The Walking Dead: Season Two (2013-2014)

What's that noise?

I’ll attempt to avoid spoilers if I can, but if you’ve not played the final episode of the game yet, maybe you should come back later. 

I’ve just finished playing episode five of Telltale’s second season of The Walking Dead. And I’m a little disappointed with it.

Let me back up a bit. I’m disappointed with the ending. I thought that throughout the rest of the episode – and the moments of tension which cropped up in the search for shelter and the settling of scores, up until the end – was a lot more on the money than the rest of the series had been. There were a collection of “shit, no!” moments, and the dialogue (particularly around a campfire) was exceptionally well-judged in this episode. There was some levity, which is a nice surprise in a game whose stock-in-trade is the shit’s-fucked end of the spectrum. 

I don’t want to cover the narrative too much as I know it’s just come out and chances are a lot of people have yet to play it. But this season generally has had the difficult task of following the first season’s excellently emotional finale. It’s done pretty well to maintain a sense of continuity with the world established in the first season, as well as introducing new characters. (Admittedly, casting Michael Madsen as a bastard was probably a little too predictable, but it was kind of welcome.)

However, the increasing cast seemed a bit at odds with the ramped-up tension of an encroaching winter. There’s some nice twists and turns with friendships (or lack thereof) but trying to manage the numbers of people led to what appeared to be out-of-character decisions in order to ensure the crew at season’s end was a manageable size.

The last ten minutes of the last episode typified this sense of being corralled. Through the episode characters had acted in ways which hadn’t really been set up in the rest of the season, except for one which had been telegraphed a long way off. There’s flashbacks. There’s a death chat which wouldn’t have been out of place in a lengthy post-assassination chinwag a-la Assassin’s Creed. It’s frustrating because the end of the first season felt so right, whereas here it felt a little tacked on.

We know season three is coming. But after the death scene which marks the climax of the episode, there’s a brief scene which exists solely to add TO BE CONTINUED in big letters, accompanied by dissonant chords. It feels as if it’s a bridge to the next season, a stopgap, rather than a line drawn under the current story arc.

The mechanics of the game were a little more refined with this iteration, though some would probably claim it was dumbed down. The Telltale style of game really seems to have action moments inserted because games need to have them – in reality, though, it’s a series of conversational choices with some basic shooting mixed in. Personally,  I think that’s OK – this isn’t aimed at the Killing Floor crowd, and the pacing seems to befit a less active type of gameplay than Tripwire’s blow-the-heads-off-them-suckers gibfest. There seemed to be a lot less of the shooter-based stuff in this season, though some of the instances were unfairly difficult, requiring a couple of replays to complete. It’s forgivable, as Telltale are shooting for a cinematic appeal here, and kick-the-walker set-pieces are expected, but the balance seems a little wonky.

I played the game on a PS3 and found it plagued by framerate issues. Sometimes audio would play in a brief loop until the graphics caught up (most usually between scenes) and sometimes even trophy attainment notices were sluggish to show. I’m not sure how the game can run super-fast in some areas (replete with lots of onscreen action) and then chug in other, seemingly less busy moments. Engine optimisation? I noticed the same when I played the first episode of the first season on my laptop, but I assumed that was just down to a lack of horsepower. Regardless, it’d be nice to have that sort of thing fixed.

The final episode also wouldn’t download through the game interface. Weirdly, I had to enter the Playstation Store, find the season pass entry and download it through there. It’s the only instalment in both series which required this sort of treatment, and the kerfuffle ensured there was enough time for some jerk on Facebook to spoil the ending for me before I’d downloaded it. Good work, everyone.

Still, this series is worth playing. I don’t think it has the emotional heft of the first season, but I guess that’s to be expected: the ending of the initial run was one of those all the feels! moments, as the Internet likes to say. If you’re a fan of either the graphic novel or the television show, both series of Telltale’s game are worth playing. Hell, at this point the dialogue in the games is more natural and interesting than that of the TV show.

(Though there is a lot less room for terrible Carl jokes. You can’t win ’em all.)

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