All together, the first season of the The Walking Dead: The Game is easily one of my favourite games ever made. As such, I have high expectations of season two. Avoiding all of the coverage of the game up to today, I plunged in to the second season hopeful, and came out not feeling overly excited, but satisfied nonetheless.
I will be going fully in-depth with this episode. Expect full spoilers for all of season one, 400 Days, and the latest episode, "All the Remains".
The Technical Stuff
If there's one issue that has plagued this series throughout more than any other, it's the horrible performance. This is a real shame, because it detracts from the overall experience it's working so hard to deliver. The action sequences are really intense, but this level of inconsistency in the framerate should be a high priority for the development team, and sadly, it only seems to have gotten worse.
The performance was terrible for the “last time on”, and one of my choices didn't carry over properly, though the rest seem to have. This is honestly something I expected to be ironed out-at least somewhat- in the new season. The stuttering and poor texture quality in this was worse than what I’d seen in any of the previous episodes. The performance remained steady for the next couple of scenes, but by the action sequence, the game was just running terribly. Just as the action starts and the music kicks in, the flow is ruined by the loading screen. It has the need to save seemingly constantly, and every action you make causes the framerate to plummet. When the game is working however, the action bits are incredibly tense, and very fast-paced, when they work.
As seen in the last season, the animations are still a bit stiff. Though this isn't noticeable often, it’s hard not to notice when it does happen. The art style seems to have been given a face lift, with characters being given bolder outlines, and certain characters having a whole new look. I personally prefer the bolder, darker lines, and either way, it's refreshing to see a bit of a change, if minor, from the look of the original episodes.
The Story and Whatnot
The opening scene gets tense as Clementine is being robbed at gunpoint. The game then quickly kills off one of the only surviving characters from season one, setting the tone for the entire story. I was honestly expecting Omid to last a lot longer. Despite all the sadness and death from the earlier episodes, I honestly just expected Omid to save the day. This is only the first scene, right? They wouldn't kill off such an important and well-loved character less than five minutes in, would they?
After a time skip, we get a slightly more mature Clementine, and a much more depressing and ragged Christa. The implications here are obvious, and depressing. From this point, the pacing will take somewhat predictable highs and lows, following a cycle of dialogue, exploration, and action. For the most part, it works well, with each individual component being spaced apart in such a way that it doesn't rely to heavily on one aspect of the game. The dialogue wasn't quite as hard-hitting as the previous episodes, but then again, this is only episode one. I always felt pretty confident in what I wanted to say, and some of the dialogue choices felt like obvious ones. Who can resist the Clementine sad eyes? The action scenes, as I've said, have some technical issues. However, I also felt like there were more close calls this time around, as the game introduced more quick directional swipes-which seems built for iOS-as well as mashing, which works better on console and PC.
The set-pieces this time around seem intent on hardening Clementine into a jaded survivor of the apocalypse. This episode likes to tease the player with hope, than snatch it away as cruelly as possible. The game gives us two familiar characters, one of whom is pregnant, and then kills one of them, and the unborn child in an instant. After trying to feed the dog, it retaliates and bites me, forcing me to kill it. I expected a close companion. I honestly thought Clem would have a canine companion for longer than a single chapter, but no. Even that gets taken away from her. I wasn't expecting that many feels in this episode, honestly. I was expecting a slow start that would set the stage for future feels. Instead, I got a few in-the-moment moments that actually made me tear up a little. Having to stab the dog, then mercy kill it as it flailed around, impaled on two spikes, is already one of the most horrific and pitiful things I've seen in a game.
After a short stealth section (I say stealth, but in truth, it’s no different than the rest of the game, just with a little extra added tension), you have to clean and stitch your wound, which is easily the most gruesome thing I've seen in the series thus far, rivaling the “The Lizard” scene from Heavy Rain. After another close call with a walker, we get some time to reminisce about Lee, and much to my delight, a few callbacks to the first season. There was also the irresistible option to blackmail an unfaithful pregnant woman, which is nice.
The next scene involves an argument, and depending on your dialogue choices thus far, you can choose to open up to Nick, and forgive him. It’s surprising how this game keeps you guessing with its characters. At first, I thought I’d really like Pete, and hate Luke and Nick, but by the end of the episode, the opposite was true. These characters are certainly not flat, that’s for sure.
I'm not sure how to feel about this new group yet. We've got some characters that have been nice, some not so nice, and some who are absolutely mysterious. It's an interesting group, so I'm willing to give them a chance. Still, I hope we get to see a familiar face or two join the group, to get a good mix of old and new. There's obviously not a lot to work with, since most of the first season has been wrapped up pretty tight (with the exception of Christa), but that's sort of the whole point of The Walking Dead: 400 Days. Seeing some of the characters from that episode would be a good compromise. We did get some good closure on the fate of Roman, but I'm hoping more characters seen previously join the cast. Season two can and should stand on its own, but it still should feel like a proper continuation, both for the universe and Clem's character.
The Conclusion Part
The choices this episode were light, and I wasn't all that surprised to find three of the major choices were split 90/10, with two others being 75/25. The options here felt like a no-brainer, and though the moment-to-moment action was still good, I actually think “A New Day” had better setups. Mercy killing the dog seems like the obvious decision, as does saving Nick, the guy who isn't bit. None of these decisions felt difficult to make, which is a shame. Though everyone naturally gravitated towards Carley, I feel that the opening episode of season one still had better “who should you save” decisions, because whilst the first one didn't mean anything, it had an impact on your relationship with another character, and the second at least made me feel bad.
Not a lot of your choices impacted this episode, which makes it feel like this season will stand on its own, rather than a continuation of what’s already happened. Still, the overarching goal seems to have already been put in place, which is to get farther north. Season one waited a few episodes before establishing the “get to Savannah and find a boat” goal, so I’m glad this one has already hinted at a destination. From there however, it’s not entirely clear where the series will go. A lot of the action seems to focus on the situational moments, and not the journey itself.
The purpose of this episode is two-fold: bring some closure by expanding on the aftermath of the season prior, and move forward by starting Clementine's next journey. It arguably accomplishes the former better than the latter, but I overall enjoyed "All That Remains" a little more than "A New Day", which I think I can ultimately attribute to this having an entire season to back it up. There was a lot more action this time around, and the pacing for this season seems to be moving at an entire pace. Whereas the first episode of season one had a nice, quite moment of reflection, this one ends abruptly on a cliffhanger during the climax, cutting out any falling action or denouement. This is something that we see a lot in all forms of The Walking Dead fiction, but it felt a bit too abrasive for me. On the other hand, it's a nice change of pace to see the action moving forward.
Overall, I really liked this episode. I loved Lee, but I think I'm going to enjoy playing as Clementine even more, as we see what will likely be a very profound and satisfying character arc. Like the pilot from the previous season, this wasn't anything too heavy-hitting, but that's to be expected for the setup of the story. I have a feeling that this will be the start of a wild roller coaster ride of feels.