The Walking Dead – Season 2: Episode 1: All That Remains
Developer: Telltale Games
Platform: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
The wait is over. The sequel to Telltale’s award winning The Walking Dead has finally been released. I’ll be completely honest, I was checking the PS Store all day for the game, and immediately downloaded it, once it was available. I was very excited for the game and fortunately, I was mostly satisfied with how the first episode turned out.
WARNING! This review contains spoilers where indicated.
All That Remains puts us in the shoes of Clementine, the little girl we had to protect in the first season. With the player now controlling a 10-11 year old child, the dynamic of the game feels very different. Compared to the adult Lee from the first game, Clementine feels more limited, more innocent and less confident, which provides a very different feel to the character interactions. Just like in real life, adults treat children like Clementine differently than each other. In all other aspects the game is very similar to the first season, with the exception of some minor updates, gameplay is essentially the same. What is disappointing however is that the game has technical problems: the same stuttering/framerate drops that sometimes happened in Season 1 are still around. It’s not too bad, and doesn’t take away much from the game, but even so, a small 800 megabyte game like this shouldn’t have these kinds of issues. I also wish the episode had been a bit longer as it only takes about 90-120 minutes to complete.
Before continuing on, I must warn everyone that I’m going to spoil events from the game because it is the only way to properly review it, unfortunately. I won’t be spoiling everything, but there are things I need to mention in order to give proper critique, or else I wouldn’t have any examples to back up my claims. If you don’t want to be spoiled, I recommend you skip ahead to the final score. Otherwise read on.
As much as I hate to say it, All That Remains starts off rather poorly. The beginning restroom scene is intense and ultimately heartbreaking, but also feels very contrived and poorly designed from a gameplay standpoint. This results in the player’s immersion being broken in the very first scene of the game. Clementine, Omid and Christa from Season 1 arrive at a rest stop, and go into separate restrooms, Clementine going into one, Omid and Christa in the other. After Clementine drops her water bottle in the restroom and goes to retrieve it, she leaves her gun on the sink. This results in a survivor named Michelle coming in, taking the gun and holding Clementine at gunpoint. Shortly after, Omid enters, startles Michelle, who accidently kills him. Then Christa comes in and kills the defenseless Michelle.
This scene would normally be dark and heartbreaking, however there is one very important thing that can easily ruin it for people: flawed game design. Between Clementine putting down her gun and her going for the bottle, the game gives the player control. This is the problem: immediately upon receiving control, my very first instinct was to pick up the gun – but the game would not let me. The game forced me to leave it and go for the bottle defenseless. This small but important aspect of the game design instantly broke my immersion. From here on, I knew what to expect and I knew that Omid’s death was something that the game forced upon me. You see the problem isn’t that Omid died, or that I couldn’t save him, it’s that the game gave me the opportunity to pick up the gun, but wouldn’t let me pick it up, because I wasn’t supposed to pick it up. I was supposed to leave it because Omid was supposed to get shot. The problem isn’t that there was no way to save him, the problem is that there was a way to save him – the game simply didn’t let you do it.
What makes this disappointing is that this could have been very easily fixed: simply make a cutscene, where immediately after dropping the bottle, Clementine instinctively goes after it into the bathroom stall. This would have been a believable situation, where a momentary lapse of judgement leads to a character’s death. Instead we can mess around for as long as we want before going after the bottle, leaving ample time to pick up the gun but we aren’t allowed to so that Omid can be killed off. This makes Omid’s death feel cheap and easily preventable, leaving the player with a feeling that the writers and developers didn’t think the scene through, and killed him off only so that they could have a strong, dark beginning for the episode.
This is something The Walking Dead has been accused of in the past, that the player’s choices don’t truly matter. I’ll be honest, All That Remains isn’t a good example to counter this accusation. The game starts with the aforementioned scene and then goes through a linear storyline, and there’s only one choice at the very end that seems to have an actual impact. However, as with the first season of the game, I don’t think this is a bad thing. There are many instances in real life where our choices don’t matter, and even more instances in games and TV shows. Take The Walking Dead TV show: at one point in season 3, protagonist Rick Grimes chases an inmate through a prison but loses him, due to being unfamiliar with the area. Regardless of what choice he made, he lost the prisoner, which inevitably causes serious problems later. You see I think that as long as something is done believably, it doesn’t matter if the player’s choice is pointless. This is why Season 1 of the game was so good: most events and character deaths were done in a believeable way, making the player believe that there was no way to change the outcome, and thus never breaking the player’s immersion.
To its credit, All That Remains does get better as it goes on, and manages to recover from the weak intro, and ultimately ends up grabbing the player with good writing and a believable, immersive storyline and characters. However after such a great first season, the begining of All That Remains feels very jarring, and if I were working at Telltale, I’d change the beginning part where Clementine goes for the bottle in the restroom stall into a cutscene with a patch. If it weren’t for that part, All That Remains would have been a much better start to Season 2. Even so, the rest of the episode is full of great moments and ultimately leaves you wanting more. So much so in fact, that I honestly don’t know how I’m going to endure the wait for the next episode!
The Final Word
The second season of The Walking Dead starts off strong, with some unfortunate problems that keep it from being truly great. If the episode had been a bit longer, and the first playable scene in the restroom had been better written and less immersion-breaking, it would have been pretty much perfect. As it is, All That Remains is still a good start for what is likely going to be an amazing second season. If you like The Walking Dead or Telltale’s style of adventure games, don’t miss out on this!
– MonsterVine Rating: 4 out of 5 – Good