TellTale games brings us back to the video game incarnation of The Walking Dead, this time centering the story squarely on the poor shoulders of Clementine, who (shocking spoilers ahead) survived the events of the last game. TellTale makes the bold move of featuring a child as the protagonist of the series, and in doing so opens up the story to a unique perspective rarely seen in the genre; namely, what does a lone child do to survive in a post-apocalyptic, zombie-filled world?
Unfortunately, the premise doesn’t always pay off, and we’re left with a very uneven sophomore effort.
The problems with Season Two start on the technical side to the story (note: this review is of the PlayStation Vita version). TellTale Games has (apparently) done very little in the way of optimizing the game for the PlayStation Vita. Lag, stutter, and lengthy load times continue to plague this version. All were issues that were present in the previous title for the Vita. While not necessarily dealbreakers, these moments at best distract from the interactive story experience, and at worse interfere with the gameplay.
For example, there was a moment where Clementine needed to crawl along the wall under a collapsed shelf to escape from a zombie. When using the touch controls (as directed on the screen), lag would kick in and Clementine would be caught. It wasn’t until I switched to the physical controls that I was able to get past the section. I found this to be case in a few other areas as well.
Speaking of the controls, TellTale Games added a few additional touch controls, but I found them to be near-useless. For example, an unhelpful icon featuring an entire hand popped up on the screen with a bisected box surrounding it. The sections of said box would close in on the hand icon as it moved up and down.
What does that even mean?
It took a few tries to realize they were for placing your finger (!) on the circle (or at least I think it was), and then depending on direction of an arrow that would appear, you’d drag your finger accordingly. Except there were a few problems. More often than not, pressing directly where the game wanted me too would simply have Clementine look around awkwardly, as if I had pressed elsewhere. When the game did recognize I was pressing down, the arrow marker would appear coupled with some lag, and I would not swipe in time. Again, it was frustrating and after a few tries I would use the physical controls and proceed easily. These additional controls added very little other than frustration to the experience, and I felt it was a downgrade from the first game.
When the controls weren’t frustrating, the plot and pacing of the game took its place.
In the first game, the adult Lee protecting young Clementine was a strong driving force in the narrative, and made the ending all the more bittersweet. Here, with Clementine taking center stage, the dramatic punch is lost due to Clementine’s age. As the player, particularly if you’re familiar with Clementine’s journey since the first game, you’ll have an emotional connection with her and a vested interest for her survival. But one’s emotional investment does not make up for lack of a strong story. And at the end of the day, Clementine being the protagonist took me out of it.
There are a few reasons for this. The most obvious is how unrealistic it is to expect a girl her age, on her own, to survive in a zombie apocalypse. I can suspend my disbelief when Clementine handles guns with ease and is a crackshot, but the idea that she can survive not only against zombies but human predators stretches credulity. What the plot then turns into is “Perils of Pauline”.
Consider the events early on. Clementine goes from being held at gunpoint in a bathroom, to getting separated from Christa, to an unfortunate encounter with a dog, to being locked in a shed by an untrusting group of survivors. And that’s just for starters. As a child, Clementine doesn’t have the physical strength to properly defend herself, nor does she have the experience and gravitas of an adult to make her opinion count for something. It drains away the dramatic focus of the series and makes it hard to relate to Clementine.
Another flaw is the underlying nihilism of the story. I understand the need for tension and that no one can be considered safe in the story. However, the game takes this trope to an extreme. Time and again, likable or pitiable characters are killed off, and Clementine witnesses some truly horrible events (some of which you can decide not to witness, others you may be forced to participate in). But at the end of the day, the ultimate choices for Clementine’s survival boil down to being alone with a heavy burden that no child could hope to carry through, to possibly rebuilding a home for herself and other survivors but at the cost of basic human kindness (or, if you decide to help others, the story ends on a downbeat note foreshadowing a repeat of the cycle of violence that has engulfed their lives). That doesn’t even include the gratuitous scene early on where you have Clementine stitch herself up in grotesque, up-close detail. And the one group that that’s actually made up of good, positive people is unwittingly undone by the actions of Clementine and her group.
It’s relentlessly depressing and quite frankly, makes for a mediocre story since the drama is forced. The situation is further exasperated by a bittersweet dream / flashback, and I actually found myself entertaining being okay with the notion of the entire second season having been simply a dream.
Add in the shorter episodes, one-note villains, and dangling plot threads (spoiler alert: you never find out what happened to Christa’s baby), and we’re left with a frustrating experience.
And what’s up with no platinum trophy? Really, TellTale?
Is The Walking Dead Season Two a passable game? Yes. Is it the worst game in the history of humanity? Far from it. For $25 it’s decent but flawed gaming experience. This feels like a typical sophomore slump, lacking the heart and dramatic depth that made the first Walking Dead game so engrossing. We have Clementine back – and yes, the feels are strong – but by the end it’s a joyless experience. You have to wonder, after everything Clementine goes through by the end, why she would want to keep going, or how she’d even succeed. With the variety of potential endings for the game, I find it difficult to see where they would take a third installment featuring Clementine and company. Season Two takes us to some dark places. Maybe it’s better to just let Clementine fade into the swirling snow and viscera, her fate left to the echoes of our slumber.