It starts with a gunshot; a sucker-punch so abrupt as to shake you into life, to grab your attention and never let it wander. It’s not the very first moment of All That Remains, but it’s the first hook; the first of many as we return to Clementine’s story. This time we are playing as Clem, but it was always her story, we just didn’t know it.
And by God, Telltale want her, and thus by extension, us to suffer. At times this opener for the second season of the wildly successful The Walking Dead threatens to descend onto too gruesome a note. Indeed, I’ve never winced so violently when playing a game, let alone as often as I did with the 90 minutes that makes up All That Remains. It’s a worry, but you’ve just got to trust that each following episode won’t become an effort to out-gross the previous one.
Because when Telltale are at their best, they are telling human stories. Quickly the mantra that became clear in the comic books is evident here: it’s not the walkers that you need to be afraid of; not really – it’s the other people. Dress up violence in any way you want, most of it here is in aid of survival, something which also looks to be a key facet of season two.
There are a few reused audio assets here and there; some slightly re-purposed music, too, but in my playthrough of episode one, all of the previous engine complaints appeared to have been tidied up. No juddering, and a smooth experience throughout – this is something Telltale needed to address, and (hopefully, on the basis of this episode alone) they have done.
If you’ve played any previous episode (and you should have, seriously) the mechanics are completely familiar, which in fact posed a slight problem. The game is incredibly formulaic, and while this isn’t a huge complaint after only a single episode, there’s a definite concern that too many “jump” moments will diminish the overall experience as we go. As it is, very few moments here are telegraphed, and there are multiple shocking moments that are devastating emotionally, causing you to panic when you need your reactions to be at their best.
So you can expect a truly stressful time as you step into Clem’s shoes, but Telltale have handled the switch to her as the playable character with relative ease. There are gentle nods that remind you she’s just a child – some are heavy handed (she can only just reach things), and others are dialogue options. But she’s very much your Clem, still. You get to shape her, and it feels as though she is growing at a fearsome pace, but mostly because she has to. That’s not to say that her age is ignored, and her attachment to things we’ve seen and done before are there for us to see, as reminders of her vulnerability.
Because we, the audience, aren’t stupid. Telltale know this, so we’re not being treated that way. Clem can’t beat up a fully grown man, and even the walkers are fearsome when encountered. She doesn’t throw calculated punches in the way Lee might have, her fighting is desperation; kicking and scratching.
It’s an interactive story with us, the players on one side and Telltale Games on the other, testing how far they can push us, seeing just how much we can endure. We project ourselves onto the characters: they’re dicks because they upset us; they’re cool because they care for us. It’s this level of storytelling, of emotional attachment that is to be adored, to be coveted. Bizarre as it may sound, the escapism that Telltale continue to create is astonishing, and whether you want to argue the toss over it being a game or not becomes irrelevant about 15 minutes in, when everything changes in a world we’ve only just reacquainted ourselves with.
But there are problems. It’s difficult to not project yourself into such an emotionally investing game, which means that afterwards you wonder if you’re playing as Clem, or Clem is you. The illusion of choice is also worse than ever. An early scene is set up in a way that you almost know something bad is coming (something bad is always coming in The Walking Dead), so I wanted to pick up my weapon to take with me, but that wasn’t an option. Thankfully, for every one of these scenes there are two that will test you. I mentioned All That Remains making me wince earlier, and there’s a particular scene that I found incredibly uncomfortable to play through, which is a triumph in many ways, but no less horrific for it.
VERDICT: Utterly brutal, The Walking Dead is back with multiple bangs. Telltale emotionally batter us over the head repeatedly, telling us to forget things that matter to us in real life. Sure, Clem is just a little girl, but this universe doesn’t care about that. Hopefully we’ll grow with her, and there are suggestions as to where this season might go, but as it stands, this is a tremendous re-introduction to a game we already loved. Oh, and they’re still absolute bastards when it comes to a cliffhanger.
VERY GOOD. An 8/10 is only awarded to a game we consider truly worthy of your hard-earned cash. This game is only held back by a smattering of minor or middling issues and comes highly recommended.
Review code provided by publisher.