With the first season of Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead receiving the accolades it did back in 2012, a sequel was almost guaranteed. Here was a game that, according to fans and critics alike, breathed life into the dormant adventure genre and proved the capability for games to tell complex, emotionally charged stories. Sure, it may have had its technical flaws, but for many, they were minor grievances in an otherwise brilliant, heart-wrenching interactive narrative about surviving against the worst possible odds.
Speculation about a possible second season began soon after the final episode wrapped up, and were only bolstered by the game’s awards success (it apparently won over 80 Game of the Year awards!) Developer comments during interviews more or less confirmed Season Two early in 2013, but it wasn’t until October that it was officially revealed. And now, after a wait that realistically hasn’t been that long, but has felt like a lifetime, The Walking Dead: Season Two is finally available. Well, the first episode, at least.
In order to fully appreciate what Season 2 brings to the table, it’s necessary to first revisit the first season. Taking place in the same world as Robert Kirkman’s comic book series of the same name, The Walking Dead follows an original plot with unique characters. It makes use of exploration-driven mechanics that will be familiar to anyone who’s played any classic adventure games like Monkey Island or The Longest Journey, albeit with more emphasis on player-driven interactions between characters and less focus on puzzles.
It’s these interactions that made Season One such a breakout hit. At almost every point in the script, you’re given a selection of responses from which to choose. Many of these are small and seemingly insignificant, but in combination have a big impact on the way others interact with the player character Lee Everett, and with each other.
Then there are the big, important, life-or-death (or, more often than not, death-or-death) choices. The old “good/bad/neutral” paradigm of dialogue choices goes out the window, and you’re forced to make some incredibly difficult, complex moral decisions that have no easy answer. Frequently, these relate back to Clementine, a young child orphaned by the zombie apocalypse, whom Lee has decided to take care of and who is, arguably, the “main character” of the story.
It’s a complex, emotionally loaded narrative that forces you to make some terribly uncomfortable decisions, and, through its interactive nature, leaves the weight of those decisions on your conscience.
Season Two kicks off more or less where Season One left off, although now, you’re playing as Clementine. Apparently, some people were concerned about Telltale “going easy on her,” and the game not having the same emotional impact as season one as a result. Telltale said before launch that this wouldn’t be the case, and this is backed up within 10 minutes of firing up the game. You may be playing as a pre-adolescent girl - a smart, fierce, worldly, and downright awesome one, but a young girl nonetheless - but no punches are being pulled here.
Although some other characters from Season One show up, this is a new game and a new arc in The Walking Dead’s story, so All That Remains is largely focused on establishing the new characters and setting the scene for events to come. As such, it doesn’t bring the same level of intensity as the later episodes of the first season.
This is probably also due to it largely retreading plot devices that the series has already used, namely the issue of trust surrounding a stranger (Clementine, in this case) attempting to join an established group of survivors. The same old “she’s bitten - no she isn’t - yes she is!” back and forth colours much of the character interaction, and even though these are new characters with unique personalities, these interactions never really manage to shake that sense of deja vu.
Having said that, Season Two still manages to create some genuine, fresh tension. Clementine faces a number of tribulations over the course of the episode, and without Lee by her side, we get to really see how much she’s grown and how determined she’s become as she fights through these.
Like each episode of Season One, you’re faced with a series of binary moral dilemmas, though they’re arguably much “easier” than in the previous season, in that for most of them, there’s an obvious “right” choice. This is reflected in the scoreboard at the end of the episode that shows you a breakdown of how the whole community voted, which are typically very one-sided.
Mechanically, it’s almost identical to what came before, but with some welcome adjustments (that were first introduced in The Wolf Among Us) that make the whole process run much smoother, like the ability to hold down a button to move faster while exploring. Situations in which you have to move the cursor and react to something quickly - say, when a zombie is lurching towards you and you need to grab a weapon to defend yourself - now use the shoulder buttons instead of face buttons when you’re using a controller.
Another welcome change, though individual experiences may vary, is that Season Two feels much more technically robust than the first season. I experienced no graphical glitches or crashes whatsoever, things which were unpleasantly common in both the first season and in The Wolf Among Us. Browsing over the Steam forum for the game, it doesn’t seem like mine is just an isolated case, with next to no topics about hardware issues. These bugs were the one thing holding Season One back, so it’s great to see that Telltale have taken fixing them so seriously this time around.
After the emotional rollercoaster that was Season One, you could be forgiven for expecting All That Remains to bring the same kind of intensity. But it’s important to remember that this is the first episode of a new story arc, and as such, its main purpose is to introduce the new characters and set the scene for what’s to come. And it does a fantastic job with that - especially with one hell of a cliffhanger at the end.
How long do I have to wait for Episode 2?