The Walking Dead: Season Two

Season One review here.

Season Two is still a good game. But now that you are Clementine, you’re largely invincible and the consequences are minimized. Any time you get an option to save somebody, you take it, because it’s not like you’ve got some child clutching your leg who’s your only real priority. You are that child, and helping others isn’t going to get your player character killed. You can dismiss this as “metagaming”, but it’s impossible to play a game like this and not intuitively make your player character take personal risks at this point. And when people are like “Why didn’t you save my friend instead of me” you can just be like, “Hi, I’m eleven.” When grown-ups are split between two options and arguing about what to do, you can often stay quiet and not really piss anybody off, because nobody was actually going to benefit from the little kid shouting “I THINK KENNY’S PLAN IS NOT GOOD.” And rest assured if you had, [Kenny will remember that.]

One of the things I liked doing in Season 1 was establishing for myself early on just what my priorities were, as Lee, so I could make choices both easily and consistently. For example, I would quickly sacrifice every other person for Clem, but her own moral development was also paramount, so I would never casually chose to kill or steal from another person. The Clem I chose to be in this season was someone who was willing to take on huge dangers, not necessarily out of an eagerness to please others but because she has this idea that it’s what heroes do, and doesn’t really understand that all the adults saying, “Hey Clem, can you do all the hard and scary work?” are cowards.

Looking at the way Season 1 would play out depending on player choices, it became clear that Kenny was a real nice friend to have if you agreed with him all the time, but that he had a pretty low tolerance when things didn’t go his way, which showed a certain immaturity under pressure. There was this scene in Season 2 where Kenny plans to violently beat someone to death, and you have a choice to stay and watch, or to leave the room. The Lee I established in Season 1 would never have let Clem watch something like that, but she was always a sort of reality check for him–he was capable of worse when she wasn’t there to give him perspective. I’d hoped that Kenny would at least partially feel that way, and that he would maybe not take so much pleasure in it with Clem watching. But he didn’t give a damn that Clem was there. He’s a bastard, and has terrible instincts as a guardian or role model. But I thought it was interesting, fathoming the worth of a person like that, through your own actions. It’s not something a lot of games do or do well.

I did have a few issues with choice outcome, with the level of reactivity. For example, it means nothing to Arvo if you gave him back his medical supplies. To hell with that guy. And everyone blaming Clem for everyone else’s death is stupid beyond what is acceptable, even if they are grieving–the series is best when it provokes feelings of responsibility and guilt, but the things Clem gets the blame for are too idiotic for guilt. Kenny does apologize for the heavy shit he puts on Clem after Sarita dies, but Bonnie gets Luke killed while Clem keeps the zombies off him, blames Clem for Luke’s death, and this is on top of all the other crap Bonnie says and does. I wouldn’t have killed her in cold blood or anything, but she definitely earned the reward for Person Of The Year Whom I Most Wanted To Sacrifice For Any Vaguely, Probably-Necessary Reason That Comes To Mind.

It looks like the endings vary a bit in terms of who Clem can end up with, and where. But for Season Three, they can probably just say “6 months later” and put her wherever with whoever anyway, so I don’t expect any more reactivity going forward. Honestly, while I’d play another season, I know it won’t have the emotional energy of the first game–I think this was just an inherent loss in the idea of playing as Clementine instead of as her guardian. Improved reactivity would be a nice way to pick up the slack, but apart from that, I don’t know. Maybe it’s time to push Clem to the sidelines.

I stitched together an image of my major choices and put that here. Note that while it says I didn’t tell Walter the truth about Matthew, in actuality, letting him know was fully the intent of my actions, in urging Nick to come clean and everything else. But when the moment came and Walter had clearly already put the pieces together, I chose to be quiet while he stewed on what he’d already figured out, instead of superfluously saying “Yup, he killed him.” And Clem ultimately spelled it out for him anyway, in the dialogue that followed. So that one getting marked as not having told the truth is strange–the game doesn’t always register the subtleties of your choices quite right.

This game was thoroughly enjoyed by the reviewer. It is an excellent game that may be too simple or not ambitious enough to be a 5, or there are design flaws meaningful enough to prevent it from enduring as something truly beloved. Highly recommended.
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