Media have changed over the years. Gaming for most of us used to be a case of playing a title to death for weeks, or months, before we had enough pocket money to get something new. We destroyed hard games and found all the nooks and crannies. TV used to be about watching multiple episodes of a series over a period of time, often in fuzzy-vision thanks to the VHS tape you’d used to capture that particular week’s The X-Files. Nowadays things have switched around to some extent. Those of us who experienced the above can probably now afford a new game immediately after finishing one. We might not have time to play it, but still. Equally with box sets, on demand and the advent of Netflix you can binge-watch an entire series, or all seasons of a given show. In fact, in some cases it’s positively encouraged when a new show drops the whole season on the same day. Now, what this entirely strained opening has been building to, is that The Walking Dead: Season Two is a very intriguing beast. It’s episodic gaming in binge-play mode. On loading up episode one, we had three things on our minds: how would it compare to other Telltale games, how compelled would we be to jump straight into episode two and so on and finally, how different an experience would we have versus those who played it episodically over the past year.
The first thing to note is that upon starting our journey on the PlayStation 4, everything looked gorgeous. The cel shaded art style is still wonderful and looks better than before, even though it’s basically the same. There were no obvious technical issues on our entire playthrough either, something which plagued the Xbox 360 version for sure. It’s also worth pointing out that there is no save transfer functionality if you played Season one on a different system. Nor is there any funky solution like with Mass Effect for example. You’re stuck with the story Telltale have defined up to that point. Of course, the impact of personal choice in The Walking Dead is limited anyway, despite the facade put up in-game.
As we played through the episodes we stopped after each to reflect and to compare this experience with The Digital Fix’s first playthrough. It was incredibly interesting to see how perceptions were different based on how the game was played. Specifically, the characterisation of Clem and various other characters came across very differently with everything very fresh in mind, rather than long-forgotten, or digested ten times over. Clem’s growth over Season two was remarkably well-drawn. Episode one was a bit wobbly but things were brought back and her arc was incredibly strong and as well-written as and from season one. The other characters were a mixed bunch though, that’s for sure. Ones introduced early on were often two-dimensional and of no interest. As the season progressed though, characters like Jane, and others like Nick who gained more screentime, became fully-rounded individuals who you cared for, or hated, rooted for, or shouted down. By the season’s end this was of great importance. There was a big choice to make, of course, but the answer will have been obvious to each and every player based on what had gone before. There’s more than one answer, too. It’s never black and white.
Overall the game was incredibly compelling. Especially the final few episodes. By then there was a strong desire to play on and see what happens story-wise but also to the people you’re spending time with. There was a definite high in episode three with a stunning end, cathartic in many ways. The season never topped this but it kept up its high quality right the way through to whichever ending your choices led you to. In fact, season two was more compelling than season one in many ways. It might not have had the Lee - Clem relationship, but it did have a few which got close. Alongside that what was happening was a step-up, as you’d expect in a sequel. Playing through episodically led our reviewer to state a firm preference for season one. Here? Season two is preferred. There are obviously other variables than just how quickly the episodes were played through and the message is really that your personal experience will vary to others’, and it will be impacted by how you play it, but whatever you do, you will enjoy it. Of that there is no question.
Telltale Games demonstrate the illusion of choice. The focus is always on whether the choices you make have any significant impact or are they just magical distractions. It doesn’t really matter. What has been proven with The Walking Dead: Season Two is that Telltale tell great tales. They write fabulous characters. In amongst all of this they have throwaway sequences, disappointments and ridiculous individuals. They define the start and end-points and we get to walk a random path between them. That path we draw is our own and comparing to someone else’s shows that impact of choices is irrelevant, but the decision itself is key. If we had to we’d encourage each and every one of you to play Telltale games as a season; to experience more of what Telltale have provided and avoid the chance to spend weeks and months poring over everything and persuading yourself something was wrong when really it was very right. But ultimately whichever you choose you’ll get a piece of narrative as strong as anything and it’ll be a ball along the way.