Collins’ Crypt: WALKING DEAD Season 2 Episode 5 Review

BC reviews "No Going Back," the fifth and final episode of Telltale Games' THE WALKING DEAD: SEASON 2.

I recently decided to finish up all my PS3 games that I acquired (all seven of them!) so that I can ditch the glorified Blu-ray player that it is and replace it with an Xbox One someday. I've owned the thing since 2008, and the only games for it I ever wanted were the Uncharted series (and by extension, Last of Us, which will fittingly be the last I play), Ni No Kuni, Metal Gear Solid 4, and finally Heavy Rain - which I started playing in 2010 and never finished. This past week, I restarted the game from the beginning as I had no memory of what was going on in the story where I had left off (not far, maybe a quarter of the way through), and finally saw how it all ended - based on my actions, of course. It turned out to be poor timing, because Telltale delivered "No Going Back," the fifth and final episode of its second season of The Walking Dead this week (only a month after the last one instead of the usual two month plus wait). Playing them back to back not only caused some me some confusion (similar but not quite the same controls caused me to slip up a few actions), but also and more importantly - it highlighted one of the game's weaknesses.

In Heavy Rain (which, if you haven't played it, is basically the same sort of thing as this: an interactive movie with timed button presses being your primary source of interaction - albeit more advanced and with four playable characters), you can make choices that result in major characters dying - if that happens the game will just continue without their contributions, resulting in something like thirty possible endings. Not that I want Clem to die, but there's something quite fascinating about scripting a game that will come to a satisfying-ish conclusion even if the main character perished halfway through. I didn't replay to see Rain's other endings, but I did look them up, and it's crazy how many variations you can get (it's possible, I guess, for ALL FOUR heroes to die) and how many different opportunities the game offers for you to get them killed. And with more genuine gameplay than Walking Dead has ever offered, you really feel the weight of your decisions - the game has been mocked for having you do things like brush your teeth or whatever, but it's that sort of thing that puts you into that character's shoes later on when they are fighting for their life. In TWD, you rarely feel that sort of connection, as not only do you almost never get to do anything besides enter scripted conversation responses, but the game will often just more or less produce the same result anyway.

For example, in the first big decision of this episode, you have to either go save the baby, lying on the ground during the shootout that ended the previous episode, or run for cover. I (and most other players, per the post-game stats screen) obviously went to save the baby, but as it turns out if you run for cover Luke will just grab him instead - and either way, Luke gets shot in the leg by the same Russian guy. So while you can feel morally superior for choosing the right thing, the game obviously has no intention of letting the baby die (phew!), so it doesn't really matter in the end - the game continues exactly the same way from that point.

The next two decisions have some minor changes to the story, but they're superficial at best - you can lose a team member on decision #2 (saving another character from falling into ice), but if they survive they just exit later anyway, and regardless of what you do at #3 (choosing to join or stop some group members who are going off on their own) the outcome remains the same, you just get a different cut-scene before it happens. Whether you choose to go with them or stay behind, Arvo (the Russian guy) will shoot you in a panic, they'll all leave you to die, and you stay behind anyway. Again, this is an opportunity for wildly different scenarios to play out after, but the game forces you into the one they want.

You might have noticed that I haven't mentioned much about the plot in this one. Well, there isn't much of one that's different than episode 4: you're walking to find food/shelter, and everyone's always yelling at each other. I swear, half of the timed conversation choices in this episode include some variation on telling Kenny to knock it off, as he's constantly bickering with Jane or Luke or Mike, or smacking Arvo around. The ticking clock on the baby is a moot point; either no one at Telltale has ever had a child or they just don't care, but it's borderline laughable how obviously dead this baby would be given this situation. I'm not sure exactly what they're feeding it, but it takes place over close to two weeks and his mother died on the day he was born. Either she had superpowers that included the ability to hand pump several gallons of breast milk (and the foresight to do so before being shot), or they just happen to find a few days' worth of baby formula every time they come across supplies (which is uh, once), because otherwise he'd be a goner (and he would certainly be shrieking non-stop or in a lethargic coma, but he's perfectly happy every time they show him). And that's to say nothing of the cold temperature.

Anyway, the episode finally, finally comes to life in its closing 20 minutes, in a sequence that not only saves this finale but kind of justifies the season as a whole (SPOILERS AHEAD!!!). After they get separated following a car wreck, the fighting between Jane and Kenny reaches its boiling point, and it becomes obvious that one or both of them has to die before the game will end. Naturally you have some say in the matter, and here's where it gets interesting - the game finally produces two vastly different outcomes depending on what you choose. There are actually FIVE endings to this one, which is pretty incredible (more so if you consider that there might be a 3rd season). You can end up with Jane and go back to Howe's (Carver's place), or you can end up with Kenny and keep making your way to Wellington, the safe haven camp not unlike the one seen at the end of the TV show's fourth season. Or they can both be dead and you might be alone with the baby, still making your way through hungry undead (who otherwise barely appear in this installment; there's only I think two instances where they briefly show up). And even within those choices you can change things up - at Wellington, they tell you there's no room, but Kenny pleads for them to at least take Clem and the baby, which they accept - then you have the choice of taking them up on the offer or sticking with Kenny out in the open.

My only qualm with this section is that the fight between Kenny and Jane is instigated by the latter basically trying to get him to kill her, by (obviously) faking the baby's death to set him off. You as an intelligent player can probably guess that the baby is perfectly safe and hidden somewhere, but Clem doesn't know that, and it's fairly stupid that even as Kenny is about to stab her to death that Jane doesn't admit her ruse, having already proved the point (that Kenny is kind of nuts, but then again I'd probably kill her too if I thought she harmed a week old baby). Curiously, the game doesn't allow you to kill Jane - you can either shoot Kenny or let him kill her (and then you have another chance to shoot him in retaliation), which made my decision easier - if they made you shoot one or the other I'd be at a loss, but it wasn't hard to sit by and let her get what she deserved for such a cruel act (and, for what it's worth, Kenny is perfectly fine after that).

The other thing that worked about this conclusion is that the episode was bizarrely non-interactive for the most part. There isn't a single object to obtain, barely any zombie action (and they're pretty low stakes/easy ones compared to previous chapters), and even your dialogue choices are pretty minimal in their difference (a typical interaction: a minor incident will occur and you can ask "Are you OK?" or just say "We need to get moving!"). So I was lulled into a sense of "I am just here to press a button every now and then to keep this movie rolling", only to be presented with what I believe is the biggest path branching the game has offered across both seasons (it'd be akin to a first season ending where Lee survived). In an instant, all the goodwill the previous parts of the episode (and this season in general) had burned off suddenly came back, and I got giddy at the idea of a season 3 that takes advantage of this sort of possibility more often. I understand the limitations of programming mean that the choices can't always yield such vastly different outcomes, but if they could find a way to reduce the number of times that they produce NO CHANGE AT ALL, then I think they could really create something classic.

I just hope season 3 (if there is one) gives us a better story than "Clem meets some folks, some of them are jerks, and she keeps on going." I don't think they should rely on her at all, actually, but certainly a more interesting side character, an early established goal (this Wellington stuff came in late), or even a new setting beyond back roads and abandoned rest areas would be an improvement. But mostly, I just want to spend more of my time playing feeling that my choices are actually changing what happens next in a meaningful way, presented within a story that I can get invested enough to make such choices more difficult than merely hitting the closest button.

(Played on Xbox 360. No technical issues. Available for most major platforms.)