The second season of The Walking Dead is, in more than a sense, the most important game Telltale has made so far. It might also be the most important one they ever will make. Why? Season one was not just a runaway winner of “game of the year” awards, it was a game that hit it home with a more mainstream audience than any of their previous games. Tales of Monkey Island might have been playing with the holy grail of adventure gaming, but it's not a series your proverbial mother would know.
So here we are; season two. Does it live up to the quality of the first season? In a word, "no". Not really. It could have, but it doesn't. I can of course not judge the season on one game alone -- the first season got increasingly better with each episode -- but “All That Remains” falls short for me on a few levels, one that really grinds my gears. It's not a bad game , and it's one you all should buy (as you will). It just falls short of my somewhat lofty expectations.
The first big misstep comes early on, and it's one that lingers. After an opening scene that is quite heartbreaking (followed by the aftermaths months later with indications that even worse things having happened after it) the game takes a turn for the contrived. I will not spoil what actually happens, other than it involves a killing that does not make sense. At all. Every bit of it is nonsense. I sat back with an impression that Telltale really wanted to pull on your heartstrings to evoke the melancholy you might have experienced during the darker scenes of season one.
It did not work.
It is a contrived scene, one that shamelessly tries, and fails, to recreate some of season one's magic. And in this case, this scene alone soured my overall experience of “All That Remains”. It might only be one scene, but it's intregal -- essential -- to the overall plot, and it's hard to shake off the feeling it leaves you with.
Note that I use the word “scene” a lot. Most of the game takes place in very constricted areas, with a limited amount of interaction and a complete lack of traditional puzzles. Telltale has shied away from these for a while now, and with “All That Remains” they truly have gone all the way. There are simply no puzzles in the game. There are interactions with objects, sure, but none that could be considered puzzles.
The action sequences don't add much either. I had some issues with the controls in The Wolf Among Us, but that wasn't the case here. I was instead left with incredibly easy scenes, ones that took very little effort to complete.
Now, I'm not one who needs traditional, complicated puzzles -- I'm kind of glad they're gone -- but just a bit more complexity would have gone a long way here. Instead I finished the game in an hour and a half, which seems a tad on the short side.
And good god do I sound like I hate the game. Yet I don't. Not at all.
I am, if anything, frustrated that these things get in the way of what could have been a downright great episode. If I could close my eyes and forget that one scene that really ticked me off, I could have forgiven both the simplicity of the puzzles and some oddities throughout the game.
See, the writing here is as good as ever. The characters have unique personalities, and there are many hints of intriguing backstories to them. The dialogue, as with season one, is excellent. You feel like you're in the midst of a group of people with real problems, problems that stretch beyond those of surviving a world full of zombies.
The atmosphere? Every bit as good as you could expect, with immersive (though small) locations, backed by Jared Emerson-Johnson's fantastic soundtrack. Clementine's interaction with the other characters are as intense as always; watching that timer tick down while you're trying to come up with what you feel is the “correct” response is exhilarating.
If we see more of these Walking Dead-isms throughout the season, I will probably look back at my issues -- or issue -- and says, “should I really have cared that much?”
Right now, I feel that it's a valid concern; will we see more of these contrived scenes in the future? Will they be as integral to the plot as this scene was to “All That Remains”?
And frankly, it is OK to care about these things. I, like many, really enjoy The Walking Dead. Season one has been one of adventure gaming's true highlights in many, many years. Some might say it put adventure gaming back on the map, even though it wasn't a traditional, old-school “Adventure Game 2.0” type of game.
Either way. You will of course purchase “All That Remains”. You have likely already picked up the season pass. As you should have. I have a feeling the general annoyance that spoiled the game for me will be a distant memory as the season progresses.
Or at least I hope so.