The Walking Dead video game series by Telltale is an experience that has never left me, and the reason for this is not just because it was a revolutionary concept, but also because it served as the inspiration for the very first article on this website. However, that’s not to say I haven’t had some concerns leading up to Season 2, and subsequently, the three additional projects that the studio have announced since. The follow-up DLC titled 400 Days was a commendable expansion that introduced us to some interesting characters, but ultimately, didn’t have enough time for players to develop a deep emotional investment, and as such, we were left hoping there would be some tie in to the next season that would serve a greater purpose in the grand scheme of the narrative.
The last time the industry had a runaway success like with The Walking Dead, it was the Call of Duty franchise. I can still remember as I watched the entire gaming community fall into a shooter frenzy, with countless studios trying to get in on the action while Activision pumped title after title to stay ahead of the competition. There is no denying the greatness of Call of Duty 4, and yet, what followed was a process that slowly stunted the creativity of that series, and arguably, the industry as a whole. For this reason, hearing that so many new series were already in development, I couldn’t help but fear that a new cookie-cutter had been placed on the design table, only to be abused by lazy developers and saturate what is one of the greatest gaming narrative experiences ever created.
Fortunately, I am relieved to say this is not the case with the latest installment. In fact, there have been several revamps to the game which further the progress we’ve seen with Telltale’s other episodic series, The Wolf Among Us. It’s going to be very familiar ground, however, players can expect to see a refined interface, more engaging environmental interactions and a noticeable improvement with the presentation. Essentially, there are no dramatic changes that could upset anyone, just several tweaks to improve upon it’s predecessor. In my opinion, this was a smart decision, and what I would like to see on-going with each new season. Now, I’m sure you might ask: wasn’t Call of Duty criticised for using the same approach? And yes, you’d be right, but at the same time, it’s important to note that the core of a Telltale experience is the narrative, whereas with a shooter, it lies within gameplay mechanics, and as such, interactive storytelling is what The Walking Dead will primarily be judged upon.
This is where things start to get interesting with season two, because the player is now stripped from the emotional responsibility of directly caring for Clementine; well, at least from the perspective of Lee. To set the premise, All That Remains picks up where the last season left off and puts players into the shoes of young Clementine for the first time. To be honest, my feelings about this direction are a little mixed because at first I still felt like I was Lee, guiding her, caring for her, and yet, as the episode progressed, I started to see the world more as Clementine. I’m not entirely sure which perspective the writers want us to perceive the story from: am I taking on the role of a young vulnerable girl trying to survive, or am I instead a guardian angel to watch over her? If this were the comic or TV show, such a transition would not be a problem, but because I personally played such an emotionally invested role in season one, I felt like my feelings conflicted when making decisions as Clementine.
However, taking my personal investment out of the equation, the episode itself does build a solid foundation for an interesting story. I wouldn’t say it exceeds the quality of the original season as there were a few dull moments to push through, but the writers still manage to find new ways to make the player uncomfortable with their decisions. In fact, you’re going to be put in an awful situation almost immediately, so be prepared for that. This is what The Walking Dead is all about, and it doesn’t drop the ball once in that regard. To be honest, this episode actually has one of my favourite scenarios from the entire series, which was in part a result of the emotional transition paradox mentioned above. It was one of those moments where I had gradually begun to experience the world through Clementine’s eyes, and in turn, pursue a more naive approach with my decision making. However, when the unexpected happened, I immediately jumped back thinking, “Wow! How could I have been so stupid!”, realising it wasn’t so unexpected at all. This was the single moment that defined episode one for me.
Episode one definitely has it’s high points, with the writers delivering several genuinely shocking moments, but in saying that, I definitely don’t feel as connected to the new cast of characters as I did with season one. Additionally, I am still kind of mixed on how I feel about the transition from Lee to Clementine as I find it awfully conflicting trying to make decisions from the perspective of someone I was previously tasked with taking care of. In my opinion, the established cast from 400 Days could have been used to more effectively bridge the seasons, and so, I was disappointed that none of those characters made an appearance. However, I kind of get the impression that this episode was mostly about weaning us away from our responsibilities as Lee and forcing us into an entirely new perspective. It might seem a little disjointed right now, but if the writers can push past the uncomfortable transition, this is exactly the type of radical thinking that can make a series great. No longer are we the protector, but instead a somewhat vulnerable girl trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world on her own. It could be the best thing to happen to The Walking Dead, or it could be a disaster. We will just have to wait as see.