And so The Walking Dead returns. The first season combined simple puzzles with a story that had real emotional stakes and ended up winning numerous “game of the year” awards. So how do you top a game that good? By going bigger, and more intimate, at the same time.
Season 2 of The Walking Dead picks up a short time after the end of season 1. Clementine, the little girl you worked so hard to save last time, is now the protagonist. If you thought worrying about protecting Clem was emotionally draining, it’s even more fraught putting yourself into the shoes of a child who must survive in a world of flesh-eating zombies and even more treacherous humans.
The Walking Dead keeps the same structure as before: a simple point-and-click interface with dialogue trees. If you fail (that is, die), the game restarts just before that point and you get to try again. But this season 2 is far more vicious and unforgiving. Clem is quickly separated from adults she can trust and thrown into a world stripped kindness and hope, and the best she can hope for is simple survival. In terms of gameplay, the combat sequences feel much more demanding—I had more deaths in this one episode (very gruesome, upsetting deaths) than in the entire first season. It’s doubly upsetting because it’s Clem, a child.
While the gameplay is simple, what makes The Walking Dead a fantastic game is the way it’s told. The cinematography of the game is stunning. Rather than just giving you a fixed view of a scene, a great deal of thought has gone into the way the “camera” sees the shot. An overhead view of Clem in a forest emphasizes how tiny and alone she is, followed by a POV shot that emphasizes just how little she can see as she struggles to walk. Another scene is shot in an extreme close-up as Clem attempts to thread a needle in perhaps the most upsetting scene in the entire series. What would have been a cutscene in another game becomes a harrowing setpiece in The Walking Dead.
But the meat of the game (pardon the expression) is still in the difficult moral choices the characters face. There’s rarely a “right” choice to make in the sense of gameplay; you can lie, cheat, and steal, or tell the truth and show mercy, and you’ll still end up in the same general situation. The difference is in how you feel about it.
Telltale set a high hurdle for themselves after season 1, and with season 2, they’ve more than cleared it. The first series took a long time establishing and destroying a series of shaky alliances, but now Clem has to make due without anyone to trust. I can’t wait to see what happens next.
Read our review of each episode of The Walking Dead: The Game – Season 2
Genre: Survival horror
Format: Digital download
Developer: Telltale Games
Requirements: OS X 10.6, 2.3 GHz Intel processor, 4 GB hard disk space, 512 MB Nvidia or ATI graphics card
Price: $24.99 (includes all five episodes)
Availability: Out now