Alex Phillimore: (alex.phillimore-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2014-07-26 08:13:07
The Walking Dead: Season 2 is all kinds of 'eh
My fellow Direman Dee feels that Amid the Ruins, the fourth episode of The Walking Dead: Season 2, is the best one so far. While I won't deny that it's somewhat thrilling in the way that any zombie movie can be immediately entertaining (it's a tried-and-tested genre for this reaction), I have to say that, after I finished playing the episode, I wasn't left with any sort of lingering emotion...and that's bad, considering that this is The Walking Dead.
The main problem with Amid the Ruins is that Telltale appear to be taking their own cast less seriously than in the first season. In Season 1 every death triggered an emotion: the death of Duck, a young boy, being put out of his misery after being bitten; the death of Katjaa from suicide due to the loss of her son; the death of Ben, who could die in two different ways, both of which were sickening to watch; the death of Carley or Doug during a heated argument that nobody saw coming. The list goes on, and each of these deaths was memorable and made the cast one of the best in gaming so far.
In Season 2 the writing is incredibly lazy in the one place it counts in a Telltale game: that of the characters. Amid the Ruins kills off four cast members, but, if you played the game, did you honestly cry, or even really care, about any of them? Was it upsetting when Nick, a character who we could save in the second episode, was killed off-screen for the sake of convenience after having barely any more dialogue since we initially saved him? Did it make you tear up when Sarita, Kenny's second lover, died at the beginning of the episode simply to 'develop' his character? Perhaps you were sad when Rebecca, who was introduced in the first episode of the season, died and reanimated within a couple of minutes after contracting plot-serving hyperthermia? Or maybe you cried when Sarah, a character who actually seemed as if she might do something interesting, was torn apart by walkers and then forgotten almost immediately after by the rest of the cast?
The problem with Season 2 is that only a tiny proportion of its characters matter. Players may be invested in Clementine, Kenny and possibly Luke, but the rest of the group? 'Eh, they get killed off and forgotten every half an hour or so - you don't get to speak to the survivors about how they're feeling and they never mention it again. Hell, Luke, whose close companion for just about his entire life (Nick) dies doesn't once mention it. This doesn't make the slightest bit of sense - instead, in Amid the Ruins, Luke is more focused on the fact that his quickie-in-the-shed lover Jane leaves the next morning. Apparently, this frustrates him more than his best friend dying. Hrm.
(This is Nick. That's N-I-C-K. Remember him? Telltale sure doesn't)
And on the subject of Jane, she's a character who receives an enormous amount of character development in Amid the Ruins - the amount that all the other members of the group should have received by now - only to leave the group at the end of the episode. Why was so much time wasted developing this character while neglecting the rest of the cast only for her staying power in the group to be so minimal? I ended up wanting to go with Jane when she left, just because she actually offered something in the way of an interesting character...but was shot down, predictably, because the game would rather I stay with the people the writing staff have done very little to make interesting.
Add into the equation that Amid the Ruins recycles a major plot point from the 400 Days DLC (encountering someone who doesn't speak very good English, either attacking them or letting them go, and getting screwed over regardless when they retaliate with a group twice the size of yours later down the line) and you wonder just what the writers are playing at. And as for any of the gameplay variety of Season 1 - puzzles; hub areas where you can talk to your group and learn more about them; longer episodes with more detailed environments - forget about it: Season 2 is streamlined to the max. You push forward on the gamepad, walk from one linear tunnel to the next, and then take part in conversations. There is nothing to do outside of being funneled from one walker swarm to the next.
It's such a shame that The Walking Dead has lost sight of what made it so good. There is enjoyment to be found in Season 2, of course - while playing your heart is pumping, you have genuinely difficult decisions to make and you do want to find out what happens next. But this is on par with any other casual experience that can make you jump with its unpredictable nature. The issue is that none of it makes an impact - you don't really care about the cast you travel with, and they are killed off with such reckless abandon in a willy-nilly sort of fashion that the game plays more like a b-movie zombie flick than ever before. These characters are no more likable or engaging than the cast of a film like Resident Evil: Afterlife - one that indiscriminately kills for the sake of killing after making you only mildly care about the people who are getting 'offed'.
It's no surprise that Season 2 doesn't live up to Season 1 - and, just maybe, it was foolish to think that it could. But this isn't nostalgia blindly talking - go and play the first season again and tell me that you don't feel more for characters such as Omid, Christa, Kenny, Clementine and Lee, to name just a handful, than you do for Bonnie, Mike, Luke, new-Kenny or new-Clementine. I understand that tensions are rising in the game and that it's trying to illustrate how nobody is safe, everyone dies, life is futile and luck runs out in a world that is increasingly morbid and without hope. The problem is that if we don't care about the people who are getting killed off in this depressing maelstrom, what is the point of any of it?
(And if people want to defend Telltale by saying that their storytelling is trying to convey how pointless life is in the world of The Walking Dead, then congratulations - by your own admission, Season 2 is pointless: a window into a series of futile events pieced together by irrelevant decisions).