Avoid the dead and outwit the living on a long journey to safety.
PC Release: December 17, 2013
By Ian Coppock
I think, more than anything, The Walking Dead is a study in how people cope with disaster. That concept has proven to be fertile ground for the popular TV series, and the graphic novels precipitating the show. Telltale Games added to the mythos with their own adventure game of the same name, one of the greatest story-driven video games of all time. Critics acclaimed everything that makes video games great: a compelling narrative, believable characters and choice-based gameplay that would pan out across five episodes. That saga, with those qualities, continues in Season Two of the series.
Season Two of the Walking Dead is, like its predecessor, a story-driven adventure game divvied up into five episodes, which were released every month or so after the season debut.
In the previous game, player character Lee had to make tough choices for a group of zombie apocalypse survivors, all while looking out for a little girl named Clementine. From zombie-infested motels to cannibalistic dairy farmers, Lee and Clementine brave many dangers together, in a game that I found to be both beautiful and harrowing. Its ending brought me to tears.
Season Two begins 16 months after the conclusion of the previous game, and features Clementine as the playable protagonist. Two years of zombie apocalypse have aged Clementine far beyond her 11 or so years, and though she’s been separated from the group she once traveled with, her resourcefulness will prove to be her greatest weapon against the zombies. Season Two imports story choices made in The Walking Dead a la Mass Effect, but these deal almost exclusively with past events and character relations rather than changes in the actual world.
After encountering some red-hooded mercenaries and a pack of feral dogs, Clementine stumbles upon a ragtag band of fugitives on the run from a brutal warlord. She quickly joins the group for their exodus up north, and they steal into the mountains to avoid their pursuers. The survivors they encounter along the way have heard rumor of a sanctuary in Ohio, and the team resolves to head there, reasoning that a fortress is better than mountains full of meat-eaters.
While the story here is certainly compelling stuff, I had to roll my eyes at the “survivor sanctuary” trope. C’mon, Telltale, the Promised Land is one of the oldest tropes in the book! I was surprised to see them resort to an idea so unoriginal, but we’ll focus on the forest instead of the tree. So to speak.
Season Two also gives us the chance to explore Lee and Clementine’s relationship from the other point of view. That annoyed-looking fellow in the screenshot, Luke, becomes Clementine’s sort-of-new-protector, and now we the player get to experience the gameplay of a guardian-child relationship from the “protectee”‘s perspective. The game features more action sequences than the previous installment, with terrifying new situations against zombie and human foes.
Of course, Season Two also brings back the first season’s choice-based narrative, bigger and better than ever. Most of the gameplay is driven by the choices you make in relationships, and Clementine’s dialogue shapes those relationships. They also shape her very character. Players can use these dialogue options to craft a kinder Clementine who holds out hope for the world, or a more callous child who went cynical way, way too early.
Season Two also brings along some brilliant gameplay to reflect the new series protagonist. Lee’s primary strength against the zombies was what he could smash and rend with his bare hands, but as a little girl, such an approach is hardly sane. Season Two gives us gameplay reflective of Clementine’s more resourceful approach toward the zombies. You can make use of the environment around you, take a stealthy approach, and use sophisticated maneuvers to elude the zombies. Sure, you don’t get to crack as many heads, but you’re alive, and how many head-crackers can say that for very long? The Walking Dead had gameplay like this too, of course, but Lee’s burly figure meant that zombie confrontations were much more straightforward.
The game also brings in an environmental palette swap. The Walking Dead‘s suburban and inner city environments are switched out for a bleakly beautiful wilderness of autumn trees, winter winds and decaying farmsteads. The only thing worse than a zombie apocalypse is a zombie apocalypse in winter weather, and this situation pushes some of the group to their breaking points.
And speaking of breaking points, let’s talk about the characters themselves, the meat of this story-driven game. Clementine has come a long way since the first season, and continues to do so when pressed for her survival in this game. Her resourcefulness, sparked by Lee’s mentorship and situations in the first season, deepens her character and darkens her mood as the game progresses. It’s an extraordinary portrayal of an adult in a child’s body, someone who is both wise and bitter far beyond her years. The situations she’s flung into, the choices she has to make, would be difficult for an adult, let alone a child, and this deepens the sense of psychological impact the world’s end would have on human beings.
The other characters in Clementine’s new group are pretty worse for wear as well. We have a portly programmer who wants to do good for the group by being a serial liar; we have a heavily pregnant woman who could go into labor at any minute; we have a despondent tractor mechanic who’s taken up moonshine after being forced to shoot his mom. We have a girl about Clementine’s age who has been locked in her room since day one of the apocalypse and has no clue how bad it is out there. And we have a figure from Clementine’s past who can only loose a little bit more before he goes insane.
And these are just your allies.
A recurring theme that I’ve found in The Walking Dead is that the living are far more dangerous than the dead, and that’s no less the case here. That warlord I mentioned earlier in the review is hot on Clementine’s trail. To put it lightly, he’s a deranged psychopath who wants to build a communist utopia up and away from the zombies, and the group you’re with are none too keen on returning to his “care”. In addition to the standard retinue of masked bandits and forest thieves, Clementine also gets a brush with post-zombie apocalypse organized crime. Even in a state of lawlessness, such a thing is very real.
But, as always, the horde of zombies takes center-stage when it comes to immediate, large-scale danger. Telltale ups the gore and creep factors with the zombies you encounter in Season Two. Crawlers, sitters, biters, slappers, all sorts of shit awaits you in those shadows (not sarcastic on the slappers). The game is quite violent, as to be expected from a horror story, but Season Two is also effective at drumming up some good old survival horror. Venturing down dark stairways, peering into the woods at night, and ascending foggy slopes are only a few situations in which the tension can be cut with a knife. For a game whose focus is not on survival horror, Season Two succeeds at bringing in that apprehension anyway.
The Walking Dead: Season Two takes what made the first game great and expands upon it significantly. The game’s end goal is a trope, but aside from this I didn’t really find anything else worth grilling about this game. It has a dark, intoxicating narrative and fun adventure gameplay drenched in a horror atmosphere. The character of Clementine is also an excellent study in female characters (and child characters) done right.
I highly recommend that anyone who approves of quality games to go buy Season Two immediately. Buy the first season as well, if you haven’t played that yet. The Walking Dead and Season Two both rank in my top 10 for video game storytelling, and as regular readers will know, that’s the quality of gaming that I espouse the most.
Okay, time for you to stop reading and go buy The Walking Dead: Season Two. Right now. Scat! VAMANOS!!!
You can buy The Walking Dead: Season Two here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.