The Walking Dead Season 2: Episode 1 review: No holding back
Any concerns that you may have with playing as Clementine in Season Two of Telltale Games' The Walking Dead can be put to rest. From the beginning to the end of Episode One, All That Remains, Telltale makes it clear that nothing is off limits when testing the young girl you once protected as Lee in Season One. And I mean nothing.
Within the first 10-or-so minutes of All That Remains, it becomes immediately clear that Clementine is no longer the same girl we saw in Season One. The childlike innocence she possessed in the first season is gone. Clementine walking with a gun in her hand is a quick reminder that she's adapted to the post-apocalyptic world she now lives in, hardened by the violence she's witnessed and the losses she's endured.
Of course, without having played Season One already, one might not notice the changes in Clementine and may not appreciate seeing her reaction to certain situations. To that end, I highly recommend you play Season One before diving into Season Two -- if only to get acclimated to the type of game The Walking Dead is.
Season Two offers the same type of point-and-click "interactive adventure" that we played last season, with an emphasis on cinematic storytelling over action-packed gameplay, but Telltale has definitely learned from and improved upon the overall system. Playing on PC, there was hardly any noticeable framerate issues, something that absolutely killed me last season (note: I'll let you know about the PS3 version when I play it later today). Also, the interface has been cleaned up, taking The Wolf Among Us' more-streamlined approach to the interactive environment and action sequences. Everything just seems more polished this time around, particularly the tension-filled action sequences that offer a nice mix of timed clicks, button mashes and swipes.
Season Two takes place shortly after the events in Season One, another reason I recommend going back and playing that first. For those playing on the same platform, the decisions that you made in the past season should carry over and influence this season, particularly how Clementine reacts to certain situations. Having played Season One on PS3 and starting Season Two on PC, my saves didn't carry over, but the good news is that Season 2 randomly generates some of the decisions for you. These past decisions, unfortunately, don't seem to impact the story of All That Remains too heavily. While that may change in future episodes, I am a bit disappointed that Season Two appears to be taking the same approach towards decisions. That is, regardless of what you choose, the same events happen. The only thing your decisions seem to impact is how they initially unfold.
It's unclear exactly how much time has passed since the events in Season One, but All That Remains does a great job of paying tribute to those past experiences. On several occasions, there are some touching moments with Clementine as she recounts all that Lee had done for her. But All That Remains doesn't spend too much time dwelling on the past. A new season means all-new characters, and these new characters mean all-new relationships. These relationships will once again be determined by the decisions you make throughout the game. At this point, not all of these relationships are as fleshed out as I would have liked to see, but as a first episode, All That Remains does a fairly decent job of setting the tone.
Whereas Season One spent a considerable amount of time with Lee engaged in conversation, All That Remains seems to place Clementine as more of a lone wolf, focusing more on her actions and less on her conversation with others. Part of the reason for that is that this new group in which she is introduced to doesn't trust her yet, for reasons that I'll keep a secret for now.
When Clementine does interact with other characters, though, they prove to be some of the episode's strongest moments. Playing as a young girl trying to survive an apocalypse opens the door to some really amazing opportunities, which All That Remains briefly teases us with. You have Clementine who appears as, and sometimes plays to, the young, innocent girl stereotype, but her actions prove she's quite capable of fending for herself now. What makes All That Remains a particularly fascinating ride isn't the end point of a sequence, but rather how you choose to go about getting there. And like the prior season, no decision is an easy one.
Episode One: All That Remains is just a taste of what's to come -- a mere setup for the horror that awaits us in the final four episodes. To some extent, it feels like Telltale used Episode One to show us that they aren't afraid of dragging Clementine through hell -- that playing as a young girl doesn't mean you are safe from the difficult decisions you had to make as Lee last season. Though, at times, it felt like the developers went a bit overboard with some sequences just to make this clear to us.
In the end, Episode One: All That Remains does a decent job of setting up the season. We've got Clementine -- cold, callous, and hardened to the world around her -- along with a new group of survivors which we really don't know much about yet, and some sort of secret that's briefly touched upon at the end of the episode. The future remains unwritten for Clementine in Season Two, but it's certainly off to a strong start.