The Walking Dead is an episodic, narrative adventure game from Telltale Games. After the success of the first season, they made a second season, this time allowing us to play as Clementine. The first episode was released at the end of 2013 and the last, No Going Back, just came out last week.
TDW:S1 was one of my best gaming experiences from last year, so how does season 2 stack up?
The first episode of the season started off great. Playing as 11-year old Clementine, there was a definite sense of vulnerability and the game wastes no time putting her on her own. At the same time, it’s really emphasized how strong Clem has gotten, despite her young age and small stature. She kicks zombie ass and holds her own with the living as well. When a new group she meets refuses to give her the help she needs, she takes matters into her own hands and helps herself. The first episode has some great, if hard to watch moments, like when Clementine has to stitch up a cut on her own arm. It’s stomach-turning, and amazing. Really well done.
As opposed to season 1, where the zombie threat was just beginning, at the time of s2, zombies seem to be old news. They’re still a threat (though sometimes merely an annoyance), but the real problem is the living. This game does feature a ‘big bad’ in the form of Carver, the leader of a settlement, who provides the biggest threat in episodes 2 and 3. The game did a good job of making me hate the bad guy and root for the good guys, but once this storyline ended, it seemed to go off the rails.
The writing got very sloppy, especially when it came to the other characters. I like Clem’s development (I should, I did get to shape it), but a number of the other characters were all over the place. Character deaths, which I felt were impactful and well-done in S1 became questionable and often meaningless. A couple of deaths in episodes 4 & 5 left me wondering “really? that’s what killed them?” and seemed to happen to try to provide a reason for future character actions rather than feeling organic in any way.
Warning, incoming rant. I really don’t like hating on all the female characters, but the ones left at the end were just terribly written. Jane started off understandable – she knew that other people could be liabilities and was afraid of losing someone she loved again, so she liked to stay on her own and tried to give Clem advice to keep her alive. But then, when she decides that Kenny is a loose cannon, she turns into one herself in order to prove it? What? Her and Kenny’s entire ending conflict felt so contrived, and her behaviour made my decision at the end easy when I assume it was supposed to be hard. But the worst character was Bonnie. I use the term ‘character’ very loosely, as she doesn’t really have any. She spends most of the game agreeing with anything anyone says. Or telling you what to do. “Clem, grab this”, “Clem, squeeze into that small hole full of zombies”, “Clem, go rescue that person from certain death.” Then, after a being nice to her, and compliant all game, she starts accusing Clementine of being useless when she can’t save another character. At this point I just wanted her to get eaten. The worst part of this was that the dialogue options didn’t even give me a choice akin to telling her to go fuck herself.
By the end of the game, I felt like I was watching an episode from The Walking Dead tv show – namely, watching characters yell at each other and make completely nonsensical decisions. The fact that the supporting characters couldn’t get anything done without the action or direction of an 11-year old also did nothing to endear me to anyone other than Clem.
When I was finally past all the unexplainable nonsense at the climax of the last episode, the ending I got was actually pretty well done and got me a little emotional. However, the rest of the final chapter had already left a bad taste in my mouth.
Rating: 6/10 - Playing as Clementine was enjoyable, and the game started off well enough, but soon went off the rails. A game so focused on story over gameplay really needs to have exceptional writing, but this game doesn’t. Poor character development and meaningless deaths take away from the formula that made the first season so great.