‘The Walking Dead Season Two, Episode One: All That Remains’ Takes Some Chances [Review]
After all the acclaim and attention Telltale Games got for the first season of its The Walking Dead video game, it'd be perfectly understandable for the developers and writing team to simply stay the course. To their credit, they haven't done that with the first episode of the game's second season, titled "All That Remains." The interface and art style are slightly different, the characters have developed and grown, and, most noticeably, the tone has changed somewhat.
But while I'm all for keeping things fresh, I'm not sure the changes are entirely positive.
Let me put it this way: If I wasn't required to keep playing, there's a good chance I would have stopped playing this game after about 20 minutes. (Though odds are just as good I would have started back after a breather.) I don't want to give the moment away, but I'm going to have to spoil it at least a little to explain why I found the moment so off-putting. I'll put it this way: There's a reason why Matt Fraction said one of the absolute truths of his Hawkeye run is that he wouldn't kill the dog.
The game's first season made what seemed to be a very conscious choice to avoid plunging its characters and players into complete, hopeless despair. It's something that set the game apart from the comic and the TV series. In spite of all the death and soul-crushing horror going on around them, Lee and the gang managed to have moments of humor or warmth that not only made the game far more playable, but made the characters infinitely more interesting. It also made the gut-punch at the very end of the season that much more powerful.
The first episode of season two is a much more somber affair. It hits players with a few really devastating and depressing moments right upfront, and it isn't until nearly the end, when a new character tells the protagonist, Clementine, a story about taking his nephew hunting for the first time, that it evokes as much as a chuckle.
I can think of a few reasons for that. One, the credited writers have changed. Most of the season one chapters were helmed by writer Sean Vanaman, who isn't at Telltale anymore. This one is penned by Nick Breckon, who's credited on the DLC "The 400 Days," but not in season one.
This is also a different story about a different lead character. Clementine is nearly a year and a half older here than she was at the end of season one, and she's been through a lot. When she reacts to looking at some inconsequential object with silence, it's more than understandable, not only because she's been worn down by circumstance, but also because she's on her way to being a teenager.
I'll take this chance to note that Melissa Hutchison, the voice actress who portrays Clementine, does an impeccable job of keeping Clementine recognizable while adding nuance to her voice. You can tell she's gotten older and has some scars. It's a masterful performance, and she heads up a voice cast that is uniformly excellent.
And once the story really gets going, it's as compelling as ever. In particular, a scene in which Clementine has to sneak into a house and collect some items she's in urgent need of stacks up with any of the setpiece sequences from the previous season. A group of new characters that's introduced about halfway through the episode clicks with the player almost immediately. Instantly identifiable and relatable characters is a hallmark of the series. I'm always astonished by how well I know characters from these games within minutes of being introduced to them. There's a real magic to it.
And, I should mention, the game's conceit of player choices having major consequences on what follows is still here, and still implemented very well. The inclusion of choices from season one feeding into this season is really clever.
All that said, I still can't shake how much more dour this episode was than what preceded it. It's not a dealbreaker by any means, but I'm certainly hoping for a few more instances of lightheartedness, or at the very least, less stifling trauma, in the episodes to come. I got misery-fatigued on both the show and the comic. I hope that doesn't happen here.
The next few episodes could also benefit from a little additional technical polish. The interface is actually cleaner at a little more visually pleasing than in season one, and the art style has, for lack of a better term, matured along with Clementine. It still has the cel-shaded look without quite as much of a cartoon quality. But there were a few times when prompts just didn't seem to pop up, screens loaded strangely or the camera changed when it seemed pretty clear it wasn't supposed to.
The first season likewise had some of those glitches, but the story was so good and the implementation of the choices so well-done that I could easily ignore them. I can still ignore them. What I can't ignore is how manipulated I felt when it came to that dang dog.