All That Remains, the first episode in perhaps the most anticipated episodic gaming series since Valve announced their plans to follow up Half-Life 2, is as clear a statement of intent as you’ll find in any game. The second season of The Walking Dead will not go easy on the player. It will not be a fun ride for Clementine. A pound of flesh shall be demanded of every damn character.
Things ramp up immediately – the first horrific thing happens minutes into the episode, and the hours that follow are chock full of the sort of volatile human emotional outbursts the series has proven so good at working with. The whole thing is designed specifically to upset you, to take Clementine, a character that many of us have grown extremely attached to and drag her through Hell. One episode in, it feels like the right choice to make.
Clementine, now one of videogame’s very few young female African-American playable characters, has grown up slightly. Season 2 fast-forwards a bit (I won’t spoil the specifics), which changes the dynamic of the dialog options a bit. With Lee, we were shaping his character from scratch, deciding what sort of man he was and how events within the game shaped him. Clementine is already well established from the first season, but it’s up to the player to decide now how she has managed to get by, and what she has or hasn’t had to change as the harsh realities of the post-apocalyptic world have continued to pile on top of her. References to your choices from the first season are slim, but broader references to the season’s big events abound, and it’s up to you to decide how they’ve shaped Clem.
This is a confronting, interesting way of framing this second season, and there are some excellent moments where Clementine’s internal thoughts are telegraphed through subtle reactions and inflections. Having her as the main character does, however, mean that some dialog choices are going to be chosen more than others, because some of them simply seem alien in the context of who we know Clementine to be. As I played through the episode, a more weary, wily Clementine started to emerge in the choices I made – one who has learned that fending for herself in this new world doesn’t always mean playing nice – but earlier options that allowed me to, say, pretend that I was a murderer confounded me slightly.
This episode doesn’t let up on the horrors of the Walking Dead world. This is a damn gruesome outing, full of moments on par with or worse than the most horrific content from Season 1 – in fact, it’s probably going to be enough to put some players off, and at least one grisly scene carries on a bit longer than it needs to. It seems it’s only going to get worse from here: already there are hints of a figure that could well be the game’s equivalent to the Governor or Negan in the comics, although we imagine the game’s arc is going to be quite different to either of those. The other characters you meet, while largely unlikable (as is par for the course with The Walking Dead in all its forms) are an interesting, diverse group, well-written and drawn, and it’ll be interesting to see how their stories pan out.
Telltale is infamous for technical hiccups, and while this episode ran a lot smoother than Season 1, there were occasional issues. A dialog box went missing in one scene, there were clipping issues here and there, and the QTEs – which this episode maybe leans on a bit much – were sometimes a little cumbersome. These are minor issues though, and don’t distract away from the fact that Telltale have built foundations here for a season that could well end up surpassing the first. A firm goal for the characters is yet to be established, but a central threat is emerging, and the first episode was wise to focus on building up characters and relationships rather than demanding enormous choices (the poll at the end shows that none of the choices have really split people right down the middle, but then none of them feel like they’re trying to just yet). We won’t know for sure just how effective the set-up here was until the full season is complete sometime next year, but as it stands right now, we’re totally on board.