Note: this review contains spoilers for Season 1 of The Walking Dead. I'll try not to spoil the events Season 2, but be aware if you haven't played the first game yet. Time to buy a new box of tissues, because if you play The Walking Dead: Season 2, you'll probably empty your current one...and I mean that in the best way possible. Season 1 was nicknamed “Regret: The Game” due to its infamously high body count, and Season 2 doesn't take long to start offing its characters either. And yes, more often than not, it will feel like their deaths are your fault.
Anyone who played Season 1 to the end knows that its protagonist, Lee, won't be returning this time around. Instead, we jump into the tiny shoes of Clementine, the girl Lee spent the last game protecting. When we last saw her, she was confronted with both the loss of her actual parents, and the loss of Lee, her surrogate father-figure. After a brief prologue, Season 2 brings us 16 months into the future, where things look bleaker than ever: Clementine quickly becomes lost and alone, with no one to protect her from the horrors of zombie-infested America.
A Harrowing Journey
The first episode of The Walking Dead: Season 2 is an emotional roller coaster ride, with Clementine facing one terrible situation after another. There are a great many memorable scenes that will leave you shocked and horrified. There is a scene involving an animal that left me shaken and nauseated. Telltale doesn't shy away from showing the grotesqueries Clementine endures—which are made all the more horrifying by the fact that she is just a little girl. Season 2's Clementine is strong-willed, and certainly more capable than in Season 1, but she's still smaller than any of the zombies she faces, and running always seems like a better option than fighting. And when fighting is the only option, it is terrifying. As a result, Season 2 is significantly more intense than Season 1.
Lee's absence is noted, and greatly missed, but Clementine's likable mixture of determination and vulnerability make her an even better protagonist. Voice actress Melissa Hutchison does a fantastic job of bringing the character to life in a myriad of different ways, as the player's choices will mold Clementine into different forms. Will she be cynical? Hopeful to the point of being naive?
The rest of the cast, unfortunately, doesn't fare quite as well. The second half of Episode 1 focuses on introducing a host of new characters, but because we meet so many of them at once, few of them have any time to develop. I'm sure that future episodes will explore them more deeply, but it was somewhat hard to care about these new side characters.
Not So Many Choices
The first season of The Walking Dead was notable for giving players choices that would impact its story. While the core plot was fairly linear, it often felt like you had a choice in how things went, and even when your choices had no bearing on the plot itself, they still had a bearing on how you viewed yourself, and how you were raising Clementine to be.
Unfortunately, in the first episode of Season 2, the story feels more linear than before, and your choices don't have the same satisfying sense of impact. Early on, there's a scene where Clementine leaves her gun unattended, with disastrous consequences. You as a player cannot make her bring it with her—the game won't let you. (This is especially frustrating during replays.) Similarly, there is a sequence where Clementine is locked in a room, but will be let out in the morning. You as a player cannot decide to wait in the room until morning; instead, the game makes you find a way out of the room. It feels like the gaming equivalent of a character acting foolishly just to drive the plot forward.
However, it should be remembered that this is only the first of five episodes. It is likely that the choices you make in “All That Remains” will have a payoff later on in the season. Similarly, the game asks for your Season 1 save file, indicating that your choices in Season 1 will impact the events of Season 2. “All That Remains” does not offer much in the choices department on its own, but it is really only the first fifth of the game.
“All That Remains” definitely feels like the first episode of a new season, rather than a full sequel to a game. Part of that is because much of the story is setup, but part of it is also because it doesn't improve the first game's technical aspects.
The user interface has changed slightly since Season 1, having adopted the same system as Telltale's The Wolf Among Us. It is much easier to find objects to interact with than before, but choosing how to interact is less seamless on the PC than it once was. When clicking on an object, a wheel appears, but selecting how to interact with it means clicking on small icons. The system seems developed with consoles in mind rather than PCs, and while it works, it is much more fluid with a gamepad.
Other than the new UI, little has changed. The same engine that has powered Telltale's previous games has been resurrected, rotting guts and all, complete with fixed camera angles, tense timed dialogue trees, and quicktime events. The graphics retain the comic-book style found in the first game, but on a technical level they're not a significant upgrade—and Season 1's technical aspects looked a bit dated even when it came out. One might have hoped that the massive success of the first game would have led to more technical improvements in the second, but that isn't the case. These factors, combined with the more-obviously linear story, may make many players feel as though they are playing a TV show rather than a video game—even more so than with Season 1.
It's a good thing, then, that the storytelling is just as good as that of the first season—and arguably better than that of The Walking Dead's television show. The writing is excellent, the top-notch voice acting impresses, and Jared Emerson-Johnson's evocative score shifts from eerie to somber. Essentially, everything that made Season 1 work so well is back. Taken on its own, “All That Remains” is somewhat problematic, but its flaws are easy to look past if you remember that it is only the first of five episodes. If nothing else, the ending will you'll want to know what happens next. Episode 2, “A House Divided,” will come out sometime in the next few months.
It'll make you cry; strong storytelling; memorable, harrowing moments
It'll make you cry; linear plot; few notable improvements from Season 1