The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
Desperation. Degenerating mental states. Knee-jerk reactions. Growing up as Clementine gets even more challenging in A House Divided. Expect this episode to throw curveballs and cause you to continually second-guess your quick decisions. It has everything that made season one so gripping, like important relationship development, tragedy, and stunning revelations. This episode puts you in a no-win situation and makes you wonder what you could have done differently.
Telltale spent the first episode of season two re-acquainting us with Clementine, showing what she’s been up to, and proving she could headline her own game. Now that she’s shown she has the chops to survive without Lee, Episode 2 puts her in the middle of everything from confronting group arguments to life-or-death situations.
Episode 2 picks up where Episode 1 left off, right after Clementine’s choice between two imperiled characters. Trust within the group is deteriorating, and characters are cracking under the pressure. This sets the tone for episode 2; tension is on the rise, and it impacts Clementine’s new group, especially as a dangerous personality emerges, forcing them to find a new safe haven. Clementine gets closer to characters introduced in Episode 1, like Rebecca and Luke, as the group is on the run from the new foe in the Virginia mountains. While Telltale could have just focused on Clementine adjusting to the new people around her, the storyline takes some engrossing turns. New faces and old friends turn up, creating riveting conflict. The new antagonist is so well-written that he makes my skin crawl every time he’s on screen. I always felt on edge, wondering whom I could trust, and examining possible motives.
The writing is some of Telltale’s strongest and most balanced. It never relies on just one circumstance or event to make its mark, using a variety of developments to keep your mind racing. For instance, Clem’s new group has its own skeletons in its closet, but this episode also introduces other new survivor groups to keep the journey unpredictable.
Additionally, plenty of nods to the past work enhance the episode. Lee’s influence over Clementine never fades, and is alluded to just enough that it doesn’t feel like overkill or forced. For instance, Clementine showing another child how to fire a gun is a callback to a similar moment she and Lee shared last season. I enjoyed the references scattered throughout the episode, because it reminded me of the first season’s powerful impact.
The dialgoue and pacing are spot-on, making conversations feel realistic and natural. However, the degree to which adults trust and depend on Clementine is hard to ignore. Yes, Clementine is special and smart, but she’s also only 11 years old. Grown characters constantly coming to her for advice during dangerous situations – especially over other adults – feels forced and unbelievable.
The story still makes more of an impact than the gameplay, but heat-of-the-moment choices are a step in the right direction. Telltale has always framed choice as a big draw and, unlike previous decisions, this is one of the episodes where I started to see the ripple effects. As Clementine, you dodge, shoot, and sneak around zombies, but these action sequences also contain interesting choices that must be made quickly. For instance, do you give people the benefit of the doubt, or shoot them before they shoot you? The fast decisions line up well with the gameplay, keeping you in the moment. They also highlight the cost of your actions, making you doubt them, and leaving you to question if a “right” choice even exists. Smaller choices not directly tied to the action sequences are also just as enthralling, especially in terms of relationship building. One has you picking who to sit next at dinner — an old buddy or new friend. It was a moment that said, “You can’t have the best of both worlds.” Choosing an alliance is one of the most difficult parts because no characters are perfect and everybody is hiding something.
The consequences of various decisions are on a graver level this time around – sometimes even life or death. Some are seen almost immediately, while others have the potential to linger into later episodes. Depending on how you react, certain characters may not survive. You have control over the outcomes, so the events aren’t predetermined (unlike the road trip from hell in season one). And that’s not just with choices from this season, but also ones from the past; this episode incorporates 400 Days into Clementine’s journey. The transition is smooth and adds value with its surprising connections.
During Episode 2, I was struck by a line about how connecting with people is important. In The Walking Dead, I’ve been doing just that, building alliances and becoming emotionally attached to characters. Telltale is continuing to build on this, and making choices in the name of giving Clementine the best odds is agonizing. Time will tell how much these choices will reflect in future episodes, but so far Telltale continues to make this world and Clementine’s journey even more engrossing.
Email the author Kimberley Wallace, or follow on Twitter, and Game Informer.