While Telltale Games boasts a successful record with their episodic adventures, few companies avoid speed bumps entirely. After reviewers the world over offered The Walking Dead: Episode 1 significant praise, fans worried about the direction the series would go — just how does one turn an adrenaline-infused, life-or-death apocalypse into a point-and-click? The first couple hours of the story survived the feverish hunger fans have demonstrated since the end of the show’s second season. Will this formula hold out for the duration of the series, or will it meet its end at the hands of pale, lifeless bodies?
Episode 2 picks up where the first one left — the group has made base at the motel, and, predictably, the men are out hunting for food seeing as how rations are running low. I won’t spoil much else, but expect the action to start early. This sets the mood for those who vaguely remember how thrilling the first game was, since it has been over two months since the first episode’s release.
Although consumers should expect some time between episodes, the long wait may hurt the second game’s experience — initially. I forgot how to change items at first, and I only kind of recalled some of the characters. “Was she a cheerleader? That’s — so-and-so. What’s her face? Aaaaand he’s the ugly one.” This isn’t a criticism of the writing, voice acting, or overall production value. On the contrary, these are Telltale’s strongest points. However, if you were to play an RPG for two and a half hours, save the game, and then return to it months later, how much would you expect to remember? Of course, this puts Telltale in a dilemma, since this is the nature of episodic installments, but it’s up to them to figure out a smooth solution. Perhaps some sort of encyclopedia feature would be helpful.
These criticisms are heavy-handed, though. The strong writing, excellent voice acting, and characteristic visuals snap the player back in within ten to fifteen minutes. Before I knew it, I had my mouth covered, eyes wide, and I held thick, black, mucus-like disgust in my chest by the end of Episode 2. As stated previously, immersion is key, and Telltale capitalizes on just that. Although the visuals can be a little too cartoony, the realistic dialogue and subtle nuances in the faces of other characters speak loudly and leave an impression. The people of Georgia are becoming more desperate, and the transition from the old world to the new is seamless.
However, with greater complexity and more frequent dire situations comes a desire to drive the direction of the plot. I oftentimes found myself frustrated with limited choices or an inability to say what I truly felt. This occurs less often in games like Dragon Age, but these are two starkly contrasting games on different budgets. Within the microcosm Telltale has offered us, we have several choices, but the direction we’re forced to go in is apparent. I quickly learned that I am not playing my story — I’m playing Lee’s. Perhaps this is a problem with how I’m framing the game, but fans should know that while the marketing team boasts that players’ decisions matter, they matter within the tight constraints that Telltale has laid out.
If we step back and appreciate the game for what it is, though, what players get out of it is no less impacting. Telltale wants your tunnel vision — to ignore what’s going on around you, and The Walking Dead does just that. Although the game frequently saves, the brief adventure (about the same length of the first game — two to three hours) will be hard to put down. Not until near the end of the episode did I feel the bubble of immersion pop. Again, this is no fault of the writing, but rather the actual coding. Worried that my intermittent lag (about twenty to thirty seconds long) between camera changes was an isolated occurrence, I researched online and found that others have been having similar problems. While this is noteworthy, potential buyers shouldn’t let these instances deter them from the game.
Finally, and perhaps most significantly, the characters have grown. Truly, the cast of Telltale’s The Walking Dead have changed, some more than others. Once again, we are artfully reminded that morality isn’t as simple as right and wrong, and when we think one character really has it together, the next day they may have a completely unbelievable, warped view of reality — and that is what makes these characters believable. Where the plot suffers — leaving gamers as if frustrated movie-goers yelling at the protagonist to not open the door — the characterization and script more than make up for it.
Simply, if you enjoyed the first game and haven’t pre-ordered the rest of the episodes, then this is a must-buy. The game has only gotten better, though the true lack of choice is a little more evident. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take another two months for Episode 3 to come out.