Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Review - The Walking Dead Season 2 Episode 2: A House Divided


Hard to believe that zombies would achieve celebrity status, but The Walking Dead has really made the shambling, flesh-eating corpses cool. Telltale Games capitalized on that success with The Walking Dead Season 1, a compelling game adapted from the comic that gave the player some insight to the difficult choices that could arise in such a scenario. The second season debuted a few months ago and today The Walking Dead Season 2 Episode 2: A House Divided hits all the relevant platforms The version played for this review was a review code provided by Telltale Games for the Xbox 360.

Clementine's life in the mad world she lives in isn't getting any better. She's still a little roughed up emotionally from the events at the end of the first chapter, being forced to reconcile her desire for safety with her trust of her new "family." And family is the central theme throughout "A House Divided," as there's a new character introduced seeking to reunite a fractured family. The thing is, the family is fractured for a reason and it's not exactly clear as to what the new character ultimately wants to happen. And if that family doesn't find a way to come together, then things will get much worse before they get any better.

The opening of the chapter played out almost exactly as the episode "Still" of the AMC show The Walking Dead. Instead of a beastly badass named Daryl though, players are stuck with a less than awesome Nick lamenting his lot in life. And the two are even about to share some homemade alcohol, except in this case, Clementine isn't so desperately seeking to have her first drink. The idea behind the scene seems to be that Clementine is growing up much more rapidly than a girl her age should grow up, something that Telltale Games goes to pretty great lengths to highlight in the second chapter. Since the beginning, Clementine has primarily been an innocent viewpoint of the zombie apocalypse, but now she's much more hardened and not quite as skittish.


The rapid ascent in adulthood is further accentuated when Clementine is paired with Sarah for some of the chapter. Sarah has been protected by her somewhat overbearing father, primarily because he doesn't want her innocence to be corrupted by the cruel realities of the world. It's with Sarah that Clementine is forced to confront a new character in a tough situation, which she handles with extreme calm all things considered. Sarah meanwhile is paralyzed by a fear rooted in not knowing enough about the world. There are other instances throughout the chapter where the adults all seem to turn to Clementine for advice on a number of situations. It's nice to see that they're trusting her more and more, but there's something a little odd about adults so completely trusting a brand new person so young with some pretty heady decisions.

Speaking of the new character, he's likely to be very familiar to fans of both the comic and the show. It's not a character lifted from the other sources, rather, he's clearly inspired by a familiar foe and he's looking to get the family back together so to speak, yet his motives are relayed as far more sinister. That ambiguous evil adds into the tension of the chapter and story, creating a very suspenseful tale that hinges on characters forced to deal with the unknown on a constant basis. From that suspense, Clementine grows up in front of the player's eyes, giving her even greater responsibility within her new group and forces the player to make tougher choices through her. Telltale Games has eschewed the decision choices that give Clementine an out so to speak with her saying she's just a "girl" and instead force the player to make some decisions with greater importance.

With the tougher decision-making comes some even tougher situations that Clementine has to fight her way out of. Telltale Games has included all the familiar quicktime events in the chapter, but some of them happen a little too fast. Obviously, there's an inherent fear in making a split-second decision when faced with a walker, but dying multiple times while you try to get the cursor lined up on the attacking walker within the few second window gets a little frustrating. There's definitely a lot more in the way of QTEs and Clementine really steps up her walker killing game, choosing to jumping right into the thick of things when the situation calls for it.


Artistically, the cel-shaded look appears even cleaner looking than the other chapters, believe it or not, even if it isn't really. Despite the really attractive illustrative style, there are some visual issues throughout the game. There are some instances where the graphics seem to stutter a little bit, which seems to most likely be with the game itself. Some of the characters are also a little robotic in their movements, which is a little unsettling considering some of the walkers look more human than some of the humans. Otherwise, the same moody lighting is used with great effect in setting the tone of the game. Many of the forest settings are pretty beautiful, even if that beauty is quickly replaced by the sheer terror that accompanies Clementine's world.

Clementine is struggling to find her way in a world that's consistently lost its way. Where "A House Divided" excels within the context of the series so far is that Clementine is given the chance to be a more adult, full-fledged character who ends up making some of the toughest choices out of everyone. Telltale Games maximized the chapter to really advance the story in a pretty solid way, giving gamers something of a pivot point for the what's to come. The game maintains all the familiar trappings of the others in the series, giving players even more influence over the outcomes of Clementine, her new family and the world around them all. And the chapter ends with a very definitive direction for the player to follow the characters, with the next chapter promising to be a lot more suspenseful for different reasons. If you've come this far you're going to pick up the new chapter and if you've been on the fence so far about the series, the events of "A House Divided" might convince you to start fresh and get yourself up to speed.

The Walking Dead Season 2 Episode 2: A House Divided is currently available via Xbox Live, PSN and Steam.

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