Previously on The Walking Dead…
It is remarkable how much emotion reading those words evokes. Five words that set up the story for each chapter in The Walking Dead. But hearing it in Lee’s voice. Remembering what happened in that spectacular first season. Recalling the twists, the turns, the surprises, the choices and the ultimate conclusion.
Season two has an incredibly high standard to meet.
Off the bat, season two is told from the perspective of Clementine, the little girl who was rescued and cared for by Lee Everett in the first season. So the change from playing as an adult male with a checkered past to a brave but still very young girl is a big shift in role playing.
Largely the challenges that faced Clementine in Season One are still present in Season Two with many questioning her ability to weather the conditions thrown at her. “But she’s just a little girl” is the mantra repeated at end and Clem consistently demonstrates the ability to figure out and will her way through situations despite her small stature.
It is ironic that as the season trudges on, that so many fully grown adults look to Clem as a beacon with her often being the deciding factor in critical situations. Of course, this is how games work, but not necessarily how stories work. Eventually, Clem won’t be able to play the role of hero.
It is a balancing point the writers toy with throughout the game as Clem’s new group teeters on the brink of collapse and insurrection (not unlike the dynamic in Season One) with Clem often being the lynchpin of the group’s survival.
While the choices Clem makes are decisive and certainly deliver an underscore, this season’s events rarely seem affected by decisions made previously. Regardless if you are nice to somebody or choose to save somebody, often the same event will play out as an inevitable fate.
The feeling of inevitability amid hopeless situations is the underrunning theme of Season Two and it really is a shame in contrast to seeing how things play out in Season One. Ultimately the conclusion of Season One was written in stone, the little choices made throughout made you feel a little more human and that your story was slightly more tailored to your choices. Season Two’s choices are largely miniscule in comparison and not nearly to the same degree as choosing between Doug and Carley.
It feels like the decision to move away from choices playing a large role in the story’s web was a conscious one as even the little social statistics barely register on the radar of large scale importance. Even the chart at the end of Season One, showing the fates of the major characters, was removed from Season Two, because ultimately, their fates didn’t matter.
In a nice addition, Telltale did provide some control improvements by mapping the action button to the triggers in addition to the face buttons for quick time events. It was awkward shooting with the face buttons in Season One and now you don’t have to use a weird claw grip to use the right analog and the face buttons simultaneously.
It is actually a shame that season one was so stellar, so ingrained in its point and click adventure roots that it actually works against season two. Because of the narrative focus on this game and all of Telltale’s products, we expect to be entertained and taken on a well written journey.
The story within Season Two is fine and it provides a ton of drama in the meat of the story, right in the middle chapters. There is an excellent villain who might actually be under utilized, but given the constraints of the episodic format, the limited appearance makes sense. There is even major emotional rewards for those who hold Season One in high regards.
It is a complex story that really deserves mention with a cast of characters that are unique. It is just frustrating that ultimately, much of what you do doesn’t really matter. But then again, isn’t that the point?
The mechanics of a game are rarely what you look for in a Telltale Games production, but the technical improvements are the best part of The Walking Dead: Season Two. It’s a bit marginalizing to just give the developers props for that, but largely the story falls flat in comparison to Season One. The futile undertone throughout the story is noted and ultimately all the guise of choice that was emphasized so heavily in the first season means little in the grand scheme of things. For every shred of potential Season Two offers, the story finds a way of ripping it away before allowing plot threads to properly develop. The Walking Dead: Season Two is a fine experience, but pale in comparison to its predecessor.
Available on Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PS Vita, Windows PC, Mac OS, iOS, Android. Purchased and reviewed on Xbox 360 via digital download.