming from the character and aren’t out of place. Even when I decided she was going to be a bit sassy and mention that she’s not an asshole. The rest of the cast does a great job. One of the other survivor stand-outs for me was Walter, who’s voiced by Kiff VandenHeuvel, who you meet later on in the episode. Walter was a teacher, and you can tell he’s used to teaching kids as he sums up Clementine’s current state and abilities quickly and eloquently, and the voice acting fits the character wonderfully. My last big stand out was Carver, the villain of the episode. I mentioned he has a gravelly and instantly recognizable voice, and that would be because he’s voiced by Michael Madsen, who does the great likeable and instantly detestable villain oh so well, especially lending his voice to Carver. The music works really well in the episode, and there’s actually a really fantastic song cover in the end credits, “In the Pines (Where Did You Sleep Last Night?)” sung by Janel Drewis and arranged by the game’s composer.
So what about coming back to this again? With a few different ways to come into this one just from the last episode and more than a few ways you can leave it within the main plot’s changes, there’s a lot to try and mess with just to see changes in the storyline. Depending on how you play, the body count can rise fairly significantly before you actually leave, and the way you interact brings up different discussions about what happened in Season 1. There are Steam achievements, but they’ve continued with just playing through unlocking them, so once through will get you all of those, unlike Wolf Among Us. This is much a meatier, at least as far as story-telling goes anyway, entry into the 5 episode arc, and feels even more satisfying than the breakneck pacing of the first episode. It still clocks in around two hours, so even if you play all these only once, you’re still getting a decent amount of content for that season pass price.
This feels very much like the Walking Dead setting without using the characters from the show or comics anymore. It’s standing up very much on its own and doing its own thing, while still keeping the feel of both the comics and a little bit of the show, using the best of both worlds for the video game. They are going new places with the story, especially having changed protagonists on us completely this season, but as far as gameplay and other things, there isn’t anything new. I blew through this one in just under two hours in one sitting, and didn’t check my watch once. It was engrossing and flowed as it went, so I never felt bored or like it was moving too slowly. Seeing as how they’ve built up a huge audience with this with the quality they’ve been putting out so far, I can’t see interest waning much. I think one of the other big things for me was that I didn’t notice any major bugs at all. No stutters, no glitches, and the only long load time I had was going into the end credits, which ended up being worth the wait anyway with that fantastic song.
Short Attention Span Summary
While we got off to a break-neck start with Episode 1, Episode 2 has decided to crank up the tension while getting us those character moments so we know who we’re dealing with at the same time they’re yanking the rug out from under you. We get introduced to a proper villain in this episode, portrayed here rather well by Michael Madsen, who delivers his lines with his typical gravelly flair. You instantly dislike his character and know he’s up to something, and it won’t be good for you or anyone around you. Another character from Season 1 makes an appearance here, and while it’s good to see a familiar face, depending on how things went or your opinion of the person, things are just going to go from bad to worse. Events that happened in the first season get referenced a number of times, and while you’re playing Clementine you get the feeling that the adults realize that you’re far more capable than they realize and give you more and more responsibility and include you in some of the bigger discussions as well as just trying to get around with a few jokes here and there. It’s not done unrealistically and feels natural. Clementine is growing up, and right now we’re in the driver seat in a really messed up world and I’m loving every minute of it.