Just when you thought you were done with regret...
Note: this review contains spoilers for Episode 1 of The Walking Dead: Season 2.
Telltale's The Walking Dead is even more of a masochistic endeavor than Dark Souls: the game compels you to keep playing, even though all it does is fill you with regret. Season 2 Episode 2: A House Divided is as great example of this as any. Already I want to go back and play it several more times, just to see how differently things can go.
Episode 1: All That Remains was an effectively harrowing first episode for Season 2, but it wasn't perfect. The new characters didn't have time to develop, and the choices you made didn't impact the story all that much.
These problems are solved right away in A House Divided. The opening is different depending on you which character you decided to follow at the end of the previous episode. The new characters are also given time to grow, as much of this episode is dedicated to exploring your relationships with them... and then tearing those relationships apart. Players will also run into familiar faces from both Season 1 and from 400 Days.
On the run
Safety is a precious thing in A House Divided. Early on, Clementine's new group is forced into an exodus across a zombie-infested wilderness. Hot on their heels is a creepy man named Carver, who is willing to torture and kill innocents to get what he wants.
With Carver, The Walking Dead game finally gets a true villain. Sure, Season 1 had that great bit with the cannibals, but they were only in one episode. Carver is the game's equivalent of The Governor from the comics and show: an ongoing, fearsome threat. I expect he will only become more menacing as the season goes on.
The zombies in A House Divided seem almost like an afterthought. The human drama is front and center, with zombies only serving to provide spikes of tension in a few token action sequences. This isn't a bad thing, however: The Walking Dead's main strength has always been its human characters. A House Divided focuses on them almost entirely.
Similarly, the environmental puzzles are practically non-existent this time around. By focusing so much on character interaction and split-second decision-making, the episode penetrates straight into the heart of what made Season 1 so special.
All That Remains was exhausting to play because it put Clementine through so much physical torture. A House Divided is less visceral, but is more emotionally piercing. Characters die this time around. No one is safe. And despite your better judgment, you'll find yourself caring about people you know probably won't survive for long. The fact that some deaths are on you makes it all the worse.
The choices are no less agonizing than those in Season 1, but they're subtler. You won't be given an obvious “Who to save?” question; rather, the dialogue you choose over the course of the entire episode will combine and crescendo into unpredictable events. This is both a good and bad thing, because while your decisions are much more nuanced this time around, it's also harder to tell how much control over the story you actually have. A House Divided also forces you to pick sides in several conflicts: you can't really stay neutral this time around.
That said, you occasionally feel like more of an observer than before. In All That Remains, Clementine drove the story from beginning to end—it was all about what she should do. In A House Divided, most of your decisions revolve around convincing others what they should do.
As with All That Remains, there were occasional lapses of logic, and times when the game didn't let me do what I wanted. At one point in the episode, the group is taking it easy despite Clementine clearly seeing pursuers approach from afar. There's no way to ask, “Why are we still here when the bad guys are obviously coming for us?”
There are character inconsistencies as well. At the end of All That Remains, one character told me that I wasn't to be trusted and that I should stay away from his daughter. However, very early on in A House Divided, he asked me to babysit her. Indeed, the entire group seems to have changed their opinion about Clementine overnight, with very little explanation. Yesterday, they mistrusted her; today, they go out of their way to ask her for advice, even when it doesn't make sense for them to do so. When confronted with a baffling piece of machinery, the adults decide to sit back and let Clementine figure out how to work it. It's pretty hard to believe.
Were it any other little girl, it would shatter the illusion entirely. But it's a little easier to understand because Clementine is a competent little badass whose plucky determination overcomes her physical vulnerability. Episode 1 alone had her fighting off a dog and stitching up her own arm. By now, she expects to be taken seriously, and becomes frustrated if anyone claims she can't take care of herself, or dismisses her as “just a little girl.” She remains an extremely likable lead, and watching her grow is one of the joys of the game.
A House Divided ends with one hell of a cliffhanger—arguably one of the worst cliffhangers in the series. The wait for Episode 3 will be very difficult... but if Episode 2's quality is any indication, it will also be very much worth it.
More nuanced choices; characters are better developed than before; no tedious environmental puzzles
Dire cliffhanger; some illogical moments