Saturday, August 30, 2014

"Ohana means family. Family means everyone dies, or is forgotten."

Reviewer’s Note: After this note, this review will contain heavy spoilers for Episode 5 of The Walking Dead: Season 2 and general spoilers for The Walking Dead: Season 2. This review will cover general thoughts on the season as a whole, but have the most in depth thoughts on Episode 5.

As you can see, the above are all of my choices for the first four episodes of the season. I’ll show my choices for Episode 5 at the end, though I’m sure that by the end of the review, you’ll more or less know what I chose in Episode 5.

In a way, I have a bit of an interesting history with Telltale’s The Walking Dead. I originally tried out the first season after Giant Bomb’s love of it on their Game of the Year podcasts, but I really wasn’t a big fan of the first episode. I came back to it around June of this year, starting from Episode 2 on, and just about marathoned the rest of that season, slowly growing to like it more and more, and absolutely loving Season One’s finale.

Luckily, by that point, there were already three episodes of Season Two available to play, so I was able to dig right in.

Season Two, as many of you know, stars Clementine, the young girl Lee charges himself with protecting in the first season, who has now become an intrepid survivor in the post-apocalypse. Throughout the entire season, you end up going throughout multiple groups of people, sadly losing plenty of people who become friends along the way. Though, this is to be expected, as loss of loved ones is one of the biggest parts of The Walking Dead series.

The gameplay has changed just a bit from Season One, mostly in that a lot of the slow, obtuse puzzles have been removed for more quick paced QTE’s and movements while performing actions normally done with just clicking. While this change streamlines the game for the better in a lot of ways, it also takes out a lot of the adventure out of the adventure game, which is a bit saddening, as Telltale has touted The Walking Dead as an adventure game, and a lot of the classic adventure game stylings are gone, focusing more on the story, dialogue, and writing.

This is not to say that focusing on the story, dialogue, and writing, is a bad thing. However, it seems to be that the writing has been a bit lackluster in comparison to the final episodes of Season One.  The first three episodes are pretty solid writing, and although some things feel a bit forced (such as Kenny’s miraculous survival), they’re very strong overall.

I feel like, however, the season started to reach a bit of a downhill spiral starting from Episode Four on. It feels like at that point, the most important part of The Walking Dead games, the writing, quickly started to waver, as many characters seemed to go in rather odd directions with their arcs.
The treatment of Sarah was also something that really harmed my opinion of the game after finding out about things said by game creators. I originally thought of the character Sarah, a young girl near Clementine’s age you meet in Episode One, who has issues dealing with the world around her, as a character that Telltale meant as the antithesis to Clem—a character who wasn’t taught to survive in this new world, who wasn’t forced to see the harsh realities and learn to grow up—but instead, a character that Telltale hated and simply wanted to suffer, and throwing her away in Episode 4 in a very anticlimactic, Telltale way by not allowing you to save her, no matter what you do. I was rooting for Sarah to make it to the end, and simply knowing what Telltale thought, as well as the harsh treatment of Sarah for no good reason simply served as a big negative to me.

Kenny is also a character greatly hurt by the poor writing that tends to plague the last two episodes of the season. After Sarita’s death, Kenny gets incredibly angry at the world around him. And this is, overall, pretty understandable. For me, he had to walk into the forest to see that his wife had shot herself instead of their bitten son who was about to turn, shoot his son to prevent Duck from turning, watch another young boy reminiscent of his son who was a Walker, get beaten into a half inch of his life and lost an eye, and lost the second woman he loved.

To say that Kenny gets it rough is probably a bit of an understatement, yet throughout episodes four and five, Kenny is constantly portrayed as unhinged, ready to kill, menacing, and cruel. This isn’t to say Kenny is a perfect angel, as he never has been, but I feel like Telltale reduced Kenny to something a lot less than he ever was throughout the entire series. Even after being portrayed very well at certain points in Episodes 4 and 5, his character as a whole is brought down by what feels like very inconsistent writing.

To go more onto Episode Five (boy, I’ve been talking a while, huh?), I felt that the episode had some very good highs, but the lows were very low, and after being able to sit and think on it, very much hurt my thoughts on the Season Finale. You start off in the aftermath of the final choice of Episode Four, pinned down by the Russians who held you up, and with Jane mysteriously coming back to help out, hold Arvo hostage in order to get to a shelter, stopping at a busted generator station for the night. This part was probably one of the best parts of the episode for me, because it was just simple character development and a bit of an air of ease. After so much that had happened, the group could just rest and relax, joke around, and talk, and it felt strangely powerful to me.

The second major choice of the game, helping Luke, was one that bothered me a lot, because it was a case of a Telltale game death. I had Clem go over to try and help Luke out, because that’s what she would do to help her friend, but no matter what I could do (and even if I had chosen the other option), there was nothing to be done. As soon as that ice starts to break, Luke is a dead man, killed off in a few seconds, with nothing to do about it.

It’s at this point where Kenny becomes a worse and worse written character, and the rest of the group trusts him less and less. Upon finding and fixing an old truck, an argument sparks throughout the group of where to go, simply leading to more and more tension that wedges a group that’s been with each other for three episodes now further and further apart, which just feels for the sake of tension, in a way.

What is probably one of the most confounding story points in Mike, Bonnie, and Arvo stealing the truck and Arvo shooting Clem and then leaving to never been seen or heard from again (remember, Bonnie and Mike have been with you since Episode 3 and have helped you escape Carver’s compound, and have been shown as primarily trustworthy, helpful, and reliable) ends up leading to by far the best moment of the episode.

After being shot and falling unconscious, Clem dreams about being back in the RV with Lee, talking about a bad dream she had, and other things, such as what makes a person angry, and other topics, and being able to see young Clem with Lee again brought me pretty darn close to tearing up. It was a wonderful, serene moment that had me hoping everything from Season One Episode 3 on was just all an awful dream.

Of course, as is what is one of the running themes of The Walking Dead, all good things must end, and you wake up to find Jane and Kenny going at it again, as is the usual this episode. This is where the game ultimately ends up culminating into—one long string of decisions and choices that will, ultimately, effect what you do in the end and who you side with.

Upon reaching a rest stop after having to split up to find fuel, and Jane, Clem, and Alvin Jr. having to escape from Walkers, Jane tells Clem and Kenny that Alvin Jr. is gone, sparking Kenny to become enraged, and he ends up fighting with Jane.

This, of course, leads to what feels like the worst Telltale choice in the season: shoot Kenny and Jane can live, or look away and let Kenny kill Jane. My Clem was always more of a mediator, preferring not to have to kill anyone if they could avoid it, only doing so for survival reasons, and there was no way to talk either of them out of it.

Earlier in the season, Luke talks about how the most important thing is family, and although I didn’t realize it at first, thinking back on it, I feel like my choice was at least partially affected by Luke’s words. Although Kenny had never been the kindest man, due to having been through a lot, but he was someone I had been with for two whole seasons now. With Lee gone, Kenny was the closest Clem had to family, especially now with Alvin Jr. gone.

Of course, after Jane’s death, we find out what is probably the most dumbfounding revelation: Alvin Jr. was still alive. For whatever reason, Jane lied to prove some point to Clem, that Kenny was too far gone. This is the part that really had me upset with the chapter—that the game felt like Kenny was in the wrong, going so far as to pulling what felt to me like an odd stunt against Kenny.

The ending was satisfying, and, despite not being with the whole group, the idea of Clem, Kenny, and Alvin Jr. feels very fitting, and my biggest issue with the ending is that we never find out what happens to Christa since Episode One. To me, it seemed much more likely that she would survive the situation she faced than how Kenny miraculously survived his situation, so her being omitted throughout the rest of the season was something that bothered me a bit. 

The game does have five different endings. Five very different endings. In a way it’ll be interesting to see what Telltale does with Season Three. I wasn’t overly fond of Season Two at a number of points, but it was a solid game with a solid story, though plagued with very inconsistent writing and character choices towards the last few episodes.

For reference, my Episode 5 choices were as follows:



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