The Walking Dead has now entered its second season, kicking things off with Episode 1: All That Remains. After the enormous popularity of season one, Telltale have a huge act to follow to keep fans just as engaged as they were before, but do they live up to expectations or crumble under the pressure?
Following on a little while after the events of season one, All That Remains sees Clementine, slightly taller and less doe-eyed than we remember her, taking centre stage as humanity tries to survive the zombie apocalypse. It’s certainly not going to be an easy ride for our heroine, but Telltale were never ones to make it so. As to not spoil the story, that’s about as much as I’ll give you on the plot, but I can assure you that All That Remains is just as emotional as ever, and is at times heart-breaking, shocking and thrilling.
For those who haven’t played the previous instalments, The Walking Dead follows Telltale’s standard formula, much like its predecessor. A blend of point-and-click actions, QTEs and bundles of conversation options, the game is relatively simple to pick up and play, yet is one that demands your care and attention. With an intense story, you simply can’t afford to doze off during the game’s slower moments, because before you know it a zombie will be eating your face. This works well, as often in games with less urgency you can become indifferent to the plot, or simply lose track of where it’s going. In The Walking Dead, however, the story is what really pushes the game forward at a steady pace, and is what leaves you wanting even more with the conclusion of each episode.
With that said, it is definitely the story and characters of The Walking Dead that sets it apart from the crowd and where All That Remains really shines. Not only is the story well-paced, but it is engrossing, keeping you on the edge of your seat in the same way that a real page-turner of a book does. And our new main character, Clementine, is a big part of this engrossing tale.
Having lost her parents, her surrogate father, and all of her companions, our young heroine has not had an easy time of things in this new world infested by zombies. Yet despite all the troubles that she has faced, Clementine consistently brushes herself off, puts on a brave face, and gets on with things. However, while she does try her best, it is made very clear that the young girl is heavily weighed down by the things she has seen, and the things she has had to learn to keep herself alive. While Clementine often seems strong and well put together, in All That Remains we see the cracks in her thick armour that perhaps weren’t as obvious in season one. It’s the dynamics between her vulnerability and strength that makes Clementine so hugely relatable and appealing, and keeps players consistently interested in her character. We genuinely feel for her and want her to succeed, both when she breaks down and when she’s fired up, and it works wonderfully.
With the focus of this season of The Walking Dead shifted from Lee to Clementine, the immediate danger has also somewhat changed. Unlike with Lee, where we felt as though death could be lurking around every corner, Clementine somehow feels physically untouchable. Though she will face her fair share of zombies, we can be quietly confident she won’t succumb to any life-threatening injuries, because it just doesn’t seem to fit where the story is going. That’s not to say there is no longer a threat, however, because Clementine is instead much more mentally fragile. This means how she develops as a person and responds to the people around her will be hugely interesting to see as the season progresses. We could see her become cold and closed-off to the world, descend into an emotional wreck, or perhaps, just maybe, be the same level-headed Clementine we’ve always known. This unsure future feels to be the true pinnacle of the story, as Clementine’s journey is just as much one of growing up as it is staying alive. This uncertainty is necessary for a game like The Walking Dead, as if we could predict everything right from the start, there would be no point in picking up the next episode.
The possibility of branching and conflicting personalities is reflected through the choices you can make in conversations, which have a significant effect on the character you build for Clementine. From the offset you can choose to throw her past away or lament over it at every opportunity, through both the actions you choose and the things you say. This means players could have a very different experience in their playthrough of the game, depending on whether they choose to make Clementine’s focus on the here and now or for her to remain a more reflective character. This aspect brings players much closer to the character they help to mould, which is a great choice for Telltale to enable them to mix up the formula from season one. Lee was generally a nice guy no matter what happened, but our once innocent Clementine has the potential to be much crueler in the face of adversary.
It’s not just the story that keeps the game afloat, however, as All That Remains is also paced very well. With moments of quieter, decision making sections wedged in between intense chase scenes when you’ll be madly scrambling for the right buttons, there is a lot to keep your attention held. This makes the relatively short 1.5 hours you’re likely to spend on the episode feel well worth your time, as you are not aimlessly swanning around for an hour but constantly engaged. The contrast between the simple puzzle solving exercises and the more urgent action scenes make for a very enjoyable and balanced experience.
The game also does well to keep you on edge, as even in the calmer moments, you never feel entirely comfortable with the circumstances. This is enhanced by the soundtrack, which is sometimes subtle but still works beautifully to set the scene. Quiet is not certainly not comforting, as when you’re investigating an abandoned bathroom, you’d probably welcome a little heavy breathing to tell you if something is behind that cubicle door or not. However, when a noise does pierce the silence and catch you off guard, you can be sure your heart will jump from your chest. This adds a lot of tension to the experience, and the game as a whole would not be nearly as successful had Telltale not put so much focus into creating intense atmospheres.
Overall, All That Remains is a strong start to the season, and it really does pack a punch despite the fact it is only the start of things to come. Building up the narrative that will be sure to blossom in the coming chapters, and already pushing us to the limits with tough choices and intense scenes, our first taste of Clementine’s journey has all the ingredients it needs to keep fans hooked. With little to no problems other than the odd graphical stutter, the episode is near flawless, just so long as point-and-click stories are your thing. That said, with all the groundwork already laid out for them and the fanbase waiting on each episode with baited breath, was there really much room for Telltale to get this wrong? We’ll have to wait and see how the season develops to really find out.