Collins’ Crypt: On THE WALKING DEAD 2.02 “A House Divided”

Brian offers his opinion on the latest chapter of Telltale Game' epic sadface saga.

I'm a few episodes back on the TV show, but I dove right into the 2nd episode of this "Season Two" of Telltale's Walking Dead game. Titled "A House Divided" and, as always, picking up directly where the previous episode ended, this one finds Clementine returning to the group after the deadly attack at the end of "All That Remains" and telling them what happened. This results in most of the group leaving to find Nick and Pete (the variables, of course, depend on which one you protected at the end of the last episode), leaving Clementine at home with Sarah. Not long after that, a mysterious man named Carver shows up, and it paves the way for the bulk of the episode's narrative.

This is where the genius of the game's choice-driven mechanic really shines - this guy shows up and you have no idea whether or not to trust him, and you only have seconds to decide whether or not to tell him the truth or lie to protect the others. It's probably the tensest sequence in the entire game (both seasons) so far, because you simply have no idea if you're making the right call or not. After all, the people you might be choosing to protect are also the ones who threw Clem into a shed when she needed medical assistance, and some of them still treat her with open hostility. This guy, on the other hand, hasn't threatened you or anyone else, and has been nothing but kind. It's the not-knowing (and the fact that you never know if the game is about to give you a real, game-changing choice) that makes this sort of scene much more exciting than most of the zombie scenes.

And that's a good thing, because this one is noticeably light on action. There's a brief bit at the top, before you return to the house, and an exciting scene on a bridge at the halfway point, but otherwise it's all talk this time around until the very end (and even that isn't particularly lengthy - you shoot a few that don't seem to pose much of a threat, and then run). Perhaps this is the result of some choice I made, but I doubt the game would allow the bypassing of entire action scenes just because you opted to zig instead of zag during a previous conversation. Likewise, there isn't much in the way of problem/puzzle solving this time either - I know many consider these to be the low points of any episode, and that's fine - but I always enjoy the brief change of pace and dependency on my thinking skills rather than my conversational ones. At one point you approach a ski lift when your destination is the lodge at the top of the mountain, and I thought for sure we'd get to figure out how to get the thing running - but it just skipped ahead to the group, quite tired, walking the last few steps toward the building.  Why even take the time to put the ski lift into the game?

But the drama itself more than makes up for it. Things get even more complicated when you arrive at the lodge and discover another group, who include an old friend in their number. The toughest choice I had to make in the entire episode was choosing which group to sit with for dinner: Clem's new group of pals, or the one that includes a person who she spent weeks with in the past? It's rare that I feel like going back on this game to see how things would play out differently (I even hit the wrong button at one point and lived with it), but I was so torn here I am dying to know how the other option would play. According to the end of the game stats, I actually chose the less popular option (by a 2:1 ratio), which is rare for me as I usually end up picking the more popular one when they're not within a few percent points of each other. Unlike Mass Effect or other games, there's no clear cut "good" or "bad" options for these moments - which is part of why I never feel the need to go back. If there was, I'd probably do like I do for the MEs and just blindly pick the good option throughout a campaign, and then go back and see it the "bad" way later. My version of Clem is just doing whatever she thinks will keep things from getting violent, but will bravely stand up to someone who she knows is in the wrong (though I admit I was a bit distracted during one of my sessions and inadvertently turned her into a schizo at one point, completely pulling a 180 on someone for no reason). Sometimes I regret my decisions later, but after trying it once in the very first episode of Season 1, I have never gone back and redid something - good or bad, I've kept it "real" and kept going without do-overs.

However, there IS one drawback to this, and that's missing out on parts of the actual game. These episodes aren't exactly long, and without much use for replaying them, it's a bummer that you might inadvertently not get all of your money's worth due to an imbalance after a particular decision. For example (and I learned the following from a Wiki when I went to double check a few character names, not from actually replaying), had I chosen the other character at the end of "All That Remains", I would have had a lengthier (and seemingly more interesting) opening scene this time around, before Clem returned to the house. And that's just what I learned from glancing at a synopsis to find out someone's name - now I'm curious how many other things I may have missed out on the way. Telltale has always done a terrible job of balancing out the automatic Achievements/Trophies throughout these games (where you'll unlock one moments after the last, without really doing anything, and then play another half hour before earning the next), so you can't be sure if a chapter is short by design or if your decisions resulted in skipping over a giant section of the full experience. There's a character who is suddenly quite kind to you after being a complete jerk in the previous tale (and even the beginning of this one), and again I couldn't help but wonder if I skipped a scene where they bonded and the game didn't account for it.

My only other concern with this one is that, in a very rare decision, they've hired a well known actor with a very recognizable voice to play a character. Scott Porter is known to Friday Night Lights fans and such, but his voice (as Luke) isn't THAT distinctive, so it's not distracting at all. But when Carver shows up, and starts talking with the voice of Michael Madsen, he will likely remind you of Mr. Blonde or Budd instantly, taking you out of the scene a bit. I get the idea - you want to instantly peg him as someone of importance - but I'm not sure if it's worth fracturing some of the game's reality, as so far every other character has been voiced by a relative unknown. To a certain degree it also deflates some of the suspense - they wouldn't have hired him for just this one episode, so he's obviously going to be around a while, regardless of what you choose (whereas other characters always seem fair game - I thought for sure a certain one was going to be around for a while, only for him to get killed in this one no matter what).  I also couldn't help but think if part of my instant distrust of the character was due to having a voice that I mainly identify with bad guys - responding to someone more neutral may have resulted in different choices.

Otherwise, a fine followup to what's shaping up to be a more difficult decision-making process this time around, which translates to a better overall experience. Last time it was usually pretty clear what to do - protect Clem - and so you'd come across several occasions where it wasn't that hard to know what choice to make. But now, with Clem at the center, stuck with shady groups without a definite protector around, it puts things directly into a gray area where you're never sure how a given situation will play out, since people obviously will try to hide things from a little girl that they wouldn't have necessarily done to Lee. There might be less action, but it's just as exciting, and as long as they balance out the three separate gameplay concepts a bit better in the upcoming episodes (that would be conversation, action, and puzzle solving), I feel this may actually surpass the first season.

(Review based on Xbox 360 version. Also available on PS3, iOS, and Steam platforms)