It's back. The Walking Dead: The Game Season 2 Episode 1 is here, finally. Playing this time around as Clementine, the young female companion from Season One, as the first season's protagonist is... um... otherwise occupied, Telltale Games seeks your heart-strings, your blood pressure, and yes, to make your moral compass spin like a top once more as you face the zombie apocalypse. In a heart-wrenching first episode, the developer shows that lessons learned from the first season (as well as fellow comic book spin-off The Wolf Among Us) make for a more self-contained experience that will leave you shaking your head and shivering in your boots for days.
There's not much we can say about the story while keeping this spoiler-free, and that's incredibly important: everyone who plays this should get to experience the story for themselves as it unfolds. We'll tell you this, however: as Clementine, playing as the young girl instead of as a caretaker, the entire landscape of this end-of-the-world scenario changes. You can take bigger risks in conversation, but have to be a lot more careful in action. The emotional beats are stronger, in some natural humanistic way, because you just don't want to see these things happening to a child. The innocence is there, but so is a child's mischief, which in this world can mean literally deadly consequences.
The story itself picks up shortly after the end of Season One, and shows us how Clem moves on from the devestating finale. You'll see familiar characters from the past, meet a whole bunch of new ones, and even catch a few cameos (though they're, uh, less than happy at times). The situations Clem finds herself in are both unique, being from her perspective, and familiar to fans of The Walking Dead in any of its forms (comic, TV, or game). There are, let's see, at least five major twists in this first 90-minute episode, and I'll confidently say that only one of them feels like a little bit of a cheat. other than that, I can only say that the first gut-punch comes only about 10 minutes in, and your heart and blood pressure just never get a chance to recover from then on. The tension is stronger, the story is tighter, and it makes for a better experience built upon one of the best gaming experiences of last year.
This is Telltale Games gameplay here, without any real surprises. The game is as much about guiding conversation as you watch the story unfold as it is about escaping the grasps of the undead (or the living). There is a section that is nerve-wracking enough to make you feel the pain Clementine does, and offers something of a change in what proves to be a climactic moment for the episode, though.
Mostly, you'll walk, explore, occasionally go through a quick time event of button presses, and really get the deep dive from the timed conversation options. Clementine shows a huge range in playability, as she can play things innocent in a way that Lee simply didn't have the capacity to in the first episode, while also showing a strength and tenacity far beyond her years. There are two lines in particular that, upon my second playthrough, I just had to try. Both of them were "____ will remember that" lines, meaning the characters I interacted with at the time will completely change their view of Clem in later chapters because of it. The range a child offers makes this more replayable than the last episode - and I played that one four times on three platforms. You'll want to see what every option offers - maybe even need to see it.
The game looks a bit sharper than the first chapter, while retaining its distinct comic book look and feel. Characters are considerably more expressive, with a wider and more believable range of emotions shown on their faces, making it far easier to connect personally with their plight. The scenery, from forests to a raging river to a claustrophobic crawl space, has a surprising realism to the cartoony style. It's easy to see these people living in this world, and because they are such believable and human characters, that realism extends into the surroundings.
As for audio, Telltale continues to cast characters well, from gruff old bastards to younger new friends that have that twinge of hidden purpose. Thanks largely to the voice acting, I found myself genuinely distrusting of pretty much everyone I came across here. There were times that I wished Clementine could just run away and be rid of all people, off to live in her precious treehouse right into old age. Even allies made me wary, and that sense of foreboding wouldn't be as effective without the excellent casting. The environmental and ambient noises are solid, and there's just no way not to jump in your seat a bit each time you get attacked suddenly by a walker.
Let's make this as simple and clear as possible: The Walking Dead Season 2 is a must-play game. Telltale has shown an expertise above and beyond anything they've done before, and Clementine is the most interesting playable character in a video game this year, if not beyond. There are moments and decisions in this first episode that will literally stick with you for days, making you second-guess yourself and wanting to go back to play again and change your mind - only to find that wasn't necessarily better so much as different. Without too many callbacks to the first season, this one is actually accessible to brand-new players, though seasoned veterans will absolutely have a unique experience, especially in the first half of the 90-minute session. There's less of a cliffhanger at the end of the episode than last year's outing (and certainly less than The Wolf Among Us had), but that's a good thing. The self-contained episode felt more complete, while still making you anxious to get the next chapter of the story. Telltale is at the top of their game, and we just can't wait to see what they do next.
Rama Rating: 10 out of 10
The Walking Dead Game Season Two Episode One - All That Remains is expected available today on PC/Mac via Steam and PS3, Wednesday Dec 18 on Xbox 360, Thursday Dec 19 on iOS, and coming soon to other platforms. Individual episodes are $4.99, while season passes on some platforms offer a discount.