I rather enjoyed the first season of the Walking Dead game, and liked the second season as well. Not as much as the first perhaps, but it was fun, with an engaging story, and very well-developed characters.
Like all Telltale games, this thing is 90% story, with few interactions outside dialogue choices. But the story is very good, and you don’t really get bored because you’re not pressing a lot of buttons. Anyway, because of that, this review is more about the story than the gameplay, because in general terms, there isn’t a lot of that.
In previous episodes of this season, Clementine, “orphaned” a second time by the loss of her season one guardian Lee, has gone off to survive on her own. She encounters a group of survivors in a cabin in the woods who do not want to take her in initially due to a dog bite that they suspect might be a different kind of bite. She is eventually taken in by the group, who has one big problem apart from the normal survival stuff: a maniac named Carver, who runs a local camp of survivors, wants to take one of their members, Rebecca, because she’s pregnant with his baby. The group was formerly a part of Carver’s group, but escaped because of the afore-mentioned mania. When Carver discovers their house, they leave to find another place, and come across a mountain lodge that seems like the perfect set up. Tons of food, electricity thanks to a wind turbine, and a friendly group of survivors that includes Kenny, a guy from season one who looked like he was going to die, but apparently got out okay. Carver finds them here though, and after wasting a couple of characters, takes the rest back to his fortified hardware store as prisoners (though they’re told they can work off their crimes and eventually rejoin the little society there). Naturally their thoughts turn to escaping a second time, which they do when a horde of zombies (sorry, walkers) descends on the place.
More people die in the escape, and once they are clear, Rebecca is on the verge of giving birth. They search for a safe place to do that, and the best they can find is the gift shop of a local national park / monument. Jane and Clementine find the shop, and have a brief encounter with Arvo, a nerdy Russian kid with a bag full of medicine who Jane disarms and sends on his way (with or without the medicine – you make the decision there). Plenty of walker excitement occurs while securing the place, Rebecca has the baby, and Jane – the kick ass short-haired girl you met at the store – decides to leave, lest she form attachments to the group. When they leave the gift shop, they encounter Arvo again, but this time he’s got a group of Russians with him and they try to rob our heroes. During the encounter Rebecca, who has apparently died fairly unexpectedly due to the strain of the trek (seriously, no one even mentions this beforehand…Rebecca just had a baby, now let’s have her walk for miles and miles in the snow?), begins making walker sounds with the baby in her arms. Clementine either reacts by shooting Rebecca, or calling for help, in which case Kenny shoots her. In either case, the shot fired begins a gunfight with the Russians.
That’s where episode 5 begins.
There’s a standoff with the Russians, during which Luke is shot in the leg, and Kenny is nearly killed before Jane shows back up and saves him. Arvo is taken prisoner when he claims to know a place with some supplies, so they all start following him that way.
They find the place, but it’s on the other side of a frozen lake. So they all carefully make their way across, but the ice cracks and Luke and Bonnie fall in. Clementine refuses to let them go, and tries to save them, falling in herself. She sees Luke dead underwater, and gets pulled out, as did Bonnie apparently. They all get to the house, which is half-built, but has a fireplace and some food so Bonnie and Clementine are able to warm up. Kenny takes out some anger by beating Arvo pretty severely, then goes out to work on fixing a truck that’s parked out front, hoping to take it north to find a place called Wellington, where the group was heading originally, and that might be a safe zone.
In the middle of the night, Mike, Bonnie, and Arvo try to steal the truck, but Clementine wakes up and hears them. She pulls a gun to stop them, and when Mike convinces her to put it down, Arvo plugs her with his rifle, hitting her in the shoulder. She passes out, and wakes up – after a dream in which we see a scene from season one – in the back of the truck, driven by Kenny and Jane. Looks like Mike, Bonnie, and Arvo either ran off, or Kenny and Jane took care of them.
The trio drives, Kenny and Jane constantly fighting about what to do and where to go. They stop where a bunch of cars has blocked off the road, and Kenny goes to see if any of them have fuel. Hearing gunshots, and Jane holding Rebecca’s baby, Clementine takes the wheel, and drives about how you’d expect a little girl too. They end up with a zombie in their windshield, and have to escape the vehicle separately. The plan was to meet up at the rest area nearby if that happened, so Clementine makes her way there, first finding Kenny. Jane is soon seen approaching, but as she does you can see she does not have the baby. Kenny flips out, runs out to see what happened, and Jane takes her quick moment alone with Clementine to tell her that no matter what happens, she needs to stay back. Jane wants her to see what kind of person Kenny really is. So when Kenny comes back in and attacks Jane, angry over the loss of the baby, Clementine can do nothing but stand back and yell, and occasionally try to pry them apart. This culminates in the big decision, essentially your choice of endings: Kenny is on top of Jane with a knife, trying his best to stab her to death. Clementine can shoot Kenny and save Jane, or do nothing (dooming Jane). Three major endings are possible from there:
1. Clementine and Jane go pick up the baby, where Jane stashed him in a nearby car so she could show Clementine how Kenny would react, revealing him for the monster he is. Flash forward 9 days, and they’re back at Carver’s place, where everyone is dead, but now they are the new masters and get to decide whether to let a family join them or not.
2. Kenny and Clementine find the baby and head north to Wellington, which it appears was a real place and indeed a safe zone. But it’s overpopulated, and only has room for Clem and the baby. Clem can stay with Kenny and leave Wellington, or go in with the baby.
3. Clementine can either shoot Kenny or not, and whoever she ends up with, she can decide they suck and go off on her own.
The major character arc in season 2 was Clementine’s. That makes sense, what with her being the main character. In the first season she was a scared little girl, and in this season she has to grow up. This is shown in certain subtle ways – her facial expressions harden a bit as time goes on (you’ll notice a lot less of the “scared little girl” face and a lot more of the narrow-eyed stone face), and she even starts swearing with a certain degree of casualness.
I really loved how the game was able to really put me in her position. I felt like my decisions – which are normally of a light-hearted sort in games like this (I’m always the glowing guy in Fable, never the shadowy demon type) – got darker as time went on. Where I’d normally have run to help Luke on the ice, instead I thought “what, and me fall in too? sorry guy…but could you toss the rifle before you go?”
Then in the end, when I had to decide whether to shoot Kenny or let Jane die, I found it easy to decide. Kenny was Clem’s friend from season one, but Jane was right – he was a damn monster now. So when she took out her knife, I made no move to stop her. And when Kenny was about to kill her, it was an easy choice to waste him. Hell, Kenny even says that himself…that he was out of control, and shooting him was the right choice.
Finally, Clementine can either make the decision to let the family in (if she’s with Jane) or not, or to stay with Kenny or go to Wellington if she’s with him. Both of these endings therefore have a final choice for Clementine to make, marking whether she’s heading down a light or dark path. Tell the family to screw off? Dark Clementine. Let them in? Light Clementine! Ironically, with Kenny, it seems to me the dark choice would be staying with him instead of entering Wellington. She already made the choice to let the monster murder her friend…if she makes a final decision to stay with him, she’s solidifying that decision to be the monster’s apprentice.
The second major character arc in this game is Kenny’s. After losing his wife and son in the first season, he’s started to come off his rocker. He has major self-control and anger issues. When we first see him in season two he’s got a new woman, and seems a little better off, but still easily comes unhinged. When that new woman dies, he’s basically gone. He’s able to snap out of his rage a couple times in episode 4 to be nice to Clementine, but by the final episode he can’t really even do that anymore.
I think that, intentional or not, a parallel can be drawn between Kenny and Carver. Both are capable men who started out well-intentioned, but end up maniacs. Some of this is due to events out of their control, but ultimately reflects on their ability to deal with the tests this apocalypse has thrown at them. Given time, anyone will fail such tests, but I can’t help thinking Lee would have been able to keep his cool better than Kenny if similar things had happened to him.
But most important is how Kenny’s change affects Clementine. In the end, she has the choice to either listen to the voice of reason that is Jane, or let Kenny’s thinking cloud her judgment. Will she become like him, or make the right decisions with Jane?
About the Ending
What surprised me about that last decision was that I was apparently in the minority with my first play through in which I killed Kenny. At the end of each episode you are presented with the choices you made, and statistics on how many people made the same decision. I was a part of the Kenny-killing 30% (you bastards!). I found out strange how few people had made the decision to side with Kenny. I get loyalty to Clem’s old friend, but not only was he a monster…he’s a redneck dude, and the other choice is a cute young girl. The gamer population is largely of the sort that prefers cute girls to middle-aged rednecks, so I’m confused about how that statistic happened.
The third season has been announced, and is currently in the planning stage. So we should expect a first episode around early next year.
The biggest cliffhanger of season two isn’t so much about what’s going to happen next as what decisions Telltale will make for us. Season one would have ended the same no matter what; Lee was going to die, and despite any other decisions, in the end Clementine is alone. But in season 2, there are some real consequences that must follow the story into the next season. This is a bit of a bummer, because the whole idea is that your previous decisions affect the future of the game…but ultimatley Telltale has to decide what happened, and it either will or won’t be what you actually did at the end.
My prediction: Jane’s gone. Even though it’s not the ending I chose, it makes the most since from a narrative perspective.
Clementine didn’t make the “wrong” decision when she didn’t shoot Kenny. She just couldn’t bring herself to do it. When Kenny justifies the act to her, she may be naive in accepting his justification (you can choose not to, but I think in season 3 we’ll see that she did), but he’s all she has left, and because he’s from the first season, he’s a tie to her past, and to Lee.
But most importantly, when we get to Wellington, Kenny pleads with them to let Clementine and the baby in, even if he can’t come. Kenny has been spiralling out of control, and in this ending he does something that redeems himself by sacrificing his safety to save the children. When they let them in, Kenny may be alone, but he’s redeemed, making this a pretty solid ending. I think he rides off into the sunset after this, because the character has completed his arc. I wouldn’t expect him in season 3, even if he’s still out there somewhere; but Jane is dead for sure.
But I could be wrong! Who would you like to see Clem with in season 3?