Telltale’s “The Walking Dead Season 2”

A review.
A portrait photograph of Gareth Latty.

I just finished episode five of (the game) The Walking Dead Season 2, and while it was definitely a really good experience, I have definitely come out of it less happy than I did out of season 1.

I’m sure part of that is just expectations and being a sequel. It’s hard to do right. That said, I feel that they went the right direction with it, and I enjoyed it on the whole. This episode, however, I felt constantly frustrated by the lack of options available to me.

It’s a constant problem for these kinds of games - the reality is that producing branching storylines is incredibly expensive - event a few trivial branches means having to produce a stupidly large amount of content, that a good portion of your players will only see a small fraction of. Telltale’s games have therefore always been about creating the feel of agency over what is going on, rather than necessarily giving you the opportunity to change the story massively. The plot will always go A to B, and the changes will be mostly cosmetic. That’s fine, it’s the only viable way to do these things.

The issue comes that they simply didn’t (for me at least), get that right this time. I was constantly watching the conversation scroll by, unable to do anything where it was obvious I (as Clementine) should act. I was constantly not given the choices I wanted to make.

It’s common for these kinds of games to suffer from choices lacking nuance or not allow you to progress the way you want. This breaks immersion and leaves you frustrated. Telltale have been really good at making the options work, at making the plot feel as though you were driving it, and that really fell apart for me in this episode.

It’s disappointing, and I think it all stems from the root of the plot they set out to make - the idea of season 2 was that you would evolve Clementine as you went, that she would be the person you made her through your choices, building on Lee’s mentorship in the previous series. This rang hollow when the options were simply not there, where it didn’t really matter. As much as I loved the idea, it may well have made a satisfying ending to the series impossible.

The game is still a good one, and I enjoyed it overall, but - as with Mass Effect 3 - this was a bittersweet ending for me. It simply didn’t hold me in the same way as the first season. Instead of being completely in the role and feeling the situation, my immersion was broken and I was annoyed that none of the options available to me were ones that expressed what I wanted Clementine to be in that situation.

Games like this that are built around immersion have to be incredibly careful with how they construct themselves, at every point. It feels like Telltale missed the mark here.