Wot I Think: The Walking Dead Episode Two

By Adam Smith on July 9th, 2012 at 7:00 pm.

I almost reached the point at which it seemed prudent to board up every possible data point through which new zombie media might break into my computer or television. Zombies were dead to me. Things have changed. The most surprisingly engrossing corpse to shamble into sight has been Telltale’s Walking Dead series. The first episode was bleak, character-driven drama and I found myself unblocking the entry points and actually waiting for more ghoulish guests to arrive. It took a while but the second course is here and so is wot I think.

In the fairly decent pilot episode of The Walking Dead TV series there’s a scene where a man says, “Not the ones they put down. The ones they didn’t – the walkers”. Today, we’re not putting a Walker down but we are putting one aside as I take over the reigns of this ongoing critique of Telltale’s latest from John. That’s partly because a second pair of eyes might offer a variety of opinion but primarily because our very own adventure man is having a post-Rezzed holiday. To bring us up to speed – and that’s definitely Romero speed – on all things Walking Dead, here are some opinions.

The source, Kirkman’s comic series, enthralled me for a good portion of its run to date. For a while it was essential reading, on or near the day of release. That was until the Governor plot dehumanised the remaining humans to such an extent that I decided it was time for a break. I haven’t gone back since. It felt as if the riffs on the well-trodden zombie story had reached an endpoint, a mire of disgust and extremes, and I didn’t particularly want to watch the remains of the remaining characters limp to the next catastrophe. Maybe one day I will.

I was hugely excited about the television show but, like many people, the promise of the pilot wasn’t enough to make me stick with the banality that soon followed. Then the first episode of the game came along and reminded me why I’d loved the comics when a friend first introduced me to them. Believable characters, a likeable lead and a horror made more horrible by its presence in a collapsing but recognisable world. There were also grim choices to be made, literal life or death decisions, and dialogue sequences in which emotions flew high and mistakes were made, a response selected out of panic and momentary indecision.

Episode two needed to continue with the quality of storytelling while proving that those choices, whether major or minor, had a significant impact on occurrences down the line. The combination of those two things seems the greatest challenge for the development team because the further from a single decision events move, the more branches and offshoots it might create.

There are spoilers for episode one from here on in.

I saved Carley, a lady who doesn’t know how to use batteries in episode one, leaving Doug the techie to be dragged screaming into the slathering mob and devoured. She was a good shot, I reasoned, she had kindly kept my secrets. She was also holding a gun and if we lost her, we would most likely lose the gun as well. Oh, and there are jokes about the batteries suggesting that at least one person at Telltale found that particular blunder as ridiculous as everyone not at Telltale.

Having a character live who would otherwise be dead and a character die who would otherwise be living presumably makes a fairly significant difference. While I regretted my choice at times, particularly when dealing with an electric fence and, more significantly perhaps, because of the gnawing guilt, the gun did come in handy. The Walking Dead isn’t about guns or barricades though, handy as they are, it’s about people and in the second episode this is more clear than ever by virtue of the fact that the zombies are barely a threat at all.

Starvation is the first enemy, with an opening scene that takes place a few months after the end of the first episode. The band of survivors, more fractured than The Beatles circa Let It Be, are out of food and out of patience. Lee begins the episode on a hunting trip which ends with a scene that I thought might be the bloodiest I’d see in a good while. Turns out it’s not even the goriest scene in the episode.

More than the first, Starved For Help presents itself as a tale of guts and horror, with grand guignol flourishes that aren’t entirely successful. With no rules and little hope, what will people be driven to do to one another? That’s the question asked and, as with the more gratuitous excesses of the comic, Telltale don’t hold back on the misery, suffering and cruelty. Part of me wants to applaud the creation of such a boldly violent and virulent examination of desperation, which suits the striking visual style brilliantly. The thick lines and exaggerated expressions convey the carnage well and it’s amazing the difference that it makes seeing a person suffer as opposed to seeing a zombie unflinchingly eviscerated.

The applause doesn’t quite come though; there’s a part of me that refuses to join in, meaning one hand tries to clap alone and just sort of wafts at the air. It’s not the quality of execution, although at one point, Lee did drift through a truck during a dialogue sequence, his upper body sticking through the flatbed. There have also been reports of more serious bugs, ones that affect the transition between episodes and what the game ‘remembers’, but I haven’t come across anything like that personally. Apart from the incident with the truck, which was fixed as soon as the camera angle changed, there’s nothing to report on that front.

The problems are more complex. Although Starved For Help is a fine continuation in many ways, some of the subtlety of the first episode has already been lost, which is worrying before even the midpoint of the first season. Amid all the spurting blood, severed limbs and exploding faces it’s easy to lose sight of the more powerful moments. Deciding who to feed the last packet of crackers and cheese to feels like a more meaningful decision than deciding how to deal with a rampaging villain, especially one who exists more to communicate an idea than to represent a possible person.

Any quibbles are about parts of the writing rather than the writing as a whole, which is on a par with the work in episode one, although the big reveal was much more of a shock to Lee than it was to me. That’s not the important part of the game though; it’s the throwaway comments and the characters’ dubious decisions that deserve the most attention. I had Lee tell a new member of the group that obelisk-chinned bully Larry was a racist – I don’t remember having any clear evidence that he is, it just seemed to fit with the way he treated Lee and, hell, I really didn’t like the guy. The way that comment cut through conversations like a dorsal fin changed the tone of all my interactions with him from then on, even when it wasn’t mentioned explicitly. In some way, perhaps small perhaps not, I was the bad guy now.

Small choices haunt or recur pleasingly. I taught Clementine the word ‘manure’ in episode one and she was pleased to show off her new vocabulary later in this episode. I also took a clear side early on when the schism in the group was forming and I’ve stuck to that, even when loyalties become questionable and characters change. Apart from Carley being with us, I don’t think any of my choices changed things massively, not in terms of the events that happen, but the mood of the game belongs to the characters and the things they remember can alter the composure of a confrontation.

Similarly, the work that’s gone into the relationship between Clementine and Lee is some of the strongest in the game. As the situation improves, she turns to him for guidance, to learn and to grow, but when life almost impossibly takes a turn for the worse she becomes withdrawn, needing a protector, a killer even, rather than a calming father figure.

It’s fascinating that in a story that is so intensely grotesque the smaller moments can be seen through the viscera and it’s vital that they shine all the brighter because some of the larger set pieces veer toward farce. There’s also no interactive sequence to match the length of the motel infiltration. Despite the eventual histrionics, the majority of control is in dialogue and simple exploration. I’m fine with that too because the game feels more like an interactive storybook than a puzzle-strewn adventure but where my concerns arise is in the treatment of that storybook’s cast.

The survivors who walk away from the encounters of episode two are going to have even less in common with their audience than your average man about zombietown. If they weren’t all victims of trauma before, they surely are now. That’s risky because the ability to connect is important, it helps me to care for them and to take care over the things I say to them. Four or five hours in (months in game time, of course) they are already a good few atrocities away from the society we know and some of them have been participants as well as witnesses.

Still, even after the horrors seem complete, there’s room for more of those quiet moments. I did something, something that seemed insignificant after everything that had gone before, and Clementine looked at me as if I’d stamped on a bag of kittens. I felt terrible. A single moment of disappointment, betrayal of ideals and sorrow meant more than all the butchery that I’d clawed my way through to protect her. I suddenly realised, stricken by the thought, that if she were to survive into adulthood this would be her world, not Lee’s, because she would almost always have been a part of the brutal new ways. God forbid I be the one to teach them to her.

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33 Comments »

  1. andytizer says:

    It’s a shame that they still haven’t patched in inverted camera controls, making the rest of the series unplayable for me without using some utilities to fix it: http://pcgamingwiki.com/wiki/The_Walking_Dead:_The_Game#No_Invert_Y-Axis_Option

    • Just Endless says:

      I would like to point out that the number of seconds you are controlling a camera, in BOTH EPISODES SO FAR, is probably less than 100.

    • PopeJamal says:

      I’m a diehard inverted y-axis fan, and I haven’t had any real trouble so far, and I’ve finished both episodes.

      In fact, I didn’t realize it was missing until I read about it a few weeks ago.

  2. Drake Sigar says:

    Funny how it’s the small stuff that delights us the most.

  3. Ninja Foodstuff says:

    I enjoyed the back to the future series, and would have probably enjoyed this as much if it had been done to the same standard. But this really does shine.
    Definitely telltale at their best.

  4. theblazeuk says:

    I really enjoyed both this and episode 1, though a bug has tarnished one of the bits I really liked from ep1 – basically the argument between larry and kenny is remembered as me taking both sides, leaving me with both as sources of antagonism. Still nothing perfect eh?

    As for Clem, you made the right choice Adam.

    • Drake Sigar says:

      The “be diplomatic” option right? That’s a common complaint over at the TellTale forums, hopefully they’ll fix that sometime.

      • theblazeuk says:

        Well, my decisions in Ep2 might make it a bit of a non-issue come #3…. but it would have been nice not to have both Larry and Kenny be bitchy with me. Especially since there wasn’t a heartbeat where i would have sided with Larry or said anything in support of him.

      • Magnusm1 says:

        Same problem. I choosed “We reason with him” and then Kenny was mad for choosing Larry’s party.

  5. Sardonic says:

    Without going going into details, I found myself saying “oh, no, no, no, no, no, no, no” out loud as I saw what was coming in the climax of Episode 2. Eagerly awaiting episode 3.

    • theblazeuk says:

      Ditto. I’m so glad I decided what I did though (perhaps the alternative wasn’t an option when I think about it. But would’ve definitely upset my stomach afterwards if it had been)

  6. PopeBob says:

    My saves keep “remembering” I saved Doug, when in fact I saved Carley. I still played through Episode 2, but I am eagerly awaiting the day Telltale actually fixes the myriad bugs in their Steam release.

  7. stretchpuppy says:

    These 2 episodes have been a great change of pace from the norm and I’ve enjoyed them thoroughly.

  8. piesmagicos says:

    Heh i messed up in the first hurdle of episode 2…i felt terrible :( I just….i just couldn’t finish the job in time! Cast a pall over the entire episode and made me desperate to do things right.

  9. Just Endless says:

    Clem: “It’s called a salt lick, but you don’t want to lick it.”
    Lee: “Did you lick it?”


    Clem: “I don’t know.”

    If anyone was on the fence, read that, then read it again until you’re convinced.

  10. DaftPunk says:

    I think second episode was even better then first,i’ll admit the first hald wasn’t that interesting but it was still pretty ok but after that when epispode picked up.. HOLY MOTHER !! Totally shocking stuff ffuc kyeah ^^

  11. Kohlrabi says:

    I guess Telltale didn’t do anything about the horrid audio quality of their releases? This critique is as old as the first Sam and Max episode, and still they don’t do anything about it.

    • DPB says:

      They released an update awhile ago which improved the audio quality of the first episode, which has carried over to the second.

  12. Deano2099 says:

    Interesting reviewing dilemma. I’d like to know how the game has developed, notably if the choices raved about in Ep1 actually carry through to doing stuff differently.

    But a review with spoilers for Ep1 is no use to me as I haven’t decided whether to buy it yet. And there’s not much point in a review for people who already have Ep1, as if they’re PC gamers, that means they already own all the episodes and could just play it….

    • PopeJamal says:

      The broad tone of the relationships and any “life or death” decisions are carried over fairly well.

      They’ve done a decent job of giving you a noticeable amount of variety. It’s more about tone though than branching narrative. The same things usually happen, the NPCs will just either give you a high five or yell at you while it happens depending on whether or not you pissed them off. This seems to carry through to other episodes, so you definitely get a sense of your allies and the agitators in the group.

      I don’t play narrative focused games more than once, but once it’s all said and done, there’s enough variation here that I might actually play through a second time and see how things turn out with different choices.

  13. thepaleking says:

    I had quite a laugh when Clem refers to manure as “shit” in the second episode, due to me saying it in the first episode.

  14. radioactivez0r says:

    I know exactly what moment you are talking about; I felt like a complete ass (Me! Not Lee!) despite the fact that the really terrible stuff I’d done hadn’t seemed to bother her quite as much. This game got under my skin in such a fantastic way. And yeah, I totally saw the reveal coming, but I didn’t care.

  15. PopeJamal says:

    If you’re looking for some type of challenge, then this is definitely not the title you’re looking for. If you’re not interested in the setting, the narrative, or the characters, then you will probably be bored to tears.

    I’ve found it rather fun, but not in the same way as Skyrim, Dead Space, or Left for Dead. There is really zero skill involved. If you “die” you almost instantly get to retry that section again.

    Think of it as point and click adventure (fetch the blue key for the blue door) with very lightweight QTEs (Push ‘E’! Faster!!!!!! Click on the zombie’s face! Hurry!).

  16. mistwolf says:

    I loved the first two eps, but I have to say there were certainly things that didn’t surprise me much. Even the ultimate reveal, which I hadn’t worked out entirely, didn’t quite reach ‘shocking’ as it felt very, I dunno, predictable.

    I think what would have really shocked me was if things HAD been what they seemed on the surface, and yet through misinterpreting clues, we’d screwed it all up. I loved the feel at the start when we were meeting the dairy people, wondering to myself how to handle things. But I never really felt there was much chance that things wouldn’t turn out as over the top Evil as it did.

    I think we’ve come full circle in games where we have to do the ‘shocking twist’ thing so much that we’ve ruled out ever having things be more grey. But as unsure as I was how individual choices would affect my core group over the episode, I could never bring myself to doubt that the seemingly nice people would end up being horrific monsters, and that made me a bit sad.

  17. RPSRSVP says:

    I haven’t played yet, the zombie genre is a complete turn off, never even played L4D.

    Combining the reviews I read, it;’s a good game but I worry about the impact when Activision launches it’s game under the same name.

  18. TJ says:

    This is a really fantastic game – I think I’m more positive about it than Adam. Interview with the devs upcoming i think.

  19. cultiv8ed says:

    I’m still holding off on telltale’s games until they release them for android. I may be waiting a while though :(

  20. int says:

    I still can’t take that grease-paint beard seriously.

  21. Atroscoe says:

    There really is something about the character models that just makes me want to laugh for the most part.

  22. User100 says:

    Episode two needed to continue with the quality of storytelling while proving that those choices, whether major or minor, had a significant impact on occurrences down the line. The combination of those two things seems the greatest challenge for the development team because the further from a single decision events move, the more branches and offshoots it might create.

    Actually, pretty much all of the “decisions” in the game are nothing more than illusions.
    They may have a brief, cosmetic effect on the game, but so far I’ve not seen any long-range effects that were influenced by your actions (other than getting yourself killed, and stopping the game altogether).

    Two examples (somewhat abstracted, to not spoil too much):
    You meet three guys, and have a chance to kill one of them. If you do so, fine, then you go home with two of the other guys. BUT, if you decide NOT to kill him, then some “unfortunate” accident will happen to one of the other guys, and, just like in option one, you go home with *two* guys—not three, as you might’ve hoped…
    Example two: You are asked whether the group should go to location A or B. You decide on A, and everybody goes happily along. Should you decide on B though, there will be a discussion among the group members, who decide that they would much rather to go A; you end up being outvoted, and the group will go to A after all…

    Don’t get me wrong—I loved the two episodes so far, but they’re about as “interactive” as a comic book is: You can decide to turn the page, or NOT to turn the page, but that’s about it, as far as your influence goes.