We won’t post spoilers in any of these reviews until maybe the last one. If we do, we’ll clearly mark it as such.
Telltale’s Walking Dead series has been a jewel in the adventure game genre’s crown. While many feared the days of innovation and great storytelling died with Grim Fandango, Telltale showed us that there’s an adventure game for the modern world, and it involve a lot of feelings.
Season 2 of the Walking Dead has been following Clementine as she struggles to adapt to new groups and finds a way to stay strong independently. It’s up to you how much you rely on others and this is where the developers have struck absolute gold in this game world. The first season struggled because although Lee had some important decisions to make, you always ended up in the same place as everyone else. Once you saw beneath the illusion of choice it was a disheartening experience that was saved by a strong art style and some excellent writing and voice acting. Telltale haven’t eliminated this problem entirely, but instead have adopted a different approach to the choice system. Since you know you’ll always be pretty much doing the same thing, those choices are all but taken away from you, no-one will listen to you anyway as you’re just a kid. Instead what you have complete control of is the relationships in your group. This is brought to the fore in episode 3 where a dire situation evolves around you while you’re introduced to both new and old faces, giving you a chance to decide how much to trust them and how much to open up to them.
Of course whatever you do feels wrong and this is why The Walking Dead’s writing has received so much acclaim. Whoever you trust might turn round to betray you, and whoever you turn away might just turn out to be genuine, but it never feels like the game is tricking you. It’s already preset who’s going to betray you, so your decisions are genuine and you always need to live with the consequences. One of our least favourite moral choices was in the original inFamous game. There you were asked to choose between saving your girlfriend or ten strangers. Whichever one you picked, you make the wrong choice because the game changed where the girlfriend was depending on your choice. That was cheap and manipulative, making your choice meaningless. In The Walking Dead the game world feels consistent so the decisions you make can be good or bad, and it’s up to you to make a judgement. Often plans will fail whatever you do, but that’s just like real life, occasionally events are bigger than you, but Clementine’s reactions to those events and the way people remember her are some that we’ve never really seen in gaming.
This episode is paced exceptionally well and combines slower conversation-based dilemmas with some fantastic action scenes and some truely gut-wrenching moments. For a game all about decomposing bodies it’s surprising how deftly the artists can turn your stomach. The designers also seem to have learnt from the mistakes of previous episodes and there’s no real ‘dead’ time (pun unintended) where you’re just wandering around looking at useless items or scavenging for something. There’s rarely more than a minute or two without a riveting conversation or action scene and this is a sign of a developer who is really paying attention to their audience.
The episodic nature of The Walking Dead has worked so well it’s hard to imagine why more publishers haven’t followed suit, and we have little doubt that this season will go on to win just as many, if not more, awards than the first. This and ‘The Wolf Among Us’ are brilliant examples of modern adventure games and any mature gamer is going to find them well worth the money.