[Preview] The Walking Dead: Season 2

Published on November 14th, 2013

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So, the first teaser trailer for Season 2 of Telltale’s The Walking Dead debuted last week. If you’ve been living under video games’ equivalent of a rock (a cardboard box, maybe?) for the last 18 months, then you’ll be wondering why there’s so much fuss around a trailer which shows no gameplay whatsoever and last for roughly 50 seconds. Well, let me tell you a cautionary tale of what happened to me, when I similarly dismissed the first season out-of-hand… (It goes without saying, of course, that there will be MAJOR STORYLINE SPOILERS throughout)

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I intentionally railed against The Walking Dead: A Telltale Game Series for the longest time. Irrationally so, as it turns out, but I did it nonetheless. There were a number of reasons for this:

1) As something of a fan of mainstream games (to my detriment, and I’m still attempting to diversify to this day), it bothered me to see this small episodic game being lauded quite as unanimously as it was.

2) It was coming not too long off the back of the fantastic 2nd series of the AMC show (well, second half of the series, at least), and I saw no way that it could be half as good as that.

3) I had played the HD remake of The Secret of Monkey Island a short amount of time before, and found that I didn’t enjoy the point and click game mechanics in the same way I did in the mid-to-late 1990s.

So, yeah, you could say that I was prejudiced against it.

As a result, I’d only downloaded the first episode because it was free, played it for around an hour, found that it wasn’t really doing anything for me, and promptly forgot all about it in favour of Halo 4 and Far Cry 3.

But then, some coincidental things occurred. For the second time in two months, the remaining episodes went on sale at half price. I had finished Far Cry 3 literally the day before. 800 Microsoft points from some free trial or another arrived through my letterbox on the day on which the Spring Sale began. At that point, I still had no intention of buying them, but my daughter had been watching a playthrough of the game on YouTube, and she asked me when I would be playing it again. Well, I had the points sitting there doing nothing, couldn’t see anything for that price that captured my attention, and so I plopped them down on episodes 2-5 and decided to give the game another go. The fates had conspired.

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To this day, I’m glad that they did, because what I played was probably the most emotionally affecting game I will possibly ever play, and proof that storytelling can trump gameplay, if it’s done right. However, Telltale’s greatest achievement in creating The Walking Dead isn’t in its utterly relatable and believable characters. It isn’t in its excellently-told tale of humans being the REAL biggest threat during an apocalypse. No, its biggest achievement is that it has perfectly created the illusion of choice. In the purest terms of “here’s a beginning and here’s an end”, your choices mean nothing. That police car is going to crash, regardless of what you say to the officer. Clementine is eventually going to have to make her own way in the world, regardless of how much you try to protect her.

However, in between that beginning and that end, you will feel like you’re always the one in control. You will feel that you, not the game developers, are the driving force behind this story. From something as simple to deciding who gets an energy bar, to something major like you deciding who delays their inevitable death and who dies there and then, to something heart-breaking like deciding who has to put Duck out of his horrible misery – the game offers choice that means nothing in binary terms, but EVERYTHING in that moment.

That’s not to diminish those other achievements though. In a game that constantly makes you aware of the fact that the next zombie attack is just around the corner (take note, AMC), the writing team deserves enormous credit for making you still fear fellow humans the most. Yes, I see those zombies in the distance, but why do the St Johns make me feel uneasy? Yes, I know what this bite inevitably means, but I’m still not leaving Clementine with you.

This, in turn comes back to that cast of characters. Three-dimensional, believable, relatable – all with their own motives for wanting to survive the nightmare, all with their own methods of doing so, and all with their fully-formed justifications for why they’re doing so. As a result, you’ll form genuine opinions on them all. For instance, I consider 90% of the characters you happen upon to be assholes. Even Kenny, who would face more personal tragedy than anyone else in the game, grated on me with his attitude at times. But, even then, they all had redeeming qualities. Larry just wanted to protect his daughter. Kenny had a family to think about. Duck was just an overly-exuberant young kid (when he went for the high five, I just COULDN’T leave him hanging), who knew no better. Ben was a teenager with no thought to the consequences of his actions, because I like to think that he still had faith in humanity.

And then there’s Clementine.

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No, of course I do not consider Clementine to be an asshole. Throughout the whole game, she is a shining light. A glimmer of hope that not everything in the world has been turned to shit by events. Maybe it’s just because I’m a father of a girl around Clementine’s age, but I’ve never wanted to protect a character in a video game as badly as I wanted to protect Clementine, right to the very end, where I couldn’t even ask her to kill Lee. Maybe I should have asked her to do it. Lee wasn’t going to be going with her, so maybe I should have hardened her to the world, but I just couldn’t. I wanted her to be a little girl just one day longer. And there’s the real reason why I learned to love The Walking Dead. I cared.

So, where does the series go now? It seems that you’ll be controlling Clementine as the protagonist in the second season, and this in itself sets up some interesting possible tensions and dynamics between this young girl (it appears that the story will be set fairly soon after the end of the first season) and any groups she may encounter along the way. I’d personally love to see parallels drawn between Clementine in that world and Newt in the world of James Cameron’s 1986 classic, Aliens. Here are two young girls thrust into horrible, desperate situations, forced to grow up more quickly than they should to survive, and emerging from those experiences strong and independent. In The Walking Dead, this would create natural tensions with any adults reluctant to take advice from a kid (think of Aliens’ Hudson asking “why don’t you put her in charge?”, when Ripley suggests that Newt’s survival makes her arguably the team’s most valuable asset).

What we do know is that the game is likely to tie in more closely with AMC’s television series, meaning we’ll probably see a few more character crossovers, and that we’ll also be likely to see some characters from the one-off bridging episode, 400 Days.

Regardless, we don’t have long to wait and find out, as Episode 1 of Season 2 of TellTale’s The Walking Dead will be released at some point before Christmas. Personally speaking, I expect them to find it difficult to re-capture the emotional resonance of the first season, but I cannot wait to see them try.

Written by Andrew Manson.

You can find his musings here: http://35-bit.tumblr.com/

Or alternatively you can find on Twitter : @35_bit_Andy

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