While it’s pretty much a given that the social fabric would break down immediately in the face of a zombie crisis, the swiftness with which flesh-and-blood survivors turn to banditry, cannibalism, and cold-blooded murder in the first season of Telltale’s Walking Dead game series is fairly astounding. Before the plague hits, your character, Lee, was a convicted murderer on his way to prison. After the shit hits the fan, he ends up caring for a young girl named Clementine and through his actions becomes the most heroic ex-con since Dr. Richard Kimble. Zombies recalibrate everyone’s moral compass.
Circumstances often demand that you give the benefit of the doubt to people you encounter in this post-apocalyptic world. More often than not, though, they end up being more monstrous than you could have imagined. And there’s no reliable way to tell who’s who until you, say, come across your friend’s legless torso after he has been half-consumed by the folks who were letting you stay at their farm. It’s all part of the sadistic genius of Telltale’s formula, forcing you to make split-second decisions from a menu of bad options with little or no information and then beating you over the head with your reflexive, ill-informed life choices every moment thereafter.
There’s no statute of limitations for how long your mistakes can come back to haunt you. In the second season of The Walking Dead, Telltale uses your decisions from the first season and its one-act interlude, 400 Days, to inform the story as it unfolds. (That’s assuming you’ve played them. If not, those previous decisions are filled in at random.) You now control Clementine, the young girl who was Lee’s charge in the first game. When we first see her again, she’s teamed up with a pair of survivors—a couple—from the first season. They’re, by all appearances, a small but relatively happy family. The woman is even expecting a baby. Surely, it will all work out just fine.
Clem gets separated from her friends, though, and must make it on her own for a time. At this point, it appears to be some year-and-a-half after the events of the first game. Her voice sounds the same, but there’s something new behind it, a steely “don’t fuck with me” undertone that should serve her well in the coming days. Before, she was all wide-eyed incredulity. Now, she’s a bit harder and a little more suspicious, coarsened by events that robbed her of her childhood, her friends, and her family. When Clem finally meets up with other survivors who aren’t immediately trying to kill her, she’s still on her guard.
The action and puzzle-solving is arranged in much the same way as the previous games, although it’s not used as effectively here. The first season had its moments of tedium—these games focus more on atmosphere and story than zombie-killing action—but there was always a palpable sense of menace in even the most mundane of tasks. There are glimpses of that in the second season premiere, but it’s less consistent. Furiously mashing buttons to escape a zombie who’s holding your foot has lost some of its shock value, and this episode’s most gruesome scene is a moment of self-surgery that goes on for so long it’s almost comedic. The season’s new cast members are similarly tired. Clem’s new group, so far at least, is a much more forgettable bunch than the old team. Maybe it’s just that I miss Chuck The Hobo, but we’ve seen the like of Clem’s new group before: the angry young man, the friendly young man, the distrustful young woman, the wise old uncle.
For everything that has stayed the same, though, it’s Clementine and the subtle changes she undergoes that hint at an even darker turn in the game’s future. It would be easy to blame myself (as Lee) for brutally killing that guy in the barn while Clem looked on in horror back in season one. That stays with a kid. But whatever the reason, Clementine is quickly turning into a stone-cold survivor, and that sweet young girl is likely gone forever.
While it’s not the strongest Walking Dead chapter we’ve seen—the episode’s final choice, in particular, is somewhat baffling—it’s prudent to withhold final judgment until the rest of the game is in. Telltale has earned the benefit of the doubt. Reading the first fifth of The Lord Of The Rings, after all, doesn’t really give you an accurate sense of the whole. (Apologies to the diehard Tom Bombadilians out there.) The pressing questions remain: Will Clem survive? And if so, at what cost? Will my choices, vis-à-vis biting that guy’s thumb off, come back to haunt her? Smart money is on “Probably.”
The Walking Dead Season Two: Episode One—All That Remains
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Platforms: iPhone/iPad (Universal), Mac, PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Reviewed on: Xbox 360
Price: $5— iPhone/iPad, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 (single episode); $25—Mac, PC (full season)