Season One of The Walking Dead was a wonderfully traumatic experience to endure, and it concluded with one of the most emotionally engaging climaxes I’ve ever encountered in a video game. Any concerns that Telltale wouldn’t be able to maintain this intensity with the follow-up to their hit series can now be brushed aside as Episode One: All That Remains instils those same familiar feelings whilst also feeling fresh due to a key narrative change. Instead of playing the role of guardian and protector, you now face the walking dead as a mere child. There’s no telling where future episodes will take little Clementine, as once again you never know what’s around the corner – a tense uncertainty that’s as emotionally taxing as ever.
As you start the game you’ll be prompted with the option to import your Season One save, which you’re informed will have an impact on the second season (there’s little evidence of that in the first episode, but it’s early days). If you don’t have a save, the game will simply start you with random choices on your behalf, which is fine, since there are no “right and wrong” decisions in The Walking Dead, only varying shades of uncomfortable. This is followed by a recap of last season, which is a fantastic reminder of the emotional moments that occurred, and something I appreciated fondly given the lengthy gap between seasons. (The flashback is a bit brief if you’re considering starting the series here, but really, go back and play the first season if you are!)
The closing moments of last season saw nine-year-old Clementine alone in the woods, fading to black on distant silhouettes of nearby survivors. All That Remains instantly puts an end to the suspense by reintroducing Clementine safe and (relatively) content with Omid and a pregnant Christa, a young couple encountered late in the first season.
Safety rarely lasts in the world of undead walkers and me-first human scavengers, however, and within mere minutes this tenuous security is stripped from Clementine entirely. Any assumptions that those protecting a small child will be off-limits are quickly and thoroughly dismissed as Telltale demonstrates once again that absolutely no-one is safe in their script. As the new protagonist, Clementine is put through continual hell in what can best be described as an episodic endurance test that would push past the limits of an average adult, never mind a little girl.
Players once again control movement with the keyboard, interacting with highlighted environmental cues in the world using the mouse. (As before, gamepad support is also available.) Telltale have tidied up the user interface a little, making action selections more apparent and easier to distinguish between. This extends to the dialogue selection, which is now split into four possible choices per conversation in rectangle boxes aligned at the base of the screen instead of a straight list. Once again, dialogue choices are timed, so you’ll often have to make tough decisions in a pinch, which greatly adds to the tense dramatic scenes in which you’ll be placed.
The core gameplay, outside of conversation and simple environmental interactions, is still contained largely to Quick Time Events (QTEs) that prompt for either movement or object interaction (using either mouse clicks or keystrokes). Most sequences are quite forgiving, although there are a select few that’ll punish you with death if you’re too slow to respond. If that happens, you’ll instantly be restored right to the fateful moment to try again.
Over the course of the episode you’ll be forced back into solitude when misfortune hits your companions, and whilst Clementine is stronger and wiser now (the action taking place more than a year after the first season’s events), it’s not long before she finds herself too worn to continue on her own. Fortunately – or unfortunately – you’ll encounter a new group of survivors who squabble between themselves about whether to help you, leave you or even kill you.
As is common with the series, there are small peaks of exhilarating highs followed by soul-crushing lows. One such scenario early on sees Clementine come into contact with an uninfected dog named Sam. Instantly I made assumptions on how their relationship would progress, but such assumptions are foolish where Telltale are concerned, as the story proceeded in a direction that left me startled and shocked, in a way that’s uncommon for most games yet all-too-common in this series.
My favourite moment of the episode was when Clementine is questioned by a member of the new group of untrusting survivors. I was hoping such an opportunity would arise, allowing me to recall fond memories of my (or Clementine’s) admiration for Lee. The scene is both a powerful reminder of events past and their influence on shaping Clementine into the strong girl she has grown to be.
The clear focus of the episode is an attempt to connect with Clementine, this time as the playable protagonist rather than as a helpless girl in need of protection. This goal is achieved with unquestionable success as Clementine is as well-realised as ever, familiar and still eminently likeable but now with a more hardened strength and determination to survive than ever before. Battered, bruised, and bleeding from her ordeals, she draws on phenomenal reserves of will to overcome both the unrelenting walking and unforgiving survivors she encounters throughout.
Unfortunately, by following the formula of the original so strictly there are also the familiar problems, which are further emphasised this time around. Where previously there was a strong illusion of choice despite giving you little actual control, so far this season it’s far more apparent how linear the story actually is. This is particularly evident in a few key moments that force you into dangerous or reckless actions. One example requires you to abandon a secure enclosure to risk the lurking dangers outside at night, when all logic wanted me to keep Clementine safely inside. Another scenario has Clementine foolishly leaving a firearm behind, even though as the player you’re fully aware yet unable to prevent her from doing otherwise.
This linearity also seeps into the episode’s lack of tangible gameplay, as the brief 90-minute ride has very little in terms of traditional puzzle solving nor even much interaction outside of your dialogue choices and very basic interactions. Whilst the handful of QTEs are handled well when they occur, it’s hard not to feel like you’re mainly navigating through a film, only with slightly more control via a handful of interactions, some weighted choice segments and the occasional button mash. That’s not particularly an issue given the compelling script and characters, as Season Two is shaping up to be a storytelling experience that will rival the competition (mainly from itself) with or without the gameplay bells and whistles. Just be aware of what you’re getting yourself into. If the lack of substantial gameplay made you unable to enjoy Season One, there might be even less of it here.
Thankfully, it’s a gorgeous affair once again as the series retains its charming graphic novel art style. Backed by an eerie musical arrangement, stellar voice work and a touched-up user interface, the series is looking and sounding as good as ever. It also appears that the engine has been tweaked this time around, as previous issues like save corruption and frame rate stuttering were thankfully absent here.
Episode One: All That Remains throws you right back into the action with a front row seat to the familiar Walking Dead rollercoaster ride. It’s fantastic to see Clementine once again, and so far she is portrayed brilliantly as the new season’s protagonist. I’d definitely like to see a bit more sense of player control over the events that occur, and a little more gameplay would certainly be appreciated, but if the first episode is anything to go by, Telltale are onto yet another winner with their second season of bite-sized zombie apocalypse adventures.