"If you haven’t played season one, go play season one. Now. Right now. Call in sick from work, we don’t care."
For those tragically unfamiliar with Telltale Games, WHAT ARE YOU THINKING??? The company is now over halfway through a second season of a stand alone adventure-gaming contribution to the vast Walking Dead media empire. To rephrase: the events of this video game occur inside the comic book universe, but with different characters, settings, and stories. By the combination of hyper-competant storytelling and program/design artistry, one of the unlikiliest storytelling mediums has overwhelmingly surpassed the banal platform of the Walking Dead TV Show and is well on its way to becoming THE zombie serialized tale of the decade. This includes the original comic and the show, as well as pretty much any other Z-franchise you can name.
If you haven’t played season one, go play season one. Now. Right now. Call in sick from work, we don’t care. Go ahead. We will wait. Come back in ten amazing hours and thank me through your tears. Season One of Telltale’s tale follows Lee Everett: college professor, convict, father-figure, badass. Under his wing was Clementine, a young but capable protégé to Lee’s tutelage in the horror-ridden apocalyptic landscape. Their friendship is the heart of the story, and Lee’s protection of Clementine is the driving force of the narrative. By the end of the story, Clementine has become a genre-savvy femme fatale at the young age of eight years old.
It’s a good thing, because Lee isn’t around this season, and the player must take the reins of the now eleven-year-old Clementine. This little girl is one of the most impressive feats of the game series: she isn’t some kind of “Scrappy Doo” character we are told is tough and… well, scrappy. This is a girl who speaks softly and kills zombies with an appropriately-sized stick. She’s compelling, believable, but never at risk of becoming some kind of “Phantom Menace” child prodigy that the players want to strangle. Somehow, Telltale Games has managed to create a juvenile protagonist of equal emotional caliber to those of Stand by Me, something George Lucas couldn’t even dream to do with all the midi-chlorians on Tatooine.
"Telltale Games has impressively improved their ability to write consequences into choices for these scripts as well."
The Walking Dead, in gaming mechanics terms, revolves around making “choices”, making it a choose-your-own-adventure motion comic as much as an actual video game. If that sounds boring, WHY ARE YOU STILL READING, I TOLD YOU TO PLAY SEASON ONE! Those who should actually be reading at this point know that this game offers a whole lot more than headshots and shotgun shells. This game offers feels. Heavy, heavy feels. These feelings are made even more personal when given player options: the nagging self-doubts and insecurities come from Kobayashi Maru scenarios, wherein the player is simply trying to do their best in an impossible world with no clear answers.
Telltale Games has impressively improved their ability to write consequences into choices for these scripts as well. In season one, it often felt that any choice was temporary, and the rushing current of the storyline would wash away any “wrong” choices to keep the tale on track. A character may live or die, but it was only going to be temporary: a character was marked for life or death. As the second season has progressed, it’s clear that there is a butterfly effect emerging from small choices that has to be a challenge for the developers and writers. Luckily, their ability to answer the expanding balloon of corollaries has grown as well. It truly feels (as it did as season one progressed, but even more so now) that other character’s life and death are often in your hands. And you will care about their lives—the lives of your group, your friends, your canine companions.
"Give your enemies an inch in this game, and sometimes they’ll take the whole mile."
I played Lee in the first season as a reluctantly honest guardian, always telling Clementine truths as gently as the game would allow, in order to prepare her for the hardships we faced. Now that we’re seeing things from Clementine’s point of view, I tend to play as a resolute young veteran with a bit of a chip on her shoulder when dealing with a person like William Carver. I feel that she is no sadist, nor a moral pit, but she has learned that she must be tough in this world: you can’t give liars and bullies an inch. Give your enemies an inch in this game, and sometimes they’ll take the whole mile.
We pick up on the road, just after antagonist William Carver took Clementine’s group hostage. This capture took place at a ski lodge in the last episode, when Carver brutally killed a kind man named Walter. Walter had taken Clementine and company in, reuniting the girl with Season One friend Kenny. From the first moments of this episode, the capturing group shows animosity and harshness to even the children, but not yet a desire to kill them all. One character, Bonnie, seems particularly disturbed by the events of the lodge, especially considering she had been shown kindness and provided food when caught spying prior to invasion.
The ski lodge group is taken to a facility, confined to a special area for “probationary” members of this society. It seems that William Carver is fine with keeping people alive, so long as they bend to his forced labor and tyrannical rule. Later in the episode, he was impressed with (determined by my choices) Clementine’s steely nerve and iron gaze, not backing down to his menace. He wants Clementine to be a leader in the next generation of humanity, a high hope for someone still in dire jeopardy of incoming zombie hordes. Clementine has a chance to bemoan her position in the game, gently tapping on the fourth wall. Why the hell do these people constantly rely on a preteen to do everything for her? Carver recognizes this, and admires the adolescent competence. I typically played Clementine as a willing, ballsy fighter, never backing down and offering to take burden or punishment in lieu of those less capable.
"One half point is deducted, largely for Telltale’s poor commitment to release dates."
It seemed clear at the dawn of this episode that William Carver would be the season antagonist, and escaping the compound would provide the opportunity to dive back into a life of fear of his shadow, as it had been in the ski lodge. After having seen him make a father strike his daughter, after seeing him push a sweet one-armed man off a cliff, I had made up my mind early. When he told Clementine that she was just like him, I smiled: fine, she will kill you then, like he would a captor. All that was before he almost beat Kenny to death, damaging his eye and almost crushing his skull with a walkie-talkie. As the episode approached its end, it wasn’t in Clementine’s hands to actually kill him, though she literally jumped in to save the day. Perhaps, schadenfreude aside, I am glad such tasks were not given to her after all. In an interesting twist, Telltale let you decide if you would stand by, and watch as Kenny introduced Carver to justice, by means of a crowbar. My Clementine watched, with no reservation: sometimes, when fighting monsters, we must stare into the abyss and let the abyss stare back at us. Season antagonist, perhaps William Carver was not. Alas, farewell, Michael Madsen: the gravelly voice of Mr. Blonde was as chilling as it was delightful.
Making the way out of the compound and into the horde of oncoming zombies, time slowed down as adrenaline pumped, and Kenny’s new woman Sarita gets her hand chomped, music slows to a heartbeat. What will you do….? I could deduct some points in my game score for the occasional choppy graphics that Telltale sometimes is guilty of, or for the weak menu screen that crashed upon download of the newest episode. I won’t do that, because any technical faults the game has are overwhelmingly overshadowed by the sheer audacity of its storytelling. One half point is deducted, largely for Telltale’s poor commitment to release dates: they’ve sold us crack, and we want our fix in the four-to-six week intervals we were promised, not the over-two month pace they have been keeping. But hey… a zombie staggers at the pace is staggers. Until next time, we will have to learn to live with the gargantuan mass of inferior zombie media that has infected our culture, hungering for the best of it.
Review by: Robert Roodhouse | Reviewed on: PC