From the outside looking in, I’m sure the prospect of being sent video games to review doesn’t sound much like work; and it’s a view I completely understand. There is some downside, however, in that I rarely have time to revisit games I enjoyed. One of the few I’ve played through a second time in the past year or two is Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead, so with Season 2 kicking off on Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Network this week I was more than ready to catch up with Clementine.
For the uninitiated, The Walking Dead primarily utilizes a point-and-click interface. The right stick moves the cursor and hovering over objects opens up icons that allow you to interact with them in various ways. The icons, like the dialogue options, correspond to the face buttons on your controller so it’s very easy to keep track of on the fly. There seems to be a little more quick-twitch action here than the first — for instance, moving the right stick in a specific direction to evade pursuit — and it’s adequately responsive even with the sometimes dicey frame rate.
If you hoped the success of the original would result in a more technically refined product, I’m afraid that isn’t the case. The art style is still excellent, and it continues to fit the unrelenting desperation of the source material perfectly. That being said, All That Remains still experiences frame rate issues that cause awkward stuttering, especially when transitioning quickly between camera angles (as seen during the look back at Season 1 and the teaser for the next episode).
Voice acting remains a strength with very good performances from returning characters as well as the new ones. The soundtrack really delivers as well, combining with the ambient sounds of crows cawing, bushes rustling and zombies moaning to elevate the game’s tension.
Rather than spoil anything from the opening episode of Season 2, I’m going to try to talk about the plot in generalities. Things begin not long after the events of the first game, though after a brief prologue we’re propelled 16 months into the future to find an older (but still only 12 or 13) Clementine in the midst of more thoroughly miserable circumstances. She’s better equipped to handle it, however, thanks to the toughness Lee and others in the group instilled in her.
More than anything else, that’s what Telltale wants you to take away from All That Remains. That the innocent, dependent Clementine is gone, replaced by this world-hardened version that is tough and self-sufficient enough to serve as the main character. She doesn’t need help to survive any longer, though that doesn’t mean she has become a loner and won’t embrace aid when it’s offered.
It’s a bold move to cast the player as Clementine, and it’s one that’s handled deftly in the opening salvo of the five-episode sequel. She takes her lumps and is presented as competent but not unrealistically resourceful; a combo that works for the situations she’s placed in. Long term, though, it’ll be interesting to see how Telltale navigates having a protagonist that’s consistently at such a pronounced physical disadvantage relative to both the walkers and other survivors.
In terms of the overall story, All That Remains is a table setter. Beyond establishing Clementine’s growth it also introduces new characters, establishes possible threats down the road (both internally and externally) and features the kind of tough decisions the series is known for. It sacrifices some depth in the process — I don’t feel particularly strongly about any of the newcomers, yet — but given the team’s track record in character development I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.
Perhaps the most encouraging thing is that Telltale clearly still has their finger on the pulse of this world, daring us to hope things are looking up only to dash those foolish notions in a fit of tearing flesh. Few games pull effectively or organically at the heart strings, but The Walking Dead was one of them; and it pleases me to no end to that Season 2 picks up where the first one left off in that department.
As a standalone experience, All That Remains is solid. As the launching point for The Walking Dead: Season 2, however, it’s brimming with potential. I’m anxious to see how new relationships develop and deteriorate, and to guide Clementine through these troubled times; and after the sudden ending, I’m ready to play Episode 2 right now.