The Walking Dead: Season 2 Episode 5 – No Going Back
Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Telltale Games
Genre: Interactive Drama
Release Date: 08/26/2014
Previously on Telltale’s The Walking Dead…
Episode 4 really made me question my decision to play through the second season. It proudly used every trope and trick that I hated about the franchise. It gave me the illusion of choice regarding the life of a character, and then killed that character no matter what I did. It felt lazy and manipulative, which only angered me, and many others. I had no idea where the finale would take things, and I found myself caring less and less.
The good news for fans of the franchise is that this final episode finally offers the player a meaningful choice. The season actually has a few different endings that depend on a decision you make. This is like a breath of fresh air. Unfortunately, this big decision comes at the very end after a hour and a half long episode that spins its wheels.
When we last left Clementine and company, they were being held at gunpoint by a group of Russians. As you might imagine, this is quickly resolved at the beginning of the episode, but not without some repercussions. From there, we discover the episode takes the series in the unfortunately forgone direction. Instead of focusing the story on Clementine and her growth as a survivor, it instead focuses on whether or not Kenny is turning into a madman. Essentially, a subplot from the first season manages to hijack the second.
Interestingly enough, this episode is very slow. It stops frequently to give you time to talk with the various characters. A fireside conversation adds some much needed humanity to the story, candid talks with Kenny show you how affected he is by the actions in the previous episodes, and player concerns are addressed by one last heart to heart with Luke.
The problem is that the game picks up the action in artificial ways. The slow but steady story you’ve been drudging though is violently thrust forward into the action-packed conclusion we’re supposed to expect. Another character is killed off after you’re given the illusion of choice, and it feels like all of that maturity Clementine has built up is stripped from her. It certainly has its moments. Each episode does. One of the endings even had me tearing up a little. It’s just that the moments of strong writing are often bookmarked by inanity.
(The following sections are copy/pasted from my review of the earlier episodes. The mechanics, graphical fidelity, and other basics haven’t changed much from episode to episode. Skip past the italics for the new stuff if you want.)
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.
Conversation 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.
It’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.
The saving grace of this episode is that final choice. For the first time in the franchise, the choice I made mattered and affected the overall plot of the story. It actually managed to get me back into the story in a way I hadn’t felt since the first episode of the first season. It’s kind of sad you have to wait until the end of a seven or eight hour long adventure to experience this, but at least there’s a payoff.
It also makes me wonder about the future of the series. A third season has already been confirmed. They’re going to have to make a serious choice of their own about it. Either the story will have to move on from Clementine, or Telltale is going to have to pick one of these different endings to be official canon. If the latter happens, it will once again strip the player of the gravity of their choice. It will be interesting to see where it goes.
The final moments of this final episode do a lot to repair the damage the last couple of episodes has done. If you’ve enjoyed the series thus far, you’re sure to leave satisfied. The series ends on a high note, which was a nice surprise.
Short Attention Span Summary
While it struggles from the beginning, the final episode of Season 2 manages to correct itself for the final moments. Players are finally given a choice that matters. It’s kind of sad that the series turned into a deconstruction of Kenny’s character instead of continuing the focus on Clementine’s growth as a Survivor. However, this ends up making the final decision a bit harder, which is the point. Fans will enjoy this final episode, and haters will likely get at least something out of it. This does give me at least some hope for the future of the franchise, whereas the last two episodes I had none. I think that means the season ended on a positive note.