Three months have passed since the events of Episode 1, but The Walking Dead is far too classy to indulge itself with a montage intro. A brief conversation with a new member of the group gets you up to speed on the current situation, while a grisly decision very early in the game hurls you straight back into the deep end.
Where the first part focussed on frantically surviving the initial disaster, the second episode finds the group facing a different problem. Food supplies are running low, and tensions within the group are rising. You're tasked with rationing out food to the group, which essentially means choosing who's going to go hungry for the day.
While lacking the intensity of the on-the-spot choices, this decision feels equally tough, and provides a good example of the ways in which the game's basic formula is able to continue feeling fresh and interesting. Without wanting to spoil any of the details, let's just say that Episode 2 is likely to keep you on your toes - occasionally breaking the established formula and scribbling in the rulebook to fantastic effect.
As with the first part of this excellent series, the real strength here is in the quality of the narrative. Desperation obliges the group to trade paranoia for trust, but it isn't a comfortable transition. The scripting and delivery of lines is better than you'll find in any other game, and the characterisation is utterly superb. You'll find yourself caring about these characters far more than seems rational. You'll go out of your way to try and protect these people, even when they're acting like absolute dicks.
More importantly, you'll care about what they think of you. Group politics play a major part, and it's often down to you to try and keep things together. Lee's relationship with Clementine is by far the most fascinating aspect so far, forcing him to continually justify his pragmatic decisions to someone driven by na´ve morality. These justifications aren't always honest, especially when logic gets clouded by rage. Games have a habit of offering revenge as a reward without consequence - a habit that The Walking Dead quite rightly highlights as perverse.
Despite the astounding narrative achievements, Episode 2 isn't without hefty faults. It's far easier to get killed this time around, but this doesn't add much to the overall experience. The risk of others being hurt is permanent, while Lee getting killed is just a quick re-load. This problem is prevalent throughout most videogames, but it certainly feels more prominent here. Dying destroys any sense of tension, breaking the otherwise intense sense of immersion.
That could be an issue that's too big for one studio to fix, but we can't say the same of the technical problems. Regular glitches and stuttered loading make things feel far less smooth than they should be, and we've also heard reports of some game-breaking bugs. Promising to release a new episode each month could be a major mistake, and to be frank, we hope Telltale has the balls to drop it. This series has the potential to be spectacular, providing they don't screw the mechanical stuff up.
Despite the blatantly rushed execution, it's impossible not to love The Walking Dead Episode 2. This is thought-provoking, clever, and genuinely grown-up entertainment. Heart-rending decisions and spectacular pacing make this one of the most intense gaming experiences we've ever had. The rough edges aren't forgivable or pleasant, but the heart of the game is so spectacular that it's impossible not to be blown away. Telltale is on the verge of creating one of the best series ever, providing it doesn't stumble in its attempts to beat the rush. Walk, don't run.
Stumbles, but doesn't destroy the brains.
- Brilliant characters
- Even tougher decisions
- Incredibly intense
- Scripting is superb
- Technically dodgy