***Editor’s Note: Although efforts have been made to minimize spoilers, some aspects of Season 1 are discussed in this article***
The mainstream media is obsessed with zombies. Over the past few years, movies, TV, and games have been saturated with variations on George A. Romero’s zombie themes. Telltale’s 2012 masterpiece The Walking Dead shattered expectations and blew minds, reaching storytelling levels rarely seen in the interactive medium that is games. With numerous Game of the Year awards under it’s belt, The Walking Dead is a tough act to follow. The Walking Dead: Season 2 attempts to do just that, and brings new features to the table at the same time. With Season 2, I’m going to post a piece about each episode as they are released – I’ll address new features as they pop up, and give my opinion on the aesthetic and mechanical aspects of each episode.
The Walking Dead: Season 1 wrapped up in heart wrenching fashion – the story of Lee and Clementine came to a heartbreaking climax; I challenge anyone to play Episode 5 without getting emotionally invested/becoming a blubbering mess. The choices I had to make in the last few minutes of that game stayed with me for weeks, and held the same impact as I replayed it in preparation for this review. While most game stories wouldn’t hold up in other mediums, the choices presented in The Walking Dead make it an adventure that could only be fully realized as a game.
Season 2 is no different, creating a fully interactive experience that dynamically adapts to your decisions. It tells a completely individualized story while still offering a well written, strongly acted experience. Following the events in Savannah, Season 2 puts you in the shoes of Clementine, travelling with Omid and Christa. I’ll refrain from saying more, but suffice to say, things don’t stay calm for long.
Broadly, the story has a much higher intensity level than previous episodes. I found myself missing the ‘down time’ Lee’s story contained, as All That Remains tells the more frantic, action oriented story of Clementine. Speaking of Clementine, her character cuts right through me. She’s written in a very complex manner, and is superbly acted by Melissa Hutchison. It’s obvious a lot of thought went into designing her character arc, and her development feels natural – an unnaturally mature girl crafted through necessity and the guidance of Lee in Season 1.
Some of the other characters feel less well realized, but I think there is definitely potential for characters on the same level as Lee and Kenny to emerge over the course of the season. Luke, Sarah, and Nick stood out particularly to me.
On the mechanics front, the game has become more complicated. There are additional controls in place, such as pressing directional buttons to avoid obstacles during action sequences, or more complex mouse movements to give realism to actions like stitching a wound. It’s similar to the mechanics seen in Heavy Rain or Beyond: Two Souls, and adds an extra layer of player engagement. While I appreciate the additions as a gamer, I think it makes the story somewhat less accessible for non-gamers or people interested only in the story.
Aesthetically, the game has received a fresh coat of paint this time around. The textures are generally sharper, and it seems like characters have increased articulation during animations. It’s a nice step forward, especially considering the muddy, jagged nature of the textures in Season 1.
Much like Season 1, the music and sound design are excellent. The game contains some of the most convincing atmospheric effects I’ve encountered – multiple times I pulled off my headphones to make sure the sounds were actually coming from the game. The music is used similarly well, with riffs on themes from the previous season, and new themes constantly emerging. The amount of thought put into this game becomes most apparent when the music matches the surroundings. For example, using a drawing of Kenny, Katja, and Duck as fuel for a fire causes Duck’s theme to play. Generally, the music adds a great deal of depth to the game, lending emotion and atmosphere in heaps. Huge kudos to Telltale for crafting an auditory joy in Season 2 – the voice acting, music, and sound design are all stellar.
The Walking Dead: Season 2 is off to a great start with “All That Remains”. The story is compelling, the gameplay engaging, and the experience of playing is riveting. While perhaps lacking the impact of the end of Season 1, I can wholeheartedly recommend Season 2 to fans of the series. Perhaps more importantly, I recommend the game to anyone who enjoys a dramatic story – both gamers and non-gamers deserve to enjoy this shining example of interactive media.