Wednesday, 11 November 2015

The Walking Dead Season Two

Post-Launch Review
The Walking Dead Season Two (PC)

Developer: Telltale Games
Released: epidodic; December 2013 through August 2014
Played: complete in 8h:24min


After the events of season 1, Clementine ended up with Christa and Omid. The three travelled together for some time until bandits broke them up. Suddenly finding herself alone in the woods, Clementine encounters a new group of survivors - who, as it turns out, have problems of their own following them...

At Launch

Episodes received individual ratings, but overall the season review scores average to about 80%. Critics praised the atmosphere and especially Clementine as a great protagonist, but felt that Season Two fell short of Season One's tone and had reduced depth of gameplay.

Post Launch

Looking at Steam's news releases I don't see any patches or updates - just episode releases. Buying the game now gets you all five episodes.
A DLC mission pack starring Michonne is planned for the end of 2015, revealing the events that take place in a gap in her story in the comic series.

It's been too long for me to make a good comparison of the quality of the story between the first and second seasons, but I can say that I very much enjoyed the story of Season Two. I love how the game forced me to reexamine my judgment of the characters throughout the story - some people treat Clementine badly at the beginning and care fiercely about her later, while others seem trustworthy at first and later make bad choices or fall apart. One of the characters introduces the idea that all survivor groups fall apart eventually, and you're really forced to deal with that without the idea being shoved directly into your face.
When I first played through (what I guess is now known as) Season One, I was amazed at how it felt like I was making profound choices with major effects on the story. I'm not sure what happened in between - maybe it's the greater knowledge of how many of the choices in Season 1 didn't actually have major effects, maybe it's more experience at critiquing game design - but there were points in Season 2 where I immediately noticed that certain segments would have the same outcome regardless of your choice. For example (highlight for spoilers) in the greenhouse you can decide to do your own work or to help Sarah with hers, but either way, half the work doesn't get done and Reggie gets in trouble. There were also a couple of moments where the choice felt like a huge impactful decision, but the result five seconds later told me that what I chose didn't really matter (highlight for spoilers) - like the decision on whether to chop off a bite victim's arm or to attack the walker, where the victim dies no matter what you do.
That weakness aside, Season One's greatest strength was how it made you care for Clementine and what she thought of Lee. Clementine is also Season Two's greatest strength, but in a different way: you're playing as Clem, and you get to see how far she's come and how remarkably capable and tough she is for a little girl. Telltale made the right choice in not repeating the caretaker role and instead shifting to show Clem taking care of herself and others. The initial meeting with the new group is a great way to establish Clementine's strength, especially that horrible scene with the stitching that made me grimace and grit my teeth.
One thing that bugged me through the whole game was the video clips. At the beginning of each episode you get a "last time on The Walking Dead" video and at the end of each episode you get a "next time on The Walking Dead" preview and credits. This normally wouldn't be a problem... except that they're unskippable. What if I just finished the last episode and have managed to retain what happened for five minutes? What if I don't want to know what happens next time so I can experience each episode fresh? What if I'm playing more than one episode in a sitting and don't feel like waiting five minutes to start the next one? You can't even swap to something else and come back when it's done - the game will pause the video/credits until you come back. Very annoying for long sessions or repeat plays.
Anyway. Episodes two and three were really good, but the last episode in particular was very strong and had some tough decisions that will shake your trust, make you question the people you thought you could rely on, and wonder how much influence or control you really have. I'm not quite satisfied with how my ending played out due to the lack of a particular option I wanted, but everything leading up to that ending was great. Making that choice and having the person tell you you did the right thing... ugh. I can't say any more than that without some pretty huge spoilers, but wow. Not as impactful as the end of Season One, but still made me tear up a little.

Season Two felt more like an interactive movie than possibly any game I've ever played. That's not necessarily a bad thing - if you want deep gameplay you'll have to look somewhere else, but the story and characters are strong and you'll face some difficult choices as a result - especially in the powerful final episode. Clementine is still the best aspect of The Walking Dead games, and it seems that that wasn't a fluke the first time around, so I'm excited to see where she goes next.

Recommendation: play it.

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