Alex Phillimore: (alex.phillimore-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2013-12-19 11:27:27
The Walking Dead Season 2: Episode 1, All That Remains Review
Spoilers, obviously, stupid.
This review isn't fair. In fact, it's so unfair that it's perfect for The Walking Dead Season 2: Episode 1: All That Remains, because that game isn't fair either. Why is this not a fair review? Well, firstly, it's biased; I thoroughly adored Season 1 of Telltale's zombie epic, and the months since the final episode ended and Lee Everett died did little to shake my high opinion of it. In fact, teaser images, contemplations over whether or not Kenny was truly dead and the recent trailer made me so excited for this game I was salivating upstairs and down. Now that All That Remains is out, there's no way it can truly live up to my expectations.
This review is also unfair because I played Season 1 in a much shorter period of time than I'll be playing Season 2 - by the time I started Lee's journey four episodes were already out and the fifth was releasing imminently. This time, I have to wait months between episodes rather than hours/days, giving me more time to ruminate on the experience of playing The Walking Dead in bitesized chunks. And, while All That Remains is good, it isn't, perhaps, good enough to be considered on-par with its predecessor.
Let's just compare the first episodes of Season 1 and 2, as it would be utterly unfair to compare this one-and-a-half hour experience with a five-episode opus. Whereas the first episode of Season 1, A New Day, introduced us to a cast of characters who were instantly likeable - Kenny; Carley; Duck; Glenn - All That Remains opts to show us the darker side of humanity by having Clementine, the lead of this adventure, encounter a bunch of jerks who would rather leave a little girl out in a barn to die of blood loss than to take a chance on her. I get it: this group has lost people close to it and don't trust strangers. That's all well and good, but if 80% of the group doesn't care about our plucky protagonist, how am I supposed to care about them?
The short answer is that I don't. No one really made an impression on me in All That Remains, resulting in the moral decision at the end - which plays painfully close to the ending of A New Day of having to choose between two people - amounting to very little. I don't really care which of the two people dies first - the one who said they should amputate my arm or the one who tried to shoot me.
The characterisation in All That Remains, while generally well-written, is strangely sloppy at one point. When you first encounter Pete and Luke in the woods, the two guys who end up taking a wounded Clementine back to their group, Pete is willing to trust Clementine that the bite on her arm came from a dog rather than a walker, while Luke drops her on the floor in revulsion and argues against taking her back. When you eventually do get taken back to the camp and their group is having a tiff about Clementine being shown their hideout, Luke is suddenly all sympathetic and 'on her side' while Pete seems to support locking her in a shed. It was a weird moment of jarring writing, where the two characters seem to swap roles for no good reason. It left a sour taste in my mouth that lingered throughout the game.
Otherwise, though, everything was business as usual, which was no bad thing. The dog turning on Clementine was incredibly surprising, at least to me, and the bits where you have to sneak around the house gathering items was tense. Killing off Omid and having Clementine get split up from Christa in the first five minutes was less impressive - while some could argue that it suits the nature of the game, I can't help but feel they did it because they didn't want to have to worry about programming in complex dialogue options that would be influenced by events in the first season. If you kill off the people at the very start, all of those 'Omid Will Remember That' moments don't have to amount to anything. Smart move, but bad story-telling, and evidence to suggest that Telltale wanted to start Season 2 with a clean slate, removing pretty much any trace of Season 1, likely for the sake of simplicity.
Otherwise, though, most of the game is impressive, and, it being The Walking Dead, it was still engaging. I focus on the negatives only because the positives speak for themselves in a game like this. On the Playstation 3 I noticed far fewer technical hiccups this time around than in Season 1, and everything was well-executed in the visual and audio department. Less can be said for the layout of the gameplay, though, which was far too linear and needs to be expanded upon in future episodes. While in A New Day Lee had the chance to speak with people and learn more about everyone, and wander around environments looking at things, Clementine's solitary adventure is far more contained. You get funnelled between small environments that you can barely interact with, and you get far fewer opportunities to speak with characters in optional scenes.
None of these complaints are enough to tarnish the experience, as long as certain aspects are improved upon in future episodes. I need to care about the cast that Clementine is with, if she is going to be staying with them for some time, and part of that needs to come from them not locking me up in grimy sheds to die. I need to be able to examine the world I'm walking around in. I need to be able to speak with a diverse set of characters and learn more about them as I do - all of these are areas in which Season 1 excelled, and are areas in which All That Remains lacks. The first episode of this season has an interesting premise and some wonderfully-executed moments, but so far it's lagging, perhaps all too predictably, behind its stellar predecessor.
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