Warning: The story below will give away one of the most important events from the first season of the Telltale Games Walking Dead series, so don’t read on if you haven’t played that one yet. (And seriously, why haven’t you?) But I’ll be keeping it spoiler-free when talking about the new game, so no worries for those who haven’t paid for this latest season yet.
And I say “yet,” because you’re definitely going to want to make the investment. (Do it here!) That is, of course, unless you were part of the minority who wasn’t at all impressed with Telltale’s interpretation of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead comic series. The first episode, “All That Remains,” is essentially an extension of the first game, so the point-and-click controls and event-driven sequences are all the same. Heavy emphasis is still placed on what kind of morals you have and how you want to represent yourself to other characters. There are hard decisions to make, and there are soft zombie skulls to smash with hammers. This is exactly what fans have been waiting for.
Since the mechanics haven’t changed much, the way Telltale upped the ante in the storytelling is having players control Clementine, the young girl we’d grown to love as a digital surrogate daughter in the first game. Now that Lee is dead, or perhaps undead according to some storylines, gone are the complex thought processes that went with someone who’d murdered a man in a rage. Now there is only a child’s mind left to comprehend her surroundings without the guidance of a trusted savior. Granted, she’s a child who witnessed some truly heinous shit in her recent past, but she was forced to grow up too quickly in all the wrong ways.
When the story begins, Clementine is with Omid and a pregnant Christa, and they’re at an abandoned public restroom to wash off. Well, Omid is looking to get a little more than just his hands wet, but all of that is cut short once a wayward survivor thief disrupts things and something terrible happens. Yadda yadda yadda. Cut to 16 months later, when more things happen and Clementine is temporarily all alone, until she’s found by a new group of people who are wary of her and her stories. (Especially depending on how you tell it to them.)
Let’s meet the new crew: there’s Peter, the no-bullshit, critical-thinking rifleman; Nick, Pete’s over-emotional near-disappointment of a nephew; Luke, a potentially understanding guy; Carlos, the group’s remorseless doctor; Alvin, a naive nice guy; and his pregnant wife Rebecca, a real bitch. Nobody deserves any awards just yet, but each of these characters makes their own little impact in the short amount of time players are with them; knowing the way this game likes to defy expectations through it’s twists and turns, it’s an interesting task to try to foresee each group member’s future as soon as you meet them. And let me tell you now, Rebecca better start being nice or I’m not going to offer her my hand when she’s hanging off of a cliff, or whatever hair-raising scene seals her fate.
While there is a little bit of puzzle solving, this first episode is admittedly a little slow. It serves as both a primer introduction for those new to the series and a foundation-laying entry to the second season’s storyline. Not only do we have new people to interact with, but a certain mystery is introduced that will probably tie into a season-long arc, allowing the story to go anywhere the writers see fit. Though the split nature of “All That Remains” feels off, it makes the most sense from a narrative standpoint, a more natural transition is needed rather than just arbitrarily dropping Clementine into a new universe. Plus, it ends on a natural cliffhanger, something that the comics and the AMC series are also pretty successful at. If I have a subtle complaint to make, it’s that the dialogue trees are pretty two-note for a while, where you can either be compassionate or a total tool without much of a gray area, but that seemed to go away as time went on and the exchanges became more conversational.
The torch has been lit and the pathway into the darkness can now be seen. The Walking Dead‘s second season has got everything the first season had, from interesting character dynamics to consequential decision-making to really awesome gore. There’s one set of actions that made me clench my teeth in pseudo-agony, and it had nothing to do with violence.
And on that eyebrow-raising note, I leave you with the “All That Remains” teaser trailer, and the recommendation that another season of Telltale’s The Walking Dead is the perfect counterprogramming to your perfect/horrendous holiday gatherings in the next week or two. And it’s a lot shorter, too!