When episodic outfit Telltale Games’ macabre The Walking Dead adaptation first shuffled its way onto the PlayStation Network way back in 2012, many people were apprehensive following a string of licensed tie-ins that didn’t quite hit the mark. Perhaps this is part of the reason why Lee and Clementine’s five episode first season proved such a pleasant surprise, securing a slew of Game of the Year awards as a result. With expectations now sky high, though, the indie studio is looking to capitalise on its success by furthering its post-apocalyptic plot – but is it able to avoid the sophomore slump?
Arguably one of the most satisfying aspects of the original iteration of the zombie chomp-‘em-up was how the decisions that you made could significantly alter your experience, ensuring that the game was tailor made for you. As such, before you even begin this new instalment, you’re prompted to import your save data, be it from the end of Season One or the 400 Days expansion pack. If you haven’t played the extra add-on, don’t worry, as the game is happy to randomise the admittedly sparse decisions that you may have skipped, ensuring that you don’t miss out. Incredibly, you can even prompt the computer to make every choice from the first season for you, too, if for some insane reason you want to start from scratch.
You’ll then be treated to a painful reminder of the horrors that you navigated during the first five episodes, and it’s here that the developer’s ageing engine begins to show some weary signs. Clips of characters saying important pieces of dialogue are punctuated by animation issues, as the frame rate struggles to reflect your decisions. We’re sure that it’s not an easy task for the studio to upgrade its internal technology at this point, but it’s a real shame as it remains one of the few negatives against the company’s titles.
After wiping away a tear – over the montage, of course, not the engine – it’s time to get stuck in. As you may already be aware from the marketing materials released, you’re now in control of Clementine, who boldly steps up to the protagonist plate for this season. However, this isn’t the only major change, as the interaction interface has undergone a couple of tweaks. You’ll still move with the left analogue stick and aim with the right, but rather than awkwardly hover over a small white sphere to reveal interaction options, a white ring surrounding what you intend to select will appear.
In any given ring, your available actions will be assigned to positions mirroring the face buttons. This tweaked system not only makes it a little easier to choose the desired options in a given context, but also makes the display a little less intrusive, ensuring that there are no clunky button prompts cluttering the screen outside of action-heavy sequences.
And these moments have taken inspiration from Telltale’s other series The Wolf Among Us, allowing for more intense scenes to play out without being too challenging or frustrating. There’s even a brand new style of interaction introduced, which works a little like Heavy Rain as you hold a button and gesture towards objects to set pieces of paper alight among other things. Alright, it doesn’t sound particularly impressive in the example that we’ve just given, but it certainly makes a difference during one wince-inducing scene that we won’t spoil.
Of course, there’s a good chance that you’re primarily coming to this episode for the narrative, and it continues the property’s penchant for engaging and emotional storytelling. This is accentuated by the fact that you already know Clementine as a character, and this established bond helps you to empathise with the heroine from the off. Furthermore, the awful decisions that you’re faced with are magnified because you’re no longer a fully grown man, but a young girl. She may seem more capable, but she’s just as innocent as when former hero Lee first found her, strengthening how fiercely you’ll want to protect her.
Unfortunately, there are a couple of minor niggles. The abovementioned engine issues crop up throughout the episode, though are never quite as problematic as in the introduction sequence. However, there are still far too many awkwardly positioned loading screens, with one particularly jarring example occurring right before an action-heavy event, which completely destroys the tension.
Worse still, we couldn’t help but notice that in the customary statistics screen at the end of the episode that almost everybody made the same choices, suggesting that these either weren’t challenging enough, or that most people have a pre-existing idea of how Clementine operates. Lee was very much a blank slate when you took control of him in Season One, but players have experienced five episodes of the little girl’s personality being shaped by someone else, so you may almost feel conditioned to play in a particular way. This could become a real problem as the series progresses.
While we’ve been eager to avoid spoilers here, know that The Walking Dead: Season Two starts with a bang. As you’d expect, new characters are introduced, the writing and voice acting is outstanding, and you’ll feel more protective of protagonist Clementine than any previous episode. We are a little concerned that the already established character may influence your decisions a little too much, but this is still an undeniably strong opening to another promising Telltale Games series.