Collins’ Crypt: Thoughts On WALKING DEAD “All That Remains”
As a fan of continuity and the idea of "canon," I couldn't be happier that gaming technology has evolved far enough to allow for things like the Mass Effect series, where things you did in the first game could reverberate in the third if you carried your character and save file over each time. Maybe younger gamers can take this sort of thing for granted, but I grew up with the NES - if a game even had a password system to let you resume a game with your items, it was enough to impress you. However, there haven't been too many other games to take advantage of this potential, and Mass Effect's designers encourage multiple playthroughs (via the taunt of Achievements), so your choices might carry through, but it feels like they're asking you to see it the other way too, lessening their impact.
Not with The Walking Dead game from Telltale, which is now in its second "season", launching with the first (or sixth) episode, "All That Remains". Not only does each episode have four or five choices that will carry through to the ones that follow, but it will also bring over your decisions from the 2012 game if you still have your save file. And there's almost no incentive to see what would happen if you chose differently - the Achievements aren't based on the choices, just for plowing through the narrative. Plus, unlike the majority of ME's weighty decisions, there's an immediate effect on the narrative for most of the choices you make here - you can forever lose someone's trust (or their life), whereas some of ME's stuff you won't know the consequences of until much later, if ever (i.e. the "save a colony or let them perish so you can get some intelligence to develop weapons" type stuff). In other words, you tend to stick with your first choice here, and that's part of what makes the game so engrossing.
When season 2 begins, it's not long after the conclusion of the first. Lee is dead, Clementine is traveling with Omid and Christa (the couple we met around the halfway point of the first game - I guess they were the unidentified pair of characters at the end of Episode 5), and there are still zombies everywhere. As with the first game, combat is rare and depends on quick-time events, though that doesn't make the episode's two chase scenes any less harrowing - there's something about the game's "live with the consequences of your actions" approach that makes these moments much more terrifying than anything in any other zombie game (including Survival Instinct, the Walking Dead's OTHER video game). The first of them is RELENTLESS, and when it's over Clementine is separated from her friends, left all alone again. Her following walk through the woods, seeking food/shelter while hopefully avoiding any further trauma, is just as scary as it is sad (the score here is particularly moving), and as a result I found myself sucked right back into the game as if I had just played through her earlier adventure, even though it was well over a year ago.
But this is a new adventure, after all, and so there isn't much of the nerve-wracking decision making or even high stakes that permeated the previous season (until I see its characters here, I'm just going to forget about the 400 Days spinoff). For example, Clementine has an unfortunate encounter with a (rabid?) dog that leaves her with a bite wound, so when she stumbles across a new group of humans, most of them suspect she's been bitten by a "walker" and thus she has to convince them she shouldn't be executed. Granted, The Walking Dead as a franchise has never shied away from shocking deaths, but there's no way Clementine dies this early, making this section less thrilling than it should be. You can say anything you want to these people; the game will still end up where it needs to be: with Clementine being locked in a storage shed until they figure out what to do with her. Perhaps if it was ANOTHER character with a mysterious bite, with your vote needed to decide whether to believe that it's not from a zombie, or kill them before they turn, it would be a meatier section, but for a few minutes there it's just "press whatever so we can move along".
This leads to a lengthy, stealth-lite section where Clementine must find a way out of the storage shed, into the group's house, find some first aid supplies, and then sneak back to the shed where she can treat her wound herself. There isn't much dialogue here and seemingly only one way to proceed, but it's a fun little sequence all the same, and it's where you can start really meeting a few of the new characters and making the decisions that will carry over (such as the option to steal a watch from a drawer while looking for bandages, or promising the house owner's daughter that they can be friends). And as always, there's an action packed final sequence that has you seemingly choose between two lives (if it's anything like the first game, they'll still kill whoever they wanted to kill, regardless of your choice - it will just make the survivor more or less antagonistic toward you) and a cliffhanger to set up the next episode, which as of yet still has no confirmed release date.
Gameplay hasn't changed at all; you still get a reticle to alert you to points of interest along whatever path you are on, conversations have timed responses (you can also usually choose to say nothing by hitting the Y button), and puzzles have only one solution that never require more problem-solving skills than just double checking to make sure you interacted with everything else in the room before moving on. And again, combat is mostly about hitting the buttons they tell you to, though there's one fight with a zombie that got to be a bit tough due to a tinier than normal reticle (one that's also off to the side when your focus is on the undead ghoul trying to eat you). Nothing about the game is particularly challenging, but that is to be expected - it's all about the choices you make and how you decide Clementine should interact with her fellow survivors (I play her as a bit of a peacekeeper when it comes to disagreements, but she has inherited Lee's tough attitude for when asked a direct question). However, I WAS surprised at how tense and brutal it got; I actually just finally got around to seeing the TV show's midseason finale, and was struck once again at how often the show lacks any real scares at all, no matter how hectic it gets - it's kind of amazing that a video game with glorified cartoon characters can manage what flesh and blood people can not.
Of course, I don't know if I'd get that worked up had I not played the first five episodes. You can certainly start here (with automatically generated decisions that are due to have repercussions), but you'd be doing yourself a great disservice. The recap at the top pales in comparison to taking the actual journey with Clementine, and the intense chase scene right near the top that I mentioned earlier will probably take some trial and error retries if you're not familiar with the game's mechanics. There are also a few moments that won't make as much sense without that context; at one point she looks at a painting of a duck and says "Duck..." all sad like, which will baffle you unless you're aware that Duck was a (now dead) character in the first game.
Clementine has learned a lot from her time with Lee, so she can usually take care of herself pretty handily, and is forced to face some tough decisions on her own (kill a dog to put it out of its misery, or let it suffer?), immediately setting it apart from its predecessor. But the real meat of the game will obviously be her place within this new group and what she does next, which of course we can't know yet until the next few episodes are in our hands. I would have liked a little more weight to this first one since it's been such a long "hiatus" between these seasons (at least two Achievements - which are basically awarded for completing a scenario within the episode - unlocked without me doing much of anything), but it's a fine start for what looks to live up to the original's high standards.
(Played on Xbox 360. Available on PC/MAC (via Steam), PS3, and iOS as well.)