Alex Phillimore: (alex.phillimore-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2014-03-13 05:32:24
Oh my darling, Clementine
The Walking Dead Season 2, Episode 2: A House Divided Spoilers Below
Being a European Playstation 3 player, I had to wait until yesterday to play The Walking Dead: Season 2, Episode 2: A House Divided. While it was worth the wait - it was a much more interesting episode than the first one - I do think that, now that we're 40% of the way through the game, it is becoming increasingly apparent that playing as Clementine, the secondary protagonist from the first season, may not have been the best choice for the game.
Firstly, playing as Clementine doesn't really add anything substantial to the game, because the relationships you made in the first game are mostly dead and buried. The re-introduction of Kenny, the tritagonist from the first season, into A House Divided doesn't add up to much, as he never really had much of a direct bond with Clementine - his interactions with her were mostly filtered through Lee, the player-controlled character in Season 1. Thus, when Clementine is reunited with him in this episode, it's more of a nod to the audience, reacquainting them with a familiar character, and less of a significant event for Clementine herself.
Playing as Clementine raises issues that I feared when it was first announced that she would be the player-controlled character in Season 2. Being an 11 year old girl, she isn't physically strong or able to make any leading decisions. In Season 1, we were Lee Everett, making the big choices in the game and having genuine influence over the group. In Season 2 we are Clementine, a passive character in someone else's story. Clementine isn't making the executive decisions in Season 2 - she's overhearing clandestine conversations and is generally being kept out of the loop about anything meaningful happening with the bunch of strangers she's traveling with.
As realistic as it might be that Clementine isn't privy to the internal dynamics of her new group - why would adults listen to a kid? - it doesn't make for terribly fun gameplay. If Carlos isn't telling me to make myself scarce while he talks to Luke, Kenny is doing the exact same thing while he speaks with Walter. In Season 1 I would have been the one having these important conversations with primary cast members - in Season 2 I am constantly sidelined while the grown-ups talk, making my role seem negligible. There was a very real sense in Season 1 that if Lee wasn't there for the group, things might go to hell; in Season 2, nothing would really change if Clementine wasn't present.
This undervalues the player's input and makes our decisions seem pointless - if Luke asks me to go scout out a bridge with him, whether I say 'yes' or 'no' I still have to because I have to do what the adult says. If he tells me to climb up high to get a good view of the surrounding area, whether I want to tell him to bugger off or not I still have to do it. Clementine is being constantly bossed around and led by the nose in this season, tacitly wading into the drama of a group of people she doesn't care for - and neither does the game's audience.
This obvious lack of input is primarily seen in the lack of hub areas in this new episode - after Luke tells you to climb to a vantage point and scope out the area, you don't get the chance to walk around the house and surrounding area talking to everyone before making your way to the ladder, as you would have done in Season 1. In Season 2, you're thrust from one scene to another, making the game seem less like a 'game' than ever before and more like a series of events where you occasionally input commands.
Playing as Clementine, arguably, hurts the game. Had you started off Season 2 as this new group (and no Clementine) you might have been able to play as Carlos or Luke - characters with real responsibilities and roles to play who would have been able to influence the events of the game in a meaningful way. They are the real heroes of this story and the characters who truly make a difference.
Instead, we play as Clementine, an 11 year old girl who is put into situations that seem to play out exactly the same whether you talk or remain silent. The world is passing by around you - you're playing a voyeuristic role, watching events transpire without directly influencing them. The situations where you actually get to do something are, sadly, unbelievable as a result - for example, why would Luke ask Clementine to cross the bridge with him? Not just from the perspective of wanting to keep a kid out of danger, but also from a practical standpoint - if I was Luke, why would I want a kid with a hammer covering my back when I could take, oh, I don't know...Alvin, the burly adult? And speaking of Alvin, why would he make a kid go into the railway building all by myself? Wouldn't he opt to go himself, considering that he's going to be a father and should have some sort of paternal instinct, or send someone like Nick, who was sitting right by the door to the building anyway?
Any involvement Clementine has in the story sadly seems shoehorned in. We don't make active choices - we do what people tell us to do, often for flimsy reasons that ensure that the player is actually doing something that could be considered gameplay. Alas, after the credits of A House Divided scrolled by, I didn't feel any more invested in the cast, or any less like I was trapped in somebody else's emotional torture chamber. Playing as Clementine could have been decent - and isn't terrible in its current form, by any means - but the necessary sacrifice of playing as a kid is that we're almost always out of the limelight when the grown-ups are talking about important matters.
When we finally get to act, it seems almost unrealistic. It doesn't really make any sense why Clementine had to turn off the wind turbine when everyone else was there and the act involved sticking a key in a lock and nothing more; it seems foolish that Clementine would be left alone in a house with another kid in the middle of a zombie apocalypse with the door left unlocked. I get that she's a battle-hardened pre-teen now, but I have to question the parenting skills of the cast in this game...and the unfortunate lack of input the player has as a supposedly integral part of this new group.