The Walking Dead Season 2 Episode 1 Review
The sophomore syndrome: a barrier many artists embrace when following up a widely successful debut. It’s something that can solidify reputations or kill momentum completely. Telltale’s video game adaptation of the Walking Dead franchise became a colossal beneficiary of success: its five episodes combined sold millions, reinvigorated the stagnant adventure game genre and accumulated a laundry list of year-end gaming awards. Season One’s emotional conclusion simultaneously broke hearts and left players desperate to find out the fate of the young protagonist, Clementine. The question is, however, with the return of Season Two, does premiere episode All That Remains buckle under the weight of all the hype and expectation from those invested in young Clementine’s journey? Yes and no.
All That Remains opens to an intermittently peaceful time for Clementine with fellow survivors Christa and Omid; this is tragically cut short as she makes a profound yet nonetheless understandable error in judgement during a stop at a rest station. Without giving anything away, it’s a significantly shocking introduction that forever shatters the young girl’s innocence. No longer a helpless child, Clementine is forced to grow up – quickly.
The episode progresses sixteen months and sets a visibly older Clementine through a series of frightening trials, demonstrating the tough demeanour required to survive in a world where no one can be trusted. It’s a familiar theme that once again abounds when Clementine stumbles upon a new group. They are immediately divided in their reluctance to welcome her and, though what we learn of each them is vague, it would seem All That Remains is laying the framework for the same interpersonal relationships that defined the first Season.
Therein lies the rub with All That Remains, however. Set to a relatively empty narrative, the episode’s most memorable moments rely on gratuity and excessively uncomfortable imagery. And unlike the immediately tense rivalries established in the premiere episode of the first season, All That Remains does not as skilfully introduce its supporting cast. There’s the genial and seemingly kind leader, a fiercely protective Father and his daughter who is hinted at being autistic; in fact, that she is noted to have been shielded from the chaotic and unforgiving reality outside of her bedroom is perhaps the most potential story arc one can glean from All That Remains. The certain warmth of a Kenny or Carly is missing but what is clear is diplomacy will be crucial to Clementine’s survival.
As the episode’s most harrowing and vulnerable moments occur when Clementine is alone (when forced to tend to a wound on her own, one will uncomfortably sympathise and squirm) the heart of the story presents an assumption that the drama is to be pitched at Clementine’s journey through the long tunnel of surviving sorrow at a young age. Tempering what must be noted as an increased measure of violence are lighter moments sensitively accentuated through the elegant graphics. What Clementine does not actually express in words we can see what she feels in reaction to harsh events from facial features gripped by fear, anguish, despair and the sparse sense of relief.
Visually, All That Remains shows a delightful improvement in how the characters emote through wordless moments. The whole graphical interface looks even more polished and cleaner, with a much more refined texture in the environments. We still have the lagging frame rates and minor bugs, but on the whole The Walking Dead is still one of the most gorgeous graphic adventures out there. The same can be lauded of the voice acting, which sets at a high calibre – particularly from Melissa Hutchison as the dynamic lead.
The singular clawing problem with this episode is the impact of choice feeling, well, rather absent. Only the decision forced upon Clementine at the episode’s conclusion seems to bear any tangible variables on the plot. Everything else is linearly pre-determined, from Clementine’s encounter with a stray dog to being locked up in a shed. The episode is perhaps the most clearly mapped out narrative thus far and for those who have replayed The Walking Dead to death for the sake of experimenting, this is somewhat disappointing. While Telltale certainly remain at the forefront of cinematic storytelling, the interactivity feels less prevalent than in previous episodes.
All That Remains compensates handsomely, however, in gauging the player’s connection with Clementine through some excellent action sequences clearly inspired from Telltale’s other project, The Wolf Among Us. A few tweaks to the mechanics is a welcome change, as well. As a result, the handful harrowing moments effectively convey the empathy Clementine inspires in anyone that has invested in the character. Hopefully the franchise adds a bit more emphasis to the gameplay by balancing out some challenging puzzles to go with the rather straightforward item solutions.
Moulding Clementine into your own character is All That Remains’ most enticing lure. The player is given options to allow Clementine to maintain a genteel disposition in the palm of conflict; they can attempt to exploit her youthful charms to emotionally manipulate; they can even shockingly attempt to blackmail a pregnant woman who poses a threat to Clementine being accepted by the group. In the gaming landscape, a character study this provocative and questionable is such a unique concept rarely explored.
Ultimately, though, there are plenty of unanswered questions left over from the first season and the characters introduced in 400 Days. All That Remains doesn’t quite address the gravity of decisions made in Season One or paint a solid frame of where the overarching story is headed. It does, though, more than enough to ensure importance in Clementine’s evolution, who easily remains the emotional chamber piece of the series.