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Editor's note: We'll be updating this review as the episodes are released, but won't be assigning a score until the season is over. Scroll down to see reviews of the first three episodes.
You might not have thought of it before, but being a kid in The Walking Dead universe would fucking suck. Being a kid in the real world? Cool as hell. You go home from school at like 3:00pm, do crazy easy math homework, and then eat cookies and milk while watching cartoons. But when the dead start to nom the living, being a kid has got to be the worst.
All of the zombies are bigger and stronger than you, so you can't really fight them off once they've taken hold, and the people you interact with are scared and sociopathic. That means they'll either eat you, because they're crazy, or they're just going to ignore you because they think they know better. In any other situation they'd be right, because kids are typically stupid as hell, but when you're controlling Clementine, a little girl with more experience dealing with the undead than just about anyone, it's a lot more complicated than that--and a lot more interesting.
Do you want to give people sad eyes and remind them that you're a child? Do you want to be brutally honest and shock them with your knowledge? Do you want to remain silent and let the adults sort stuff out? You'll still have plenty of instances to make story-altering decisions, but they're done in a way that makes more sense for Clementine. The decisions you made in the original come into place at times, but only in minor ways. Characters will offhandedly mention the events of the previous episodes, making them feel connected, but not dependent. Telltale says that this will change in future episodes as more tie-ins begin to be revealed, but as of now it feels now that Season 2 won't rely too heavily on your decisions in the original.
Clementine is seen as a burden by most of the people she meets in All That Remains. Whether she's interacting with new characters or the few that remain from The Walking Dead: Season 1, she's sort of just ignored. Being powerless in a game is a fairly new feeling, and it's handled extremely well, making for a season opener that's even more tonally dark than the first's was.
While All That Remains plays much like the previous episodes, Telltale found clever ways to make the quick-time event situations work with the new heroine. Clem needs to rely on quickness and stealth to avoid zombies because she's not as physically capable as Lee was. When a zombie grabs hold she can't just pound on the A button until she kicks its head off--she needs to try to push it off and run, or try to wiggle away for just long enough to escape.
This actually changes up the pacing a good deal, though it's not different enough to convert those who thought Season 1's gameplay was too bland. You'll still be pounding the A button a lot, after all, and it's still not going to provide the same level of control as a game like The Last of Us. If you were one of the people who thought The Walking Dead Season 1 relied too much on QTEs, nothing in the new season is going to convert you. That said, there are other alterations to the formula that might sway your opinion. A more important change comes in the dialog, which makes up a majority of the interactions you'll have in the world. When talking to people you can't just brute-force your way through the conversation like you could with Lee. Instead, you need to decide exactly the kind of Clementine you want to be, and use that to shape how she reacts to the world. And considering you haven't played as a little girl in that many games, that means that The Walking Dead Season 2 puts you in a unique situation.
I was on the fence over Telltale's choice to put you in the tiny shoes of Clementine in Season 2, but after the first episode I'm absolutely sold. While it doesn't overhaul the mechanics or feel drastically different, it gives a perspective usually ignored in post-apocalyptic games, and one that makes a relatively overplayed setting feel incredibly fresh (unlike the zombies, which are decaying, which feels like a joke we should make here considering this is a zombie game).
Things start to get more interesting in the second episode of Season 2--it feels longer, more substantial, and more ambitious. Clementine's new group differentiates itself from the last one, and you start to realize just how soft they've grown after a few months of living in relative safety. It's a different dynamic than you dealt with in the first Season, where Lee and Co. never felt like they could stay in one place for more than a few minutes. The new characters feel like they've almost forgotten what the rest of the world is like, and this innocence and ignorance comes back to haunt them as they find themselves dealing with new threats.
Clementine's role has changed, too. While she's still a little girl whose opinion is rarely taken seriously, the people she's holed up with discover how useful and helpful she really is. No longer a burden, she's the foundation of her group in many ways, resulting in interesting dialog choices throughout the episode. Her choices begin to carry more weight and lead to diverging paths, letting you really feel like you're in control.
A House Divided, the second episode of Season 2, is a tough act to follow--it is one of the most ambitious episodes the series has seen, with a surprising number of settings and incredibly tense moments. By comparison, Episode 3 feels like a two-hour-long exhale. Clementine spends the first half of the episode nodding and smiling, which results in some strange pacing that stands out amongst the otherwise action-packed season. Thankfully, it's for good cause--the slow, plodding pace of the first half makes the second more impactful, even if you might feel as though the episode is dragging at times.
The fallout from A House Divided is apparent, and you'll start to feel the choices you've made in the previous two episodes (as well as 400 Days, the DLC bridge between the seasons) come to a head. It's satisfying to see the results of your choices from months ago, and while they sometimes only appear via quick mentions or split-second cameos, these moments do their job in letting you know that you're building towards something unique to your playthrough. In Harm's Way is slower by necessity; though its pacing does feel a bit off, it's an entertaining follow-up to A House Divided that gives you some room to breathe--if only for a moment--driving the second season of Clementine's adventure forward.
I'd imagine that watching your friends starve to death, get eaten alive by zombies, or get brutally murdered by humans takes a hefty psychological toll on one's mental health. The question is, when you've passed the point of exhaustion and all hope seems lost, do you give up or press on? Episode 4: Amid the Ruins asks this of all its characters and forces them to answer, and their responses are sometimes difficult to accept. With each passing moment, Clementine and her group of survivors grow weaker. There's no food, no water, and no shelter in sight. As the harsh reality of their chances for survival sets in, their spirits whither and evaporate. Only you can coax them out of their ruts--but by the episode's end, you must face the harsh truth: not everyone is worth saving.
Amid the Ruins is Season 2's strongest episode (and is easily on par with Season 1's most memorable episodes) thanks to its heavy emphasis on character development. Every interaction you have with another member of your group feels like it could be the last, and you learn a surprising amount about all of them, even characters you thought you knew inside and out. Clementine's growth in particular is a highlight; she's no longer a kid whose voice is occasionally heard--she becomes the foundation of her group, as her strength and ability to act is all that keeps them alive. With non-stop intense encounters and nail-biting close calls Amid the Ruins is an excellent follow-up to the previous episode, and it finishes with a gut wrenching scene that makes the wait for Season 2's final episode an agonizing one.
Should you get it? Definitely--unless you're totally uninterested in the franchise. While the second episode is definitely the season's best so far, the third does a great job of moving things forward into the unknown.
This game was reviewed on PC.