Cannot stand on its own

After nearly three months between episodes (the holiday break no doubt adding to the delay), we finally get a chance to play out the cliffhanger ending from the first episode of The Walking Dead: Season Two from Telltale. Because I want to avoid spoilers, I’ll talk about Episode 2 – A House Divided in broader terms than usual.

For as much as I looked forward to it, A House Divided is my least favorite episode of the eight Walking Dead chapters we’ve received so far. While it’s clearly designed to set up events for the last three parts of the season, it develops at a much faster pace than players may be used to. In only 90 minutes, the entire group changes, both in terms of its personality and its makeup. This accelerated storytelling meant that the gravity of most situations didn’t hit me until after I’d finished the episode, so many of the “gut check” moments that have come to define the series just weren’t there in my eyes.

I think part of the problem is that there’s so much focus on action in this chapter. A House Divided offers almost no exploration or puzzle-solving to speak of, moments that normally allow players a chance to catch their breathor at least lull them into a false sense of security. Here, it seemed like Clem was just thrown into crisis after crisis where lives were at stake, dulling the effects of members added or subtracted from the group. Plus, the couple of conundrums thrown Clem’s way are overly simple and not really worth being called “puzzles.”

One story element that is enjoyable? Ramifications from Season One and 400 Days finally start to crop up. Even though I was partially expecting it, a powerful reunion took place that was one of the more moving moments I’ve ever seen in a game.

Other problems arise beyond the quickened pace, however. The most glaring is that Clem, an 11-year-old girl, has become the leader of the group. While it makes sense that everyone sees her as wise beyond her years due to what she’s been through, putting the fate of so many lives solely in her hands feels wrong. Maybe it’s the idea of her having lost so much innocence that really doesn’t sit well with me, but seeing her pretty much boss around middle-aged physician Carlos, twentysomething Luke, and the rest of the group just doesn’t work.

Also, with all the action on display in this episode, I rarely felt as if what I did with the controller mattered. We’ve had to shoot zombies in the series before, and you have to do it again here. Clem’s known how to shoot a pistol for two years now, and she’s shot zombies from point-blank range plenty of times. So, when placed once again into such a situation, why does it take three tries for Clem to get the satisfying, brain-blasting explosion when I put the aiming reticule on a zombie’s forehead to get a headshot kill? You still have a large enough zombie horde to trigger the familiar click of an empty chamber and lead into the predictable scene where Clem has to run for her life and fend off one of the undead hand-to-hand. Don’t make me feel like I’m wasting my time.

And that’s the thing about A House Divided: While it does a nice job of changing up the setting and puts all the pieces in place for what should be a crazy third episode, Episode 2 is mostly just filler, and I felt like it wasted my time to a degree. If you’re a fan of the series, obviously, you should play it, because your decisions will continue to carry overand you can’t play Episode 3 without getting through this first. You might want to hold off until the third episode is about to be released, however, so that you can quickly get the taste of Episode 2 out of your mouth with what will hopefully be a nice payoff.

Developer: Telltale Games • Publisher: Telltale Games • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 03.04.14
A House Divided is the weakest episode, by far, in Telltale’s Walking Dead series. Much of the action and plot “twists” are predictable and don’t hold nearly as much weight as in previous episodes.
The Good Old friends from Season One and 400 Days finally make their presence known.
The Bad A faster, more action-oriented pace dulls the effects of the more “dramatic” moments.
The Ugly An 11-year-old ends up bossing around a ton of adults in the middle of the Zombie Apocalypse.
The Walking Dead: Season Two: Episode 2 – A House Divided is available on Xbox 360, PS3, PC, and iOS devices. Primary version reviewed was for the Xbox 360 with a retail code provided by Telltale.