Thursday, 26 December 2013

Not Quite Review Corner: Telltale's Walking Dead, Season 2

This is going to be as spoiler free as I can make it. This title has been released on PC, console and iTunes; I played the iTunes version.

Telltale Games' point-and-click Walking Dead series came out of nowhere a few years back and stole gamers' hearts, the world over. A large part of that is thanks to series mainstay Clementine, the young girl that main character Lee adopts and tries to protect, in a journey across the zombie-infested South. After the first series ended, Telltale released 400 Days, a not-quite-standalone adventure with different characters, but what everyone wanted was a return to the main story.  Now, in the second series, we get our wish, and Clementine is in the starring role. The opening episode of this five part series is All That Remains.

To get the boring bits out of the way first, let's talk mechanics. Anyone who played the first season will have little problem here. There have been some minor improvements but, broadly speaking, the game's QTE sequences and puzzle solving are unchanged. Swipe the screen thus to avoid a zombie, click and swipe to complete an event, combine the right puzzle objects in the right order, and so on. Most of the time it works, and when it doesn't it's easy to go back a step and try again. I did notice an annoying crash bug early on, and it took over half a dozen log-on attempts to start the game. I attribute this to wireless internet signal strength; if I went into a room where the strength was 3 bar, no problem. If  it was 2 bar, it crashed on start up. However once the game began, it could cope with a 2 bar signal.

Story is where this series shines. Again, I shall try my best to avoid spoilers here. You start the game a few months after the conclusion of the previous series, and Clementine seems to be in safe hands. This brief moment of comfort soon vanishes, and Clem has to struggle through without a safety net. In fact, one of the two highlight moments of the first episode happens in the first few minutes; I don't even think the credits had finished rolling.

The second highlight moment, at least for me, takes place about half-way through. I shall say no more than that.

Story structure branches off at several pre-determined points in the narrative, and this is Telltale's big selling point: choices matter. All the decisions you made up to now, in Season 1 and 400 Days, factor into Season 2, for instance; though if you haven't played those games, Telltale can invent a backstory for you. All future decisions count, shaping the story towards whatever nebulous conclusion awaits in the final episode,  No Going Back. While intriguing, one of the chief complaints aimed at the series so far is that decisions don't seem to matter as much as Telltale would have you believe.The opening episode of Season 2 does little to allay those suspicions. If anything, from a story structure perspective the Telltale team played it very safe; there's little to differentiate it from Season 1's opening episode, A New Day.

That might be for the best. Series veterans may prefer a little change, but an opening episode is as much for the new players as it is the old lags. Newbies need a little tender loving care, if they're to keep on playing. Here's hoping things will get more complex, as the series develops.

I'd recommend this entire series to anyone who likes horror, and good storytelling. I find the iPad version ($4.99 on iTunes) particularly handy, despite some of the annoying start-up quirks. The QTEs are much less tedious to deal with; somehow the process makes more sense with a touchscreen.


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