September 7, 2014 3 Comments
Every single paragraph below the first picture contains spoilers. If you’re looking for a recommendation on Walking Dead: Season Two, I’ll keep all my spoiler-free critiques on the story and gameplay up here. I had fun with it. It wasn’t as good as season one (you can read my review of that here and here), and I think that’s because my words and actions seemed to be much more inconsequential this time around. One character is on the verge of cracking, and you’re given the option to defend that character or agree that they are about to snap. I went with the “about to snap” option at least a half-a-dozen times, sometimes with the same characters who I had spoken with about it before. As if I had changed my mind on the subject. I hadn’t. I had been consistent from the start: person of interest was going bonkers. I’m guessing the problem is the developers had a very specific way they wanted the players to respond to dialog, and if you didn’t go along with it, they would keep knifing you to do it until you did it their way. It took the “oomph” out of the big decisions I had to make.
Meanwhile, the play mechanics are exactly the same as last season. I did notice there seemed to be a lot less glitches and slowdown, but otherwise, this is the same as pretty much any Telltale game. If you hated the style before, nothing is improved here in the slightest bit. And that’s pretty much all I can say without spoiling the whole thing. Walking Dead: Season Two is worth the $20 season pass, but the story was weaker, the emotional weight significantly smaller, and I have no lingering interest in playing the series any further unless I don’t have to pay for it. SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT
In Season Two, you take the role of Clementine, the yellow-eyed (so help me God, yellow eyes!) tag-along of season one, and she immediately proves herself to be more capable than last season’s protagonist/sleeping pill, Lee. A scene in chapter one requires Clem to stitch up a dog bite, and she handles it just fine. Lee would have stabbed himself in the eye with the needle, shot off his left testicle, and then knocked himself unconscious on the counter. And everyone in the group would have commented on how clever he was. This time around, your new group sort of recognizes Clem as the only person with her act together, but they’re too busy asking her the same series of questions over and over again to just shut and up collectively declare her group dictator. Which is pretty much why they all die.
There’s no real consistent plot that keeps the story moving this time around. Each chapter feels different from the one before it. In the first chapter, you let the fates quickly thin out any lingering characters you were still with at the end of season one. You get bit by a non-zombified dog, then get rescued by a group of survivors that mistake the dog bite for a zombie bite and lock you in a shed. This is the chapter where you meet all the new future zombie-chow of the season. Among them was a nervous, reckless, itchy-trigger-fingered douche named Nick. He was the nephew of the leader of the group, a dude named Pete.
I liked Pete. He was cool. He recognized how strong Clem was. So obviously he was going to die, and it would probably be Nick’s fault. Sure enough, that happened. In chapter two, everyone spent half the game talking about how unstable Nick was. How big a danger to everyone around him he was. But, nobody (except myself) was willing to do the right thing: lead him into the woods and shoot him. Or tie him to a tree and let him lure the Walkers away from you with his girly screams. Later, you meet a stranger on a bridge who poses no threat and Nick kills him. Yeah. And again, instead of everyone shitting their pants in terror because they’re dragging this worse-than-useless human wrecking ball with them, they just talk about what a threat he is. Sigh. So I’m starting to think Nick will obviously be the season’s antagonist.
But, no. He gets killed at the end of the second chapter by the buddy of the guy who he shot on the bridge. Huh. I mean, okay. Fine. Weird pacing but obviously they had bigger plans for the season’s antagonist. This chapter also reintroduces Kenny, the short-tempered, ignorant, drunken redneck from season one who watched his whole family die. I took the option of hugging him when I met him only because I was hoping there would be a second option that allowed me to plunge my hatchet into his back while doing it. Much like season one, I spent the remainder of the game being as antagonistic towards Kenny as I could. Later, when one of the chicks you’re dragging around shits out of baby, Kenny takes a shine to it and talks about how much he’s going to protect it. At this point, I was cursing the game for not giving me more dialog options. I had been basically spending the last several hours trying to talk Kenny into suicide. If given the option, I would have needled him into kissing the end of his gun right there.
“So you’re going to protect this baby, huh? Well, that’ll be a change. Remember when I met you and you had a family? Where’s that family now, Kenny? Remember when you let your son get bit? Kenny? Do you remember that? Or then your wife shot herself? My sides still hurt over laughing at that. I mean, you totally drove her to it, Kenny. Kenny? Hey, do you think when she blew her brains out, she still had more brains in her head than you? Kenny? Hey Kenny, remember when you met that new wife, and then I showed up and cut her arm off? Kenny? Hey, Kenny, if you want, I can go back there and lend her a hand. Kenny? Come to think of it, that one was totally your fault too. Wow. What’s your body count, Kenny? Seven? Eight? Be honest Kenny, you’re just hoping someone will trade you a bottle of vodka for the baby, right Kenny? Did you drink a lot when you were ignoring your family before the outbreak, Kenny? Kennnnnnyyyyyyyy?”
Eh, not that it would have mattered. Kenny stubbornly hangs around until the end of the game. And in chapter three, you’re held prisoner by a new antagonist named Carver. He’s set up base in a hardware store and runs a tight ship. I actually liked him. I mean, he arbitrarily killed people too weak to survive, which is what I had been trying to do the entire fucking time. My kind of guy. One of the people in your group is a helpless little girl named Sarah. She had been kept in the dark about the whole zombie apocalypse thing, and it was clear once she got a glimpse of the real world, she was going to put the group in danger. So, even though my slate of trying to get people killed was full, I quickly penciled Sarah in for “be as hateful and vindictive as possible to her in an attempt to get her dead.” When we had work to do, I did her work for her, because she was too stupid/spoiled to know how to prune a tree. I was hoping Carver, who had already forced her father to viciously smack her across the face, would throw her off the building. Instead, he threw our supervisor, a Pakistani stereotype, off the roof and to his death instead. Well shit. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I was going to attempt to get him killed too. I was pretty much trying to get EVERYONE killed but myself. Well, except Carver. Yeah, the dude was an asshole, but at least he fucking got it. This is the apocalypse. You’re better off keeping the strong around. Not too long after that, I had a sit-down conversation with Carver where I told him exactly that. Except the game interpreted that as me just telling him what he wanted to hear. I wasn’t. I legitimately wanted to join him.
Shortly thereafter, with my crew of morons having devised a plan to escape, I was asked if I was in on the plan. I was able to answer this in four possible ways. #1: yes. #2: yes. #3: say nothing, which is saying yes. #4: say “do I have a choice?” That’s the one I chose, and then I found out the answer was “no.” Holy shit, choosing your own path is FUN! I mean, there’s just so many options and so little time to choose between them that I had to pause the game and pinch myself. Seriously, Telltale, light switches have more options than you give players most of the time.
Anyway, I figure we’ll end up fucking up the hardware store, opening it to attack by the zombies, and Carver would end up stalking us for the rest of the game, picking our crew off one-by-one as we went along. But no, I ended up shooting him and then watching as Kenny caved his head in with a crowbar. Fucking seriously? Okay, fine. His itchy-triggered lieutenant named Troy is still alive and undoubtedly he’ll be the new antago.. nope, scratch that, he’s dead too. It was then I realized that Walking Dead: Season Two was the ultimate “instant gratification” game for a generation that wants instant gratification right now, or else. Nick was an annoying, dangerous little shit. He dies. Carver was a brute. He dies. Sarah was a terrified, annoying little brat. She dies. Though the way I played it, she died sooner than she did for most people. During a zombie attack on a trailer, I decided to leave her behind. I was shocked it actually worked, though I was a little disappointed that I was not given the option to kill her myself, then piss on her body.
The final two chapters are mostly spent talking about how unstable Kenny is. I had the exact fucking same conversation about it no less than a half-dozen times. “Do you think Kenny is cracking?” Um, yeah. Just look at him! He’s all wide-eyed, staring off into the void, lips quivering, fingers twitching, WHAT THE FUCK ELSE DO YOU PEOPLE NEED? For him to randomly just spout off “you know guys, I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and I’ve come to the conclusion that Hitler was right”? Meanwhile, the group keeps getting picked off. Pregnant chick Rebecca gives birth, then becomes a zombie. Again, I cursed the lack of dialog options. When people defended my decision to shoot her with “she had turned!” I wasn’t allowed to answer back “Wait, she did?”
Ultimately, it comes down to you, Kenny, the baby, and some chick that the game kept trying to make you feel some kind of sisterly bond with, but it was so badly handled that I never felt any true connection to her. Unlike season one, where the ultimate fate would either be Lee dies and stays dead or Lee dies and turns into a Walker, season two had multiple, completely different endings. In mine, I shot Kenny, paused the game to go masturbate for a while, then went back to listen to him have his heart-warming moment of redemption where he talked about how I had done the right thing. Oh fucking gag me with a garbage bag full of dog shit, what a crock. I did take solace in the fact that we just let him die without stabbing him in the head, so he’s now walking around as a mindless monster that will undoubtedly kill or wound every human he comes in contact with. In other words, no change. Clem, the baby, and the sister return to Carver’s hardware store, and the season ended with me telling another group of survivors to fuck off.
BUT, it could have also ended with both the sisterly figure and Kenny dying. OR, it could have ended with the girl dead and you and Kenny finding the mythical survivor stronghold called Wellington, where you can either leave his ass and take the baby with you, or you can continue along with the unstated suicide-pact everyone seems to have subconsciously entered into when the apocalypse began and leave with him. The vast differences all these endings offer almost certainly eliminates Clem’s chances of being the protagonist of season three. And that sucks, because she is literally the only character I liked. I even wanted to kill and eat the baby. I mean, it’s the fucking apocalypse. I’m guessing veal has been hard to come by as of late.
I liked Walking Dead: Season Two, but it’s such a deeply flawed game. And I’m not talking about the gameplay. I’ve given up all hope they’ll ever improve it. No, I’m talking about the story. It is a compelling story. That’s why I stuck it out through ten chapters and a still-useless DLC pack so far. But this idea that you have actual power over the course of the story? It’s an illusion. The writers have a very specific way they expect you to play the game. I understand that they can’t branch off the path too far, because it would make development too complicated. That’s fine. But give us a greater degree of control over how the player’s character feels about each person, and then trust our own judgment on it. Telltale wanted us to sympathize with Kenny. That’s why, after choosing to answer how I felt about Kenny with “he’s unstable. I’ve seen him like this before”, the game kept hitting me with the same question, sometimes from the same characters that originally asked me, over and over again. It’s because the writers envisioned this amazing moment of redemption. I didn’t, because I had determined that Kenny was beyond redemption. He was an unstable, psychopathic monster who endangered everyone around him. Any person in their right mind would have clipped him the moment they met him. But that wasn’t their plan. In the ending I got, Clem was tearful as Kenny said his goodbyes. Clem would NOT have been crying the way I played the game. I was as mean-spirited as possible towards him from start to finish. I always answered questions in ways that would piss him off. Yeah, the ending where you leave Kenny behind and take the baby into Wellington felt more authentic than any other bullshit chance of redemption you’re given, but it still lacked the brutal emotional weight that season one ended on.
And, the reason for that is the way I played didn’t line up with the writer’s grand vision for Kenny’s character arc. The ending I got essentially rendered my entire experience as nonsensical and irrelevant. What’s really annoying is the game kept trying to give me a chance to recant my statements. It did that when it asked if I regretted watching Kenny cave in Carver’s skull. I had to repeat that I didn’t multiple times in different chapters. The only logical reason why it would keep asking is if the choice I made wasn’t the choice Telltale wanted me to make. When people disagree with my reviews, I’m often told “you must have played the game wrong.” It’s condescending and insulting, but I get that a lot. It’s how snobs come to terms with the revelation that someone doesn’t like the things they like. But, in the case of Walking Dead, I really did seem to play the game wrong. Because the writers wanted me to feel one specific way about the characters. I didn’t, and thus the dialog at the end made no sense at all. Whatever. I still enjoyed the story, even if I had no real influence over it. I still enjoyed it even if Clem’s words and emotional state didn’t reflect the way I had played. Even when a decision had consequences, it still felt wrong because the story had no consideration for why I had made the decision in the first place, and thus Clem and I weren’t on the same page. Then again, if we had been on the same page, she would have been walking around with a necklace made out of ears and a taste for human flesh. You know, maybe I was the monster all along. Sorry, Kenny.
The Walking Dead: Season Two was developed by Telltale Games
Point of Sale: PlayStation 3, Xbox Live Arcade, Steam
$19.99 just realized the Walking Dead actually refers to the survivors in the making of this review. Yeah, I’m quick.