The theme for the second season of Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead is clearly trust. Yes, there are still shambling undead monsters craving living flesh, but now the other humans can prove just as dangerous, if not more so.
In the recently-released Episode Two, “A House Divided,” Clem’s adventure continues with a brief moment of joy before everything takes another turn for the horrible. There’s also some gay characters this time around. My spoiler-free review is after the jump!
Videogames have been exploring episodic-style releases for a while now, but Telltale has really struck gold with their adventure games. The Walking Dead has existed as a monthly comic book and a weekly TV series, so why not structure a game the same way? It means that you can have a perfectly satisfying experience and then be left with a cliffhanger that has you counting the days until the next episode is released.
And with one season already under its belt, The Walking Dead has a distinct advantage over The Wolf Among Us, which is also currently being doled out episode by episode. We’ve already invested in Clem over the course of a season, so we care so much more about her fate than whether or not Bigby Wolf solves a mystery. And the writers can draw on events from the first season to inform events in this season.
History plays a big part in “A House Divided,” and I found it significantly affecting my decisions during the game. Up to a certain point, I was rolling along thinking one way, and then something happened that made me second-guess my alliances. There were some seriously tough decisions to make in this episode, and for the very first time in this entire series, I actually let a dialogue option timer run out because I didn’t like any of the choices. None of them were quite what I wanted to say, so I stayed silent. And even that was a hard choice to make.
There’s a fantastic setpiece on a bridge that had me on the edge of my seat, a shocking moment that had me gasping out loud and shouting at my TV, another moment that nearly brought me to tears (this game, I swear!), and ultimately the inevitable climax of horror leading to an understated cliffhanger full of dread. But as subdued as the ending of this episode was, I’m still looking forward to the next one!
The voice acting continues to be great, although I wish that the bodies of the characters moved with the natural realism of their faces. Whoever the animators are in charge of the eyes of these characters should get a raise. And then give some tips to the ones doing the arms and legs. This episode I also ran into a little trouble with the controls. One of the on-screen prompts wasn’t clear what I was supposed to do with the controller. I worked it out, but it took me a minute or so. Thankfully, it wasn’t during a zombie attack! In addition, while I could tell when past actions were affecting this episode, by the end of this installment, I felt like I couldn’t have changed any of the major events this time with my actions. It all felt frustratingly inevitable and linear. Which works dramatically, but maybe not as a game that’s meant to feel like it has multiple story paths.
Most interestingly, during this episode a couple characters are introduced that are clearly in a homosexual relationship. At first it’s just a throwaway comment by one of them, but immediately it becomes very clear that they are definitely gay, even if the game doesn’t come right out and use the word. It’s refreshing to see it not made a big deal of and treated as just a matter of fact. Sadly, this is about all we’re going to see of it. Not to spoil things, but this is an apocalyptic world these people are living in, so a happy gay relationship isn’t really going to be in the cards. Hell, any kind of happy relationship is pretty much living on borrowed time! (Just like I’m trying not to get too attached to Luke, the cutie you see in the screenshots accompanying this review)
Having Clem thrown into a brand new group of survivors is fascinating because as a player, you’re also meeting these characters for the first time and you’re naturally as skeptical as she is. With Episode Two introducing even more characters, it’s likely that many of them won’t make it past Episode Three. And honestly, there are times when I wish the game would give me the option to have Clem just hightail it out of there and save herself. Let everyone else argue back and forth until they kill each other. Hopefully as the story progresses, that’s not how things will end up. We’ll just have to wait and see.