It’s always a joy to be given a game like The Walking Dead to review. Not simply because it’s likely to be awesome, although given the avalanche of awards that swamped the first season it was never going to be terrible. No, better yet for us, it’s a chance to mix up the vocabulary a bit – all too often, games tend to attract the same kind of positive comments but on rare occasions such as this, we get to bust out words like ‘grim’, ‘depressing’ and ‘disturbing’ as positives. So in case you hadn’t guessed, Telltale hasn’t gone all blue skies and kittens for its second Walker-packed season of episodic adventures. If anything, things are even bleaker than last time, although the extent to which this is pushed might divide fans of the original series – with the shocks and violence cranked up to 11, it’s getting that much tougher to hear the human drama that most people loved about Season One.
Part of this comes from the fact there isn’t quite as much prep work to do with a second series, especially with Clementine stepping into the spotlight – you and Lee already did a pretty good job of shaping and fleshing out her character across the first five episodes, after all. The situation should be pretty clear by now, too. Them living dead things be all up in your everywhere and with months having passed since the close of the first season, it’s somewhat understandable that things have grown that much more desperate out there, both for the Walkers and the remaining pockets of humanity that still manage to eke out an existence amid the living nightmare.
While much was made of the way the game would carry your choices between episodes and force you to live with and/or confront them, there’s little of that to be seen between seasons so far – the intro montage of tragic scenes and accidental assholery makes it perfectly clear that the game knows what you did and to whom last time around, but it makes only incidental use of that information. Which, if anything, is even harder to deal with, because it always feels like something bad is just around the corner. Obviously, in this horrible dead world where only bad things happen. It’s not so important (so far, at least) to have played the original series through from a pure ‘world choice’ perspective, then, but it’s almost essential to have all five episodes under your belt in order to see how Clem turned out as a result of your guidance and to continue her evolution accordingly.
As ever, Telltale does a bloody good job of dressing up a series of binary choices to seem like something grander and more complex. In addition to the core decisions of the episode that will shape those to come, you never know which bits of dialogue might alter people’s opinions or have more subtle effects on future conversations or scenes. It’s a clever formula, but it is still very much a formula and a few of the bigger setpieces here play out in an incredibly similar fashion to events in the original season. We’ve yet to see the same kind of freedom in shaping Clem that we had with Lee, who could just be a stone-cold bastard if he (read: you) wanted. There are hints at her toughening up considerably, especially later in the episode, so it’ll be interesting to see how far Telltale lets players push this.
Even though the formula still works just fine, there are a few slightly disconcerting shifts in pace and direction in the mix as well. Fully-fledged QTEs join the fray for action-heavy sequences, which triggered horrible flashbacks to Telltale’s dismal Jurassic Park games – they don’t always register properly and simply aren’t needed, especially when the under-pressure-point-and-click stuff and simple button-mashing panicked escapes seen in the original worked and continue to work just fine. Similarly, there are hints towards inventory management playing a slightly larger role, although it’s still the case that most items are to be used when prompted and not a moment before.
An unabashed attempt to one-up the first series in a single episode, All That Remains is still perfectly enjoyable but it can’t help but feel a little desperate in places, attempting to tug at the heartstrings a little too violently. We really hope that Telltale slows things down a little and realises that it wasn’t the surprising deaths or grisly violence that earned the first season its countless awards – it was the fact that it managed to tell an involving and touching story about hope in a hopeless world. All the elements are still in place for this series to follow in the footsteps of its forerunner and kick our emotional asses halfway across the continent – it’s just incredibly hard to know what to expect from a series as a whole when the first episode comes out swinging this furiously.