What's always made The Walking Dead such a compelling narrative is not the undead. It's not the constantly present danger of zombies pressing in on all sides. It's the living.
The zombies are the walking undead. The people, the characters that make up the story around the anti-heroes, are the walking dead.
This series has always been about relationships, decisions and consequence. Telltale Games demonstrated a clear and concise understanding of those pillar principles during the first season of The Walking Dead game.
Now, season two is upon us, and the first episode is out. Are things as good as they were in the original campaign?
The Story of Clementine
As you'll already know by now, in all likelihood, Clementine is the main, playable character in season two of The Walking Dead. She's always been the focal point of this tale, and now you'll be able to control her directly.
The prospect of handling the direct fate of a young girl during an apocalypse like this one suggests that Telltale could go in, basically, one of two directions. Either soften the plot and make things a little easier to swallow for a weaker character, or ante things up and turn Clementine into a seen-it-all veteran.
Telltale went for the latter. From the get-go, things are bleak here, and Clementine is presented with a tough choice at a constant rate. So much so, in fact, that things are a little too dark and intense for proper pacing. We'll get there, though.
Clementine's story is one that we'll be tangling with over the span of five full episodes. So far, this feels a little too intense for my liking, but I am genuinely attached to this character. Telltale won me over with the first season. I'm in for the long haul, and it looks like the developers won't be going easy on me so far.
Going Over The Top, Again and Again
The only real complaint I have with the first episode of The Walking Dead season two stems out of a problem Telltale's likely having internally. Telltale has done so many horrible things to the characters in this game that it has set a new standard for abuse.
Clementine's story is rough. It's rough immediately, and it stays rough through the entire two or two and a half hours of this episode. You'll be asked to do brutal things again and again, and there's only one or two moments of calm and safety.
Here come the spoilers. Skip this next paragraph if you want a completely clean slate.
As you're asked to kill a dog, suture your own open wound, manipulate a little girl, pick sides between a family fight and thrive through several close call moments, the bad piles a little too high. Like I said before, you'll cringe for Clementine almost every 20 minutes.
The issue here is that there's barely any respite from the chaos and pain to build tension. The reason The Walking Dead worked so well is because players had time to get comfortable between horrible acts. It's when you're comfortable that the gruesome really surprises and affects you.
Having to outdo its last effort set Telltale up for failure here. Not that it has failed, of course. This game is still great. If it went too quiet during the first episode, fans might have been put off. For me, though, it has gone too loud.
It's great, yes, but it doesn't fire in the same way that the latter portions of the first season did.
I have no doubt the second season of The Walking Dead will be worth every penny once all five episodes are out. Telltale established that it understands this universe and is very capable of telling a fantastic story.
Just like the first season, episode one is likely going to be one of the weakest points in the series. It's great, yes, but it doesn't fire in the same way that the latter portions of the first season did.
I can't wait for the game to slow down and a chance to really talk to and interact with all of the fresh characters in season two. That moment never really comes in the first episode, and I want a chance to meet and care about the virtual people around me.
This season will be awesome. I know it. I can't wait to see what Telltale does next. Just don't expect episode one to blow your mind in the ways this game has before.
We received a code to download and review The Walking Dead – Season 2: Episode 1 on Steam from Telltale on this game's release date. We beat the episode before starting this review. We played it with a PC.