If you missed my review on the first episode of Telltale Games’ latest episodic adventure game based off the mega-hit comic (and to a lesser extent, the TV show) The Walking Dead, all you need to know for the most part is that this is another point and click game where you take control of one survivor and make your way through the game’s dark, bloody and foreboding world.
Episode 1 was well done and well received. I enjoyed my time with it. But Episode 2 is its superior in every way.
There’s really no way I can review the game without mentioning any spoilers. So for those of you who haven’t had the chance to play it yet and don’t want to know any story details, I’ll make sure you have a heads up.
Right from the beginning, The Walking Dead raises the stakes and makes it a tenser experience than before. But what makes this episode even more astounding is the deepening personal connection to my decisions, even from the previous episode (some of them things I had forgotten about). Knowing now that what I say and do has a far greater impact on the characters around me and on whether they live or not has made the second episode far more personal than most games I have played.
(This is where I start spoilers, so skip ahead if you want to bypass).
Almost right at the beginning, you’re thrust into the timely decision of choosing who among your party gets to eat the limited rations you have available. This is no small decision. There aren’t any small decisions in The Walking Dead (as I discovered). I ultimately chose to feed the children and the two men working on the fence, skipping my character (named Lee) and the other adults.
But more impactful was near the end of the episode, when out of rage and in self-defense, I killed one of the antagonists. The problem was that Clementine, a young girl who I was trying my best to shield from violence and the atrocities of the game’s world, witnessed me doing so. In an instant she saw a side of Lee she had never seen and grew to fear him. A fact that has made me completely regret the decision.
It’s worth pointing out again Clementine is not a real girl. She is a fictional character and a collection of data. And yet her well being still managed to elicit that kind of an emotional response from me. The sort of emotional response I rarely ever give while playing video games, no matter how much I become attached to or like a character.
(I’m ending the spoilers here, so feel free to continue from this point).
Games that offer players choice isn’t anything terribly ground breaking at this point. The Mass Effect games (or any Bioware game, really) has gameplay that is centered around the player's choice, with the idea that it makes the game more personal.
The thing that I feel makes Telltale’s efforts better than that of Bioware’s (aside from the fact they are working with a far more constrained budget), is that the character responses are not simple
"oh, this is the good guy choice and this is the bad guy choice" options. Many, if not all of the choices, could go either way. Not only that, little things that you probably will forget about often come back unexpectedly (like the decision to swear in front of Clementine in Episode 1 (which for the record, I didn’t)) and can have a surprising impact on the game and your party of survivors.
If I had any fault to find in The Walking Dead’s second episode, it’s that it doesn’t seem to be as solid from a technical standpoint. It seemed to me that I encountered a lot more graphical hiccups with this installment than I did in the first. But it never interfered with the game itself and was only slightly off-putting at best.
A popular argument to start these days is whether video games are a legitimate art form or not in the same way that movies and television shows are. My general argument is no, because while there is unquestionably a large amount of artistic vision that goes into the creation of a video
game, they in and of themselves always serve the purpose of being played and beaten within a confine of structures and rules. That’s why it’s a “game” and not an “interactive media exhibit”.
But this isn't a belief I’m iron clad on. Every now and then there comes a game that is capable of being both a game and being artistic. It’s a very small category in my eyes, but I will gladly place The Walking Dead: Episode 2 on that list. Art is the sort of expression that produces an
emotional response from both its creators and those who experience it. And that is exactly what happens in this game. I only hope the series continues to get better with each episode.
If you haven’t yet done so, do yourself a favor and download both episodes of The Walking Dead. It’s available on the 360, PS3 and PC. And at $5.00 an episode, you’re more than getting your money’s worth.