I'll just come right out and say it -- Telltale's The Walking Dead was my 2012 game of the year. Although I really didn't dig the first episode, by the conclusion of the second I was absolutely hooked, and it didn't really let up until its memorable finale. While the follow-up 400 Days wasn't quite as compelling, it was still held to the same gold standard as the series proper.
In that regard, Season Two has some big shoes to fill, and Clementine has stepped up to the plate to do just that. Although I'll refrain from spoiling any major plotpoints, note that there will of course be minor story details discussed below, as well as spoilers for Season One.
The Walking Dead Season Two: All That Remains (iPad, iPhone, Mac, PC [reviewed], PlayStation 3, Vita Xbox 360)
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Release: December 18, 2013 (PC, Xbox 360) / December 19, 2013 (PS3) / TBA (iOS, Vita)
MSRP: $4.99 (Each Episode)
[Editor's note: there will be no major spoilers present for the episode reviewed here, but events in previous episodes may be discussed.]
First things first, if you have a save file from the previous season, the game will detect and load it instantly. If you don't have a save or have misplaced it for whatever reason, Season Two will automatically generate choices from the first -- so there's no "magically select everything you did" tool like Mass Effect. Personally, I would have preferred at least the option.
Telltale describes this initial episode as a "buffer" -- a tale that doesn't require a whole lot of prior knowledge, so new players won't be completely lost. Of course, it really does pay to play through the first season, not only because it's incredibly good, but it obviously allows you to understand Clementine's background, and what led her to this point.
After starting out with one of the most intense moments of the entire series (seriously), the vast majority of the episode takes place 16 months after the first Season. To be blunt, Clem has seen some shit, and she's a little different than she used to be. She still has that same believability, innocence, and likability as always, but because she's learned a lot of survival tactics from Lee, Clem's a little more hardened from before.
Lest you think Clementine is "ruined" as a result of these changes, think again. The writing for Clem is excellent, and not only maintains her childlike qualities, but also sneaks some snark and frustration without feeling forced or cheap. Allowing us to continue the journey we set off with last year in some new form, with new people to meet and new tales to tell, while still maintaining that connection to Season One is great. In short, I'm extremely happy that Telltale has gone this route, and decided not to have a long-winded "side group" that somehow meets up with Clem's group halfway into the Season.
While I don't want to spoil too much in regards to the overall plot of the first episode, Clem has split with her group, and wanders aimlessly until she's found by another camp of survivors, who have a tight-knit set of rules and a house to call their own. There are some slow moments like a lengthy campfire creation scene that simply establishes Clem's connection to past characters, but for the most part, All That Remains only knows one speed: go.
Right after the aforementioned bombshell at the opening, another subsequent confrontation had me cheering for Clem and uttering multiple "oh my god!" exclamations in succession. I was incredibly surprised at how action-packed this episode ended up being, mostly because of how slow the initial Season One opening was. Part of that is due to the fact that Clem is the outsider -- she's looking in at this new group, who is completely foreign to both her and the people. It's a new dynamic, and thankfully, it works.
The new cast may not be as memorable as the folks in the initial offering, but they're welcome additions, all with their own unique personalities. I particularly like this choice because it sets up future episodes, and your first impressions will no doubt come back to help or bite you later. Telltale seems to have found its groove in terms of storytelling, as I was instantly drawn into pretty much everyone I met.
There are some rough patches of dialog (a few supporting characters repeat the same few lines) but the tale is solid and always keeps you guessing. Small touches like Clem shivering in the wind during gameplay help. Telltale also somehow manages to handle dogs correctly in a videogame (eat your heart out Molyneux), which isn't done very often.
The world of The Walking Dead is a bleak, terrible place and Season Two constantly reminds us of that. The impact with the choices you make during All That Remains may not be evident now, but if the decisions themselves are any indication, they absolutely will down the line. It's yet to be seen if Telltale's promise of Season One's impact will be that significant (it would be disappointing if it weren't), as there aren't many connections at all to the past outside of passing references through the roughly two-hour tale. We'll find out what happens there eventually.
The Walking Dead: All That Remains surprised me, although when I saw the initial reveal of Clementine's return I had little doubt that Telltale would deliver in some form. They still even know how to sell a "next episode" preview, as a casual "I thought you were dead!" line is delivered by Clementine upon a mysterious off-screen figure. Yep, I can't wait for the next episode.