The Walking Dead is best known as a television show, and also as a comic, and as a terrible spin-off game. And, in the subject of this review, another, different, excellent episodic game series by Telltale Games, creator and purveyor of adventure games done in the ancient style of point and click, story and interaction. Those readers who follow up on games already know this, because Telltale’s Walking Dead series has taken much of the gaming community by storm, and has been doing so since Season One came out in 2012.
But that’s not news. News is Season Two, Episode Two: “A House Divided.”
Episode One let us know the score: no pulled punches, no good feelings—and Episode Two isn’t afraid to pick that ball up and run with it. Episode One drenched us with action and direct, physical danger and discomfort, and has been one of the more directly horrifying episodes since the series inception. Some found that this direction cheapened the deeper emotional narrative, while others referred to the newly independent Clementine as “Edgemeister” and “Ultimate Badass.”
Episode One was also criticized for the large amount of setup present within it. Unlike its sibling, the TV series, the interval between episodes is not days but months, and even though it was the first episode, many (myself included) demanded more development where we only obtained dark hints of the future.
Telltale seemed to take the criticisms to heart, and in Episode Two we find a marriage of Season One’s intense emotional undertones and interpersonal tensions, and Season Two: Episode One’s darker, edgier, punishing narrative. Simply put, it’s a regular festival of bad feelings. My favorite kind of festival.
Using dramatic irony, fear and foreshadowing, Episode Two gave me a feeling in the pit of my stomach like the absolute worst sort of storm was brewing, and the long setup created by Episode One pays off, with all the dwindling fuses reaching a terrible breaking point.
These are old tricks of the storyteller, but Telltale uses them well, and it’s through these older tools of narrative that the Walking Dead games return to their greatest strength: their emotional connection and immersion. That’s something that the Walking Dead games have over the TV show. The player is there, the danger is as close to real as it gets, and our decisions, interactions, and judgments are what drive the plot. Essentially, the player IS a character; a real, impactful character in a tale rich in dialogue, conflict, emotion, and desire.
That is what has launched the Walking Dead games from small indie game to massive success, and something the developers should never forget. Episode One may have merely been a case of setup, or perhaps of sensationalism, or perhaps I’m being too snooty and ambitious for a game I don’t even make. Either way, Episode Two capitalizes on the emotional immersion and power that made the games great, and it is therefore also great. I await Episode Three with bated breath, yet hope it comes late enough for me to recover from Episode Two’s piercing drama.