Review: The Walking Dead: Season 2 Episode 2 – A House Divided (Sony PlayStation Vita)

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The Walking Dead: Season 2 Episode 2 – A House Divided
Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Telltale Games
Genre: Adventure
Release Date: 04/22/2014

Previously on Telltale’s The Walking Dead

Season 2 started off with a bang, as an older Clementine had to battle zombies, hungry dogs, and a lot of people in order to get herself in with a new group. However, everything falls to pieces quickly when a walker attack forced her to choose between two different paths.

So the first episode of season two was all about the setup. That means it’s time to get into the serous stuff, right? Well you’d be both correct and incorrect in that assumption. While a lot of action does happen here in episode two, there’s still yet more setup to lead into episode three. It appears as if the core of the game will come in that middle episode.

The story here is more interesting if you made a specific choice at the end of episode one. Otherwise, you just get to watch a guy get drunk. It isn’t long before a new wrinkle is revealed. That new group Clem found is being hunted by a dangerous man who wants to bring the group back in the fold. In order to avoid him, the group must go on the run.

twds2e21The good news is that you start to see more influence from your choices in season one make their way in. For example, a returning character has different things to say based on what happened before. Also, one of the characters from the DLC shows up, although that person doesn’t seem to be affected by past decisions yet. It’s interesting, and I can’t wait to see where it goes in the next episode.

As the nuts and bolts of each episode are roughly the same, I’ll be copy/pasting bits of my review from episode one into this and all future episode reviews. This chunk of the review will be in italics. If you’ve read the earlier stuff, feel free to skip it.

Visually, season two looks noticeably better than season one. Character models are cleaner and animate better without losing that comic book feel that serves the series so well. The color palette has also been upgraded. Each location and character feels richer and pops off the screen. It almost makes the first game seem dull by comparison. The framerate on the Vita version is still stuck in the old ways though. It often dips and even stalls during specific scenes. Usually this can be attributed to the game struggling to save and/or load. Either way, it’s no less distracting and annoying when it pops up. It’s a shame, because the technical issues were less prevalent in other versions of the game. The Vita has gotten the short end of the stick.

When you have a game like this that relies so heavily on voice acting for its exposition, it’s important that that voice acting be at lest tolerable. A bad voice actor can kill a character far easier than a herd of blood thirsty zombies. Fortunately, the cast here is up to the task. New and old voices alike do great jobs of bringing their characters to life. Clementine, as the star, is the lynchpin. As the character has grown up, so has the voice acting. She sounds more mature and more confident, while still keeping a child-like edge that keeps you from thinking she’s completely grown up.

Musically, the game is a hit. Between dramatic slow songs and fast paced strings, there’s a good song for each event in the game. Additionally, there are plenty of moments that have no music at all, which is a valid option more often than not. Combine that with a smart suite of sound effects, and the audio is pretty top notch.

Mechanically, the game is identical to the first season. Things are generally separated into one of three different types of gameplay sections: conversation, exploration, and action.

twds2e22Conversation in the game sticks to the standard. When Clementine has a chance to speak, there will be up to four different options. Picking different options will steer the conversation towards a different direction or tone, even it doesn’t always affect the overall story. You can also choose to remain silent by not choosing an option before the timer runs out. The story will move forward either way. These sections are generally more about playing Clementine the way you want her to be. For example, a more cold-hearted Clem might tell someone to keep their sob story to themselves, while a more timid Clem might play up the fact that she’s “just a little girl”. It allows for a bit of role-playing, which helps keep things interesting.

Exploration sections are pretty laid back. You aren’t on a timer and you’re free to walk around a small area. These sections have you trying to figure out what you need to do in order to progress. It might be restarting a fire, talking to the right person, or finding something to eat. In these areas, there are usually several different objects you can interact with. While many don’t directly affect your forward momentum, they do offer more depth to the story or setting. There’s no penalty for skipping them either. They’re completely optional.

Mechanically, the way you interact with objects and people is straight forward. Moving the right stick moves your cursor around the area. Move over an object you can interact with, and a series of icons will appear in your cursor. These icons correspond to the various PlayStation buttons. Generally, the cross button is for interact, triangle is for observe, and circle is for talk.

While Clem does have an inventory, you don’t have to worry about it too much. If you need to use that knife you picked up, you’ll simply be able to press a button when you’re in the right spot. There’s no inventory management here, which helps keeps things moving along.

Action sequences are incredibly simple. They’re basically quick time events where failing to input the correct buttons results in death and a quick respawn. These are generally well done, with the actions you’re asked to do logically following the action. For example, if your character needs to duck to the left, you’ll need to flick the left stick in that direction. If your character needs to duck to the right, you flick the stick to the right. It’s functional and gets the job done.

twds2e23It’s a pretty straight forward and simple. They figured they were better off keeping the gameplay intact and focusing more on the story and events that make up the game. While this style of gameplay certainly isn’t for everyone, it allows them to tell the tale they want. Function over form.

Episode two is even more action packed than episode one. While there’s less of Clementine having to put herself through physical hell, she’s required to put down more than a couple of walkers in the course of the episode. Also, there’s a wonderful section where you’ll decide the fate of one of the characters without a simple “choose x or y” approach. This makes that characters death (or continued existence) have more impact and meaning. I definitely approve.

All in all, the second episode is probably superior to the first. It’s a little less focused, but is able to tell a better story thanks to the increased number of characters/decisions.

Short Attention Span Summary
diehardjack1-150x150A House Divided continues the momentum from the first episode and sends season two into an overall positive direction. A lot happens, but it still puts aside time for setup for the rest of the season. In addition, one of the major decisions is made through a series of choices rather than one sudden one. That makes this episode feel more organic and interesting as a result. It’s also great to see that some of your decisions from season one are starting to have an effect. All in all, this moves the series forward in a positive direction. I can honestly say I’m quite looking forward to episode three.

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