Season One of Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead was the best game I played last year by a fairly large margin. It was gripping, emotional, and challenging in its own right, not to mention the fact that it completely reinvented the concept of a Point-and-Click Adventure game and broke new ground in interactive storytelling. When Telltale announced that they would be making a second season of the game, I wondered how they could ever live up to the incredibly high standard they set for themselves in the first season. If the first episode is any indication, Season Two is going to be a similarly spectacular achievement.
For the record, I’m not going to shy away from spoilers in these recaps, so I would encourage you to go out and play the game before reading this. The first episode is a mere $5, and it’s worth is so much more than that.
The first thing that I have to commend this season of The Walking Dead on is making Clementine the player character. Due to the newness of the medium and the rampant misunderstanding of it that comes along with it, games with more adult themes have traditionally approached the subject of children with a large degree of trepidation. Oblivion flat out refused to include children in the realm of Cyrodiil – even going so far as to recast roles clearly written for children as creepy developmentally arrested adults – and though Bethesda included kids in Fallout 3 and Skyrim, the ways in which the player was allowed to interact with them were limited in comparison to other characters. BioShock included children in its very dark world, but again the way you interacted with them was very limited, and the consequences for those interactions lacked any ounce of nuance whatsoever. On top of that, the Little Sisters in BioShock weren’t really characters at all; they were merely mechanics of the gameplay. None of these things are bad, per-say, and I’m certainly not advocating the ability to run rampant through a game world, mowing down virtual children, but this lack of nuance was a very clear sign that games still had some growing up to do. Season One of The Walking Dead was one of the first times in my experience with games that a child character was present in a game with adult themes in a realistic, nuanced, and mature way. The relationship between Lee and Clementine in The Walking Dead is what gave the game its center, and your interaction with her was at the very core of the experience. Telltale could have easily, and justifiably, made the Clementine character a teenager or young adult and avoided the issue entirely, but by making Clementine a child, the decisions you made had that much more weight and the game was more effective as a whole because of it.
In Season Two, Telltale pushes the envelope even further by now allowing you to control Clem’s actions in this horrific world. Again, for the medium this is a huge deal, and something that would have been very easy for them to opt out of, but I think that there are immense possibilities to tell a great story with this choice, and I congratulate Telltale for making the hard decision. Playing as Clementine changes the entire dynamic of the game. In the first season, as Lee, I made choices in order to protect Clementine – physically and emotionally – as best as I could. In fact I may have coddled her a little too much, but in this world gone to hell, I put an immense value on protecting her innocence. Now, in the wake of everything that has happened in the first season, and now that I am in control of Clementine, I find myself still trying to preserve that innocence. I acknowledge that Clementine has faced unimaginable horrors, but I can’t allow this world to break her. Clementine is strong and capable, but she’s also still a kid, and so my decisions with her err on the side of trust rather than suspicion. I only hope that this choice doesn’t have too many negative outcomes over the coming episodes.
Aside from the role of Clementine in this, the new season retains much of what made the first season great, while also changing things up with an (almost) entirely new cast of characters, and more different types of interactions. Omid’s death at the beginning of this episode was tragic, yet still somewhat expected, however losing Christa to an uncertain fate just a few scenes later was a real blow. The most emotional part of the episode for me, though, was the brief interaction with Sam. I’m not usually a sucker for the heart-string pulling that animals are a shortcut for, but when my trust in this new companion was betrayed in such a tragic fashion it served as a very potent – and surprising – warning against the way I’m choosing to play this.
Later, when Clem was having to stitch herself up I was completely shaken by it. Again, I’m no lightweight when it comes to gore, especially in something as intentionally stylized as this, but my connection with Clementine is such a deep one that my reaction to her pain became incredibly visceral. If she doesn’t survive the end of this season I’m going to be wrecked for weeks.
As for this season’s new cast of characters, I haven’t gotten to know them well enough yet to really get a feel for them, and I was surprised that none of our friends from 400 Days were present in the group. So far I’m responding most to Pete, as I assume most people are, yet I still found it difficult to choose which person to help when it came down to the decision between him and Nick. I ended up siding with Pete, though I’m still very conflicted about the decision.
As of the end of the first episode of Season Two, I have no major complaints thus far. The new cast of characters are still relative unknowns at this point, but that seems to be an intentional decision. Telltale has managed to stay true to the series’ identity while also upping their game in a few key ways. The series still has incredibly well written characters, gut wrenching decisions to make, and it still mines great thematic depth from a type of story that is more than played out in pop culture. I’m beyond sick of zombie stories, yet I still embrace this series with open arms, in no small part because Telltale has crafted a story in which zombies serve as a backdrop to a tale about the fragility of the human condition, how mistrust and cynicism affect both our own lives and the lives of those we touch. This isn’t apocalypse porn as so many zombie stories are, instead it’s a deeply resonant story of humanity, and I am excited to see where it goes next.
- Stopped to help Christa (along with 89.6% of players)
- Killed Sam (along with 87.7% of players)
- Rejected Nick’s apology (along with 9.3% of players)
- Gave water to the dying man (along with 69.1% of players)
- Saved Pete (along with 49.9% of players)
- Stole the watch (there’s no statistic on this one, but I have a feeling that this will matter later)