Game Review: The Walking Dead Season Two

(The following review contains SPOILERS for season one of The Walking Dead game.)

I have no idea why it took me so long to play this because I love Telltale’s adventure games and this one’s been sitting in my Steam library for a few months now.

Season two picks up several months after the first season’s end. Clementine is now traveling with Omid and Christa. After things go south very quickly in the game’s opening scenes, Clementine finds herself alone in the wilderness with no help in sight. The events that follow will test her morals and survival instincts.

If the dominant emotion I felt while playing the first season was sadness, the emotion I felt the most during season two was rage. The second season seemed tailor made to make me angry, and not in a “the controls are broken and this game is terrible” way.  I was angry at the characters, I was angry at the way things kept getting worse all the time, and I was especially angry at Telltale Games for making me feel so angry.

As I said in my previous review of the first season, the zombies almost take a backseat to the interpersonal drama. In fact, the apocalypse could have been, well, anything, and you’d still have desperate people scavenging for survival and being despotic overlords of their own insular communities. Season two gives you a cast of mostly likable characters, so it’s all the more heartbreaking because the player knows that at least some of them will become zombie food (if their fellow survivors don’t kill them first). Even though I knew their deaths were very likely inevitable, I couldn’t help but get attached to Sarah, the sheltered daughter of the doctor in a group Clem meets, or Rebecca, who definitely started off on the wrong foot with Clem but slowly warms up to her. There are also some really great character moments for Clementine, who has been forced to grow up way too fast by the events in the first and second seasons.

The art is the same cell-shaded art of their other adventure games, and it’s only improved since the first season. I didn’t notice the music very much, however, the sad piano music during one of the credits sequences and the return of a familiar track from the first game really had an impact on me.

Few games are perfect, and when compared to the first one, I felt that the second season lacks the raw emotional depth of its predecessor, that is not to say that it doesn’t have its moments where it gets to you–the ending I got made me equal parts angry, frustrated, and sad, but I feel like it’s difficult to care about the characters when you know from experience that the game is going to screw you over. The episodes are also pretty short. Steam has me clocked in at eighteen hours for the first game, and fifteen hours for the second, although, 400 days might have given me a few extra hours. I also found that the prompts for QTEs sometimes blended in to the rest of the scene, but unlike the first game, I was never really stuck on a particular sequence.

As for potentially triggering content, if you thought you’d be spared a gory fate because you’re a child, think again. Clementine can be eaten by zombies, shot in the face, and has to stitch up a wound while fully conscious and aware, a scene that leaves absolutely nothing to the imagination. As a dog lover, there’s also the death of a dog in the first episode that is particularly heartbreaking. Although the cast is pretty diverse, the only same-sex couple (and even then it’s not outright stated they are a couple, just that one is the other’s “partner”) doesn’t even last half an episode compared to the other couples in the game.

At this point, it seems kind of redundant to say that I enjoyed my time with this game, because Telltale Games could make an adventure game about conceivably anything and I would love it to pieces. If you’ve played Season 1 and 400 Days, you’ve probably already beaten this one. If you haven’t tried this series before, you’ll want to start with the first one (and 400 Days).

Interactive Fiction Wednesday: The Hero of Kendrickstone, Choice of the Petal Throne, Champion of the Gods

Originally I was going to give each of these a separate review, but as they all approach the fantastical in different ways, I thought I’d save time and review all three of them at once.

All three of these are hosted by Choice of Games, you can buy them on their website or on Steam (please consider supporting them on Steam so that more of their titles will appear there). The Hero of Kendrickstone is by Paul Wang (who also wrote Mecha Ace), Choice of the Petal Throne is by Danielle Goudeau (although the source material is by M.A.R. Barker) and Champion of the Gods is by Jonathan Valuckas. In a nutshell, The Hero of Kendrickstone is standard European medieval fantasy, Choice of the Petal Throne is fantasy influenced by South American, Middle Eastern, and Indian cultures and traditions, and Champion of the Gods is inspired by Greek myth and epics. Choice of the Petal Throne is the shortest of the three, whereas Hero of Kendrickstone is the longest, with 240,000 words.

Here are some comments on the individual games.

The Hero of Kendrickstone

Of the three, this one is closest to “comfort food” for people who like D&D. Dragons? Check? Option to play as a Warrior, Rogue, Mage, or Bard? Check. Random apostrophes everywhere? Check. It’s also one of the few CoG games I’ve played with the option to play a non-binary character. The writing style is to the point, not flowery, also not the best I’ve seen in a CoG game (IMHO) but certainly not bad. You can fall in love with a lady knight and one of your patrons is a disabled wizard of colour. Also in your first scene you can kill a dragon by tricking him into knocking down a wall of his cave, and that’s awesome.

If the Hero of Kendrickstone has any flaws, it’s that it rewards rigidly sticking to your chosen archetype, which is fine if you’re a purist, but not so much if you want to get the best ending with a character who dabbles a little in everything, or even if you aren’t that familiar with your character’s role.  Although CoG games have made me cry in the past, the story didn’t really have the emotional impact of the site’s other offerings.

I would recommend The Hero of Kendrickstone if you’re looking for a safe, by-the-numbers, beer and pretzels sort of story. If you’re looking for something a little less “standard”, see my comments for Choice of the Petal Throne below.

Choice of the Petal Throne

Like Choice of the Deathless, Choice of the Petal Throne is based on an established world, in this case, the world of Tekumel (accent on the first “e”) which spans a number of novels, a roleplaying game with both official and unofficial conversions to various systems, and possibly other media I am not aware of as Choice of the Petal Throne is the first I’d heard of it. The world of Tekumel is vast and inspired by a range of non-European cultures and traditions. Naturally, I was all over it when it came to Steam. The writing style is flowery and the story involves politicking, intrigue, epic military fights, and an underground journey to find a mysterious magical artifact.

Unfortunately, as much as I wanted to like it, Choice of the Petal Throne has a couple of shortcomings. The first is that it is very short (even for a CoG game) and just as I was getting invested in the story, the game came to an abrupt end (although I became a pirate so, yay, I guess?). The second major flaw is that it feels like you need to be familiar with the world of Tekumel before playing it, and although the addition of (several) glossaries helps a lot, the game is constantly throwing unfamiliar terms your way, and naming conventions, honorifics, and the like can be pretty confusing at times. This is such a shame, because I feel like the world is vast with plenty of potential, but the game itself doesn’t feel robust enough to do it justice.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a terrible game and I enjoyed my time with it, but this is one I’d recommend getting on sale. It just feels like a lot of potential was wasted when this could have easily been a stellar entry in the CoG family.

Champion of the Gods

Do you remember Clash of the Titans? Yeah, that silly movie. Champion of the Gods is like every corny movie that in some way references Greek mythology. The writing and dialogue is peppered with references to your destiny, you have a great destiny, you must fulfill your destiny.  You must defeat this great evil because destiny says so, your destiny. I can’t tell if the author was intentionally trying to be cheesy or if it just turned out that way. If Hero of Kendrickstone is an average, safe fantasy movie and Choice of the Petal Throne is a big budget production that looks pretty but never explains what the heck is going on, Champion of the Gods is so bad, it’s good.

Perhaps this is surprising, but I think my biggest problem with this entry was the writing, it just seems so overwrought sometimes, and repetitious. Yes, I know, destiny, destiny is important. I also thought that one of the final quests seemed to come out of nowhere, and I seemed to have lost track of my love interest (I’m pretty sure she died). The horoscope (where you are given a unique horoscope according to your character’s personality) is an interesting idea, as are the Gifts and the sight, but at times they almost felt unnecessary, just things that were there to highlight the fact that you had a great destiny.

I think the biggest problem that all these games share is that while they are not bad, they didn’t grab me like Choice of the Deathless or affect me emotionally like Choice of Robots (I never thought a game about robots could make me cry). They are certainly not bad, but I wouldn’t say they are the best CoG has to offer.