While I generally like Telltale Games, they weren’t going in a very inspiring direction with some of their licensed titles, and I was very skeptical when the Walking Dead series was announced, since it wasn’t really going to even follow the comic or the TV show, just keep the mood, setting and look of the comic with all new characters. I can point to a few of their titles that didn’t turn out so good doing that, but then, when Walking Dead came out, they hit it out of the park. Here was an adventure game that took some of my favorite bits from other genres and fiddled enough with the formula to kind of give the genre a fresh feel, even if it did take it more toward the realm of being an interactive film of sorts. I loved it enough that I ended up buying the PS3 version as well, and 400 Days for PC when that released earlier this year, and this was definitely high on my list for wanted titles. Would it live up to the hype? Well after a few fits and spurts, my experience points to the yes column. Let’s take a look.
I’m keeping some of the bigger spoilers out of this, but fair warning, you might get one or two here and there. When we last left Clementine in Season One, she was alone and trying to hide from two unknowns coming her way. Lucky for her and us, those two unknowns happened to be two of the former group that Clementine had been traveling with, Omid and Christa. The three travel together, and Omid tries to keep everyone in good spirits. That doesn’t last long, as events often don’t quite unfold the way we’d like for people in this game. We get a time jump, going 16 months later, and Clem is alone with just one other as they cook up a dead weasel, or at least try to, as the fire won’t co-operate in the rain. Clementine gets split off from her partner after they’re attacked by an unknown group of men with guns, and Clem falls into a river on accident, but it does get her away from the attackers and some walkers. Clementine then tries to find shelter or food, and instead finds on tragedy that leads her into yet another group of people who don’t quite trust her.
You can play the ‘but I’m just a kid’ card, but Clementine has done a lot of growing up, even though, as I figure it, she’s only 10 and possibly going on 11. The world has shown her a few things, and it’s forced her to take on a lot to survive, and trying to manipulate or get the new group to help her is just one of those other things. The new group is interesting, and not everyone will trust you or even like you. It gets interesting trying to move around them and trying to get them to trust you at the same time. There’s really decent pacing in this, with just enough breathers to keep you from being overwhelmed, but a sense of growing tension that really keeps you on your toes. While this episode feels like it’s setting things up, there isn’t much from your decisions in the first season that really reflect here. Yes, the ‘previously’ segment at the start and a few reactions here and there to different conversations show up, but we do get a peek at what’s to come and they’re definitely setting up the over-arcing theme this season throughout the episode. While not nearly as strong a start as the first episode last season had, this one definitely shows you where Clementine has been and lets you know what she’s capable of now. She’s a survivor, and even though she’s a young girl, she’s developed some serious chops in navigating the world, and it’s going to be an interesting season.
Visually you’re not getting anything different from Season One. If anything, I think they’re pushing their game engine a bit more with some of their pulled back shots in the forests and a few of the other effects, but the game is set up to emulate the Walking Dead comic book, only in color, and it does that amazingly well as of yet. Clementine does look like she’s aged a little bit when the time moves ahead, and that coupled with how she moves and her dialogue and voice-acting working in combination really sells that’s she’s been through quite a lot since we left her and Lee. They’ve upped their visual story-telling with the cinematics and the way they’re displayed to the viewer, and the stutter I’d occasionally get in Season One is gone entirely. There are a couple of key moments in the game that worked really well visually and made me absolutely squirm, so well done on that end. For the most part, the animation is fairly well done. There were a few moments that looked a little off, but didn’t detract from the overall effect.
Telltale has done a great job choosing their voice cast this time around, like the first. The new characters do a great job bringing depth to the characters we have to really interact with Clementine. Melissa Hutchison does an amazing job with Clementine. She manages to walk that fine line between having seen a lot as a child and still being a child, and there are several moments that gave me chills. When they have the time jump specifically, and you hear Clem speak again, she sounds older, and far more world weary than even in the first part of the episode, and it speaks volumes. Clementine and Lee were what sold me on the first season, and it looks like they’re completely on the right track with her in this season as well. The music works well for the different scenes, and I recognized a few themes from the first game, or they at least reminded me very much of those themes.
These days, I like to kick back with a controller to play, even on my PC games, so my experience with this is directly tied to how well it plays with a wired 360 controller and me lounging on my couch while gluing my eyeballs to my laptop screen. The PC standard controls use WASD to move Clementine around on screen. T will show you what you can select if you need a hint, Escape brings up the pause menu, holding Shift makes you run, and then everything else is relegated to the mouse. The mouse aims for you, the left button selects an action and the right mouse button doubles up on inventory and other action selections. The 360 controller is set up with the analog stick moving your character while the D-pad handles inventory. The start button pauses and brings up the menu, the RT button fires off your actions or puts you in a run, and the face buttons are tied to whatever action corresponds to the one available on screen as well as any battle actions. You may see some combat pop up on the left analog stick as its tied to movement as well.
As far as gameplay goes, this plays more like 400 Days, which was a subtle change to the game, and The Wolf Among Us, which wasn’t as subtle. Combat involves aiming still, but there are more events that lead around to it that affect events as well. They’re not all button mashing, timed events, but movements timed to getting out of the way of an attack that actually makes sense from a player’s perspective. It’s a great change that involves the player just a bit more in what was becoming almost an interactive film instead of a game. If you’re not running from your life from, or attacking, people or zombies, you’ll spend your time searching for items to get you out of a bind, interacting with different objects to find the best way in or out of a situation, or talking to or interacting with other characters. The dialogue works as it did before, although there are even fewer instances where it’s not timed. You don’t have long to make up your mind, but it does keep things moving.
There are a few options here for replaying. Unlike The Wolf Among Us, you won’t have to play through twice to unlock all the achievements. These will unlock in one full playthrough. You do have a few options, and other than a major one at the end, you’re not going to see the results of these choices play out, unless, of course, your choice got you killed. Then you’ll be picking another one anyway. Your choices do affect the game, like the first season, but to what extent that’ll carry out this season remains to be seen. There is a good balance between the action and talking scenes, along with a few stealth and exploring sections to the game, that keeps things feeling like you’re getting pummeled throughout. Like the other entries in the series, you’re looking at about a 2-hour play time to get through the episode, which is going to amount to about 10 hours total play time, without replaying it, for the $24.99 price tag on Steam which, considering some action titles charge $60 for a 10 hour experience, you’re getting more than your money’s worth here.
While the Walking Dead formula that Telltale established in Season One is largely unchanged, the play style and the way others interact with you most certainly has. This isn’t like playing Lee, only with Clementine behind the wheel. Everyone interacts with you like you’re a child, well for the most part, and this does change up the way the game plays a bit, along with making it far less easy to take out a Zombie as Clem than it was as Lee. They borrowed a bit from The Wolf Among Us for several of the action sequences and how it all plays out, but it still feels more like the first season than Wolf. So, while this isn’t necessarily wildly original, they’ve changed things up just enough that it doesn’t quite feel like the same old game with a new set of characters. The episode flows really well, so it was actually hard to bail out of it when I had to take care of something off my PC. The holidays are always hectic for me, so I never actually got a chance to just play through the whole episode in one go, but I definitely wanted to. Even on a replay, it will be very easy to just lose a few hours playing this and not notice. With a pretty big built in audience from the last season and some pretty strong word of mouth I can definitely see Season Two doing well. It has a lot going for it, Clementine’s evolution as a character feels entirely natural, and the way they ended it I don’t see too many people from Season One passing on wanting to know what’s in store for her this season.
I’ve been heaping glowing praise on this latest outing into the Walking Dead video game world, but it’s time to talk about issues I had. Specifically, we’ll go into the rather bizarre world of game save imports. Why they didn’t come up with a manual way of pointing to the directory where your game saves were buried or actually looking in a few known spots where the games are known to save, I have no idea. Instead, Walking Dead Season Two looks for your game saves in one location, and one location only, and if it doesn’t find what it likes there, your import won’t work. I had to play Season One in compatibility mode because it would crash all the time otherwise, but Season Two runs fine? Yeah, Season Two won’t find your saves unless you run it in compatibility mode as well, but even then it’s a crap shoot. It also won’t find your saves if Season One game saved your files in a folder with lower case letters. Yeah, you’ll have to go in manually and capitalize them if the game they programmed didn’t do it on its own. There were just way too many hoops to jump through for this when all they’d have had to do is let us point to the directory we know they’re in. I mean, I could see the saves and the prefs.prop file plain as day, but even copying the whole directory to where they wanted it didn’t work the first few times. In the end, I did get it to work after manually searching for the one file that would make all the magic happen, and it did at least show all of my choices in the ‘previously’ segment unlike what I heard from some other people on the forums. Other than that, the game ran pretty smooth, but that was a very rough start getting my previous game imported.
Short Attention Span Summary
Despite an extremely rough start where it took a few days to get my save games from Season One to import, The Walking Dead Season Two is off to an amazing start with Episode One. The shift to Clementine as the main protagonist instead of Lee is noticeable, and they changed your options and a bit of the play style to match. Clementine’s voice actress does an amazing job balancing out Clementine throughout, and the subtle shift from the 9 year old Clem to the 10-going-on-11 Clementine and the weariness that the world has put on her is noticeable, and at the same time fits perfectly with the character. Combat has been shifted a bit and is more dynamic, giving you some options while being geared more for Clem, not Lee, as walkers don’t drop nearly as easily and you have more escape options available to you. The characters you meet are even more desperate than the ones we met in the first season, and to me, seem even more rounded out than Kenny and crew were; although we don’t always get into them, they feel a bit more realistic. If Episode One is any indication we are in for one wild ride with the rest of the season, and it’s going to be a gut-wrenching one at that.