Tag Archive: Telltale Games


After a series of lackluster releases, the fortunes of Telltale changed for the better when its landmark first season of The Walking Dead dropped. It was a gritty, moving story that redefined narrative in video games, and it seemed for a time after that, Telltale could do no wrong. There have definitely been more successes than not when taking licensed properties and crafting original tales around their episodic, choice-driven formula since then—the Walking Dead, however, appeared immune to the occasional misstep seen in other series. This leads us to The Walking Dead: A New Frontier, the third full season of the saga which just released its final episode. Although it is still one Telltale’s stronger efforts, it pales in comparison to the previous two seasons.

The character of Clementine, the common thread through the first two seasons, is still present here to keep us connected, but takes a noticeable backseat as players control new character Javier “Javi” Garcia. Javi’s family has a close encounter with a walker early in the outbreak, which proves to be a turning point for him as a person. He takes it upon himself to care for his sister-in-law, niece, and nephew for the next several years as the walker threat spreads. When Javi—with family in tow somewhere between Baltimore, Maryland, and Richmond, Virginia—come across the wrong set of humans in a junkyard, however, they quickly realize the living is just as dangerous as the undead.

Unsurprisingly, the narrative across A New Frontier’s five episodes provides a lot of highs and lows for our characters. Keeping in line with previous Walking Dead games, there are a bevy of heart-wrenching moments, difficult decisions, and surprises to be had as you try to guide Javi and his family to some sort of safe haven. The limited time you have to make decisions ramps up the tension more than ever before, as Javi will often have to think quickly in terms of what to say (or what not to say) and where to go.

The only issue with this system in A New Frontier—and this is something that has crept into Telltale games before—is that sometimes some of the descriptions of what you want to say will cause you to make a choice, but then your character will say something you did not expect at all. If I choose “tell [insert character] off” then I’m expecting a few sentences laced with expletives, not for my character to suddenly reveal private information meant to hurt that individual on a deeper level. The result then may lead to something truly unexpected, but it’s frustrating when it stems from a choice you feel you really didn’t make.

Thankfully, those instances, at least in my playthrough of the season, were relatively few and far between. Something that plagued the narrative far more was the inconsistency of the writing quality as a whole. Each episode, even the double-long two-parter that kicks the season off, had plenty of those great moments I mentioned earlier—but unlike previous Walking Dead games, it felt like there were dramatic tonal shifts between episodes and writing teams. Nowhere was this more evident than in the final episode, which only had one lead writer instead of a full team. This episode had humor pop up in the weirdest places, which seemed to really undercut everything that had happened up until that point. The narrative for this season also relied more heavily on plot devices than in previous games. For example, each episode usually featured a couple of flashbacks. Some were used to fill in the nearly two-year gap for Clementine between Seasons Two and Three; others were trying desperately to add depth to the new cast of characters, who still ended up being far less interesting than any group we’ve previously played as. The device was neat early on, but already felt overplayed by the time episode four rolled around.

Speaking of devices, poor Clementine was relegated to deus ex machina this go around instead of the powerful, beloved heroine she was becoming after Season Two. She would come and go as she pleased during each episode, and it felt like whenever Javi had gotten himself into the most trouble, Clem would show up to find a way to bail him and his bumbling family out before continuing her own agenda elsewhere (which we almost never see). Admittedly, this could be a sore spot for me due to the attachment many of us have developed with this character over the years, but it felt like one of the better characters in video games was being underutilized.

That said, one new device the game added that I enjoyed was that those limited interactions with Clem played heavily into how much she helps you later on in the game. In fact, after seeing how all my decisions affected my playthrough, I was shocked that half of the audience alienated Clem by the end of the game, leading to many questions for potential new seasons that will hopefully switch the focus back to our darling Clementine. This added some much needed weight to the largest decisions you have in the game early on, and was a pleasant surprise.

The rest of the gameplay in A New Frontier was rather by the book otherwise. Telltale has gotten away from the puzzles of point-and-click adventures of the past, relying far more heavily on quick time events now. Although this helps greatly with the pace of the story, it removes almost any challenge from the game, making it feel less like you’re playing a game at all. Depending on how much you’ve invested in the narrative, this could be a potential turn-off if you’re looking to test your brainpower more than your reflexes. It also needs to be said that Telltale’s proprietary Telltale Tool game engine continues to show its age in the worst ways. There is nothing more immersion breaking than when someone is hurt in the game and the animation jumps when the blood splatters. I understand that Telltale has become a well-oiled machine in terms of being able to crank out episodes at a breakneck pace compared to just a few years ago, but it’s clear the game engine can no longer support the creative engine.

The Walking Dead: A New Frontier isn’t the best season we’ve gotten of Telltale’s The Walking Dead—it’s strong narrative, although inconsistent at times, is still one of the more compelling and well-thought stories Telltale has produced, however. It took some chances with new plot devices, many of which I felt did not work, but this will hopefully provide opportunities to try other ideas that might work better instead. If you’re a big fan of these Walking Dead games, you’ll be happy you’ve played this, but like me, it’ll probably only make you want a new season as soon as possible where the focus shifts back to Clementine.

Publisher: Telltale Games • Developer: Telltale Games • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 05.30.17
7.5
It’s a solid third season for The Walking Dead, but we’ve seen so much better. Cheap plot devices and inconsistent tones in the writing hurt the overall quality of the narrative, and the Telltale Tool continues to show its age in the worst ways. And, for diehard fans, Clementine will still find a way to steal the show from the new cast.
The Good A New Frontier continues to show why The Walking Dead is Telltale’s most compelling property.
The Bad The Telltale Tool continues to show its age; writing inconsistency between episodes.
The Ugly My crying face—Telltale is too good at making you care about a character and then killing them off.
The Walking Dead: A New Frontier – The Complete Third Season is available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC, iOS, and Android. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Telltale Games for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.
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It’s extremely difficult to appease Batman fans, and I’m admitting right from the get go that I count myself amongst the most hardcore of them. It’s almost tradition now for every new version of The Dark Knight to suffer some backlash—especially from those of us who are as obsessed with Batman as he is with fighting crime. Fans of Bill Finger and Bob Kane’s original gun-wielding, rooftop leaping lunatic from the late ‘30s and early ‘40s hated Adam West’s camp-filled romps in the ‘60s. Those fans in turn disliked when the comics crafted a noir vibe and turned back towards some of Finger/Kane’s roots in the ‘70s with Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams’ take on the character. Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, and Tim Burton’s film version of the Caped Crusader in the 80s all had their haters, too. So, when it finally came time for me to play Batman: The Telltale Series, I was both excited and worried about what the latest take on Batman might bring to us, knowing it would be extremely difficult for me—even though I’d like to think of myself as a more open-minded fan—to come away satisfied.

Batman: The Telltale Series is best described as a transitional adventure between “Year One” and “Year Two”. What this equates to in Batman’s history for those unfamiliar with comic book parlance is that he’s taken his lumps in that first year of crime fighting, and just now is starting to come into his own as “The Batman.” It’s also when the supervillains start to show up; classic foes like Catwoman, Penguin, Two-Face, and the Joker all make their presences felt by the end of the game, along with the traditional mobsters that Batman had to deal with in his early days. The bulk of the game’s narrative, however, centers on Bruce Wayne needing to clear his family name after a new bad guy reveals that Thomas Wayne (Bruce’s father) wasn’t the philanthropist that Gotham necessarily saw him as.

Being a Telltale game, the narrative does a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of one’s enjoyment of the product—or lack thereof. And right from the start, this was a decision that started to turn my opinion sour. With writers running out of ideas now that Batman is wrapping up his eighth decade of print, the idea of questioning his origins and casting doubt on the sanctity of his purpose has been done countless times in recent years of the comics. The easiest way to do this is to attack Bruce’s parents, and I have always taken issue with this.

One of Batman’s greatest appeals is his mission; his obsession is one that we as fans mirror back onto him. He makes a vow on his parents’ graves to wage an unending war on all criminals as a child, and the fact he follows through on it and lets it dictate his life is twisted and unhealthy, but in an odd way also very pure. It’s a child lashing out against a cruel and unjust world for the love and security that was ripped away from him in a random act of violence. When you remove this, you simply have a maniac in a mask. Yes, that’s what Batman really is at his core, but you greatly lessen his appeal when you strip away one of his founding dimensions, and undo a lot of the great work that those came before had laid out. Simply put, if something isn’t broke, stop trying to fix it.

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And I understand the appeal of wanting to do it. Attacking Bruce’s family also attacks his money source—Batman’s true greatest superpower. His inherited wealth has always been Bruce’s deus ex machina, allowing him to get out of more situations than I could count no matter the era. It’s like putting Superman under a red sun; it’s a classic comic book gimmick to take our hero out of his comfort zone. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. But when your powers are so closely tied to your origin like Batman’s are, it’s more apt to blow up in your face.

One thing Telltale did do a fantastic job of, though, was trying to pay homage to a lot of great Batman media over the years. The font in the title graphic evokes memories of Batman: The Animated Series, and the superb voice acting from this cast is on par with the legendary voices from that groundbreaking series. Although still well within the parameters of Telltale’s signature cel-shaded art-style, Two-Face’s design is largely based on that seen in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, and Penguin’s feels more akin to what we’ve been given on FOX’s Gotham. And, several gameplay elements like Detective Mode—more on that in a bit—borrow from Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham games. One other element that Telltale touched on from the Batman: Arkham series is taking a previously-established comic book canon character and trying to pass them off as a new villain. The worst of it, though, is this character was never a Batman villain to begin with.

This leads us to the main villain of the story, a new character dubbed Lady Arkham, which I will try to refer to as vaguely as possible to avoid giving away her true identity. Even with my distaste for the Thomas Wayne bashing, the first two episodes of Batman: The Telltale Series were actually quite compelling. When Lady Arkham reveals her true self in episode three, the series takes a marked turn for the worse. I don’t know if it comes from Batman’s license holders at Warner Brothers, or if there’s just a general fear of introducing new villains into the Batman universe outside of the comics, but the disappointment at the revelation of Lady Arkham was even worse than when we all realized within the first 15-minutes of playing Arkham Knight that our foe was Jason Todd. At least, at that point, he was a villain in the comics.

Lady Arkham’s true identity was always a close ally of Batman/Bruce Wayne, and twisting her like this felt like it was just cheap shock value for us hardcore fans who never suspected her because of our familiarity with the character. If Telltale had created an entirely new character with Lady Arkham, keeping her network seemingly as powerful as Batman’s and as long-standing as Bruce Wayne’s—but minus the preconceived notions from her true identity’s long history in Bat-media—I think she and her Children of Arkham could’ve been a welcome addition to the Rogues Gallery (in the same way Talon and the Court of Owls was a few years ago, and Ra’s Al Ghul and the League of Assassins was in the ‘70s). As is, she feels like a throwaway character used simply to establish Telltale’s new universe while not wasting any of the classic villains, thus weakening the entire story arc as a whole.

BatmanVsLadyArkham1160

The series also takes a turn for the worse on the technical side of things starting around her reveal. Telltale’s game engine continues to show its age, and does so markedly as this series progresses. The first couple of episodes are mostly glitch-free, but by the time we reach episode five, the choppy cutscenes, dropped audio lines, and general lag after decisions are made make finishing the game almost a chore. I understand that Telltale prides itself on its products coming out on every playable device imaginable. At some point, however, the studio needs to take some of this licensing money and invest back into tech that is optimized for modern consoles, and stop giving us this lowest common denominator garbage.

From a gameplay perspective, the bulk of the game remains around Telltale’s iconic choose-your-own-adventure multiple-choice scenes that change character interactions and dialogue depending on the decisions you make. Some additions we haven’t seen before in a Telltale game, and some that are even exclusive to Batman: The Telltale Series, were included here, though.

Detective mode, the special lenses that paint the world in a blue hue and allows Batman to recreate crime scenes, makes an appearance here. Similar to the Batman: Arkham games, examining clues will help Batman figure out what exactly happened in and around a crime scene, and piecing things together properly will help him decide what to do next on a case. Telltale also smartly allows you to link clues together this way to make it feel more like you’re actually solving the puzzle yourself. You also use Detective mode before certain ambushes, allowing Batman to plan out how he wants to clear a room before starting the quicktime button-mashing fest that helps him to defeat thugs unscathed. It’s just different enough from the Arkham games, but it still feels very much like you’re Batman while using it, and was a pleasant surprise.

Unlike a lot of other Batman projects, this game also does a great job of balancing life as Bruce Wayne and Batman. Whereas the Bruce Wayne parts of most movies, TV shows, and even comics can lean towards the mundane, the sequences here were just as intense and action packed as those where you’re dressed as Batman. Sometimes, they were even more difficult, since you don’t want to give away your secret identity. I loved the idea of there being branching paths, and you can even choose to confront certain individuals as either Batman or Bruce Wayne, which results in the dialogue obviously changing drastically. I only wish there were more of these choices as well as more Detective mode sequences, with it feeling like there was only maybe one per episode of either of them.

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Batman: The Telltale Series had a lot of potential. There were some clever ideas, and some nice tribute Easter eggs to Bat-media of the past. Unfortunately, they aren’t enough to overcome aging, glitch-ridden technology and some weak narrative decisions in a narrative-centric experience. Therefore, it’s now time for me to try to find some Bat-Telltale repellant and see if I can’t get this game off of my bat-addled brain.

Publisher: Telltale Games • Developer: Telltale Games • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 12.13.16
6.0
The bigger a Batman fan you are, the less you’re likely to enjoy Telltale’s take on The Dark Knight. Combined with the obvious age Telltale’s engine is showing, this simply isn’t their best effort.
The Good Weaves elements from so many different Batman iterations over the years into one cohesive product.
The Bad Cheap plotline twists will leave some fans unhappy. Telltale’s engine is really starting to show its age.
The Ugly Selina Kyle’s apartment. I can’t stand a messy woman.
Batman: The Telltale Series is available on PS4, Xbox One, PC, Mac OS, iOS, Android, Xbox 360, and PS3. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Telltale Games for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

Hard choices make for a hard Clementine

Editor’s Note: In order to avoid spoiling events from previous episodes in this and the first season of The Walking Dead, the language will remain as vague as possible. That being said, some situations may still be specifically referenced. Thus, if you don’t want anything spoiled, we recommend you play previous episodes and then return to this review. Consider yourself warned.

After a less-than-stellar outing in Episode 4, the final chapter in season two of Telltale’s The Walking Dead does a fine job of bringing the stories of each remaining party member to a head before leaving Clementine with an awful decision that will change her forever.

This episode is, in many ways, the best of the season. Here, it becomes clear just how many moments that seemed innocuous at the time were actually more important than some of the more action-driven sequences over the first four episodes that led up to this thrilling conclusion.

As tensions rise, the ever-present rift in the group opens wider and wider, with Clementine stuck in the middle trying to act as the lone peacekeeper. This adds some high anxiety to what would’ve been more casual conversations earlier in the year, and it makes each vocal choice for Clementine all the more harrowing, since you didn’t know where it might steer the characters.

This focus on dialogue and character growth makes No Going Back feel more akin to the TV show than any of the preceding episodes in the series, and it’s a refreshing change of pace. There’s a minimal amount of puzzle-solving that doesn’t require Clementine to just be quick on her feet and react physically or verbally as you’d like her to, truly making her decisions feel more like your own. You don’t have the time to contemplate most answers and just have to go with your gut, which helps fix some of the haphazard pacing we’ve seen throughout much of this season.

This also allows Episode 5 to continue to add layers to Clementine, who almost seems to be growing up in front of us like a child star would on a TV show—and that only adds to the intrigue of what may happen with her in the future. My decisions continued to mold her into a character unique to my particular playthrough, and that’s a prospect that has me only looking forward to more Walking Dead.

That said, a few moments in the episode feel a little gaudy. In particular, a dream sequence seems wholly out of place, like the writers were trying to force even more drama in for no good reason. There are more than enough moments in this chapter that pull on your heartstrings as it is, and the dream simply destroys the flow of what’s otherwise the smoothest-running episode until that point. No Going Back’s already the longest of the season at just over two hours, so that particular sequence easily could’ve hit the cutting-room floor.

With that in mind, No Going Back serves as a microcosm of the entire season itself, with highs and lows that mimic the previous episodes and continue to put this season in stark contrast to the consistent greatness seen in the first. At the very least, however, the episode ends on a high note that not only serves as a fitting conclusion, showcasing the huge character growth for most of Clementine’s remaining group, but also leaving the door open for more than enough new storylines in season three.

Developer: Telltale Games • Publisher: Telltale Games • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 08.26.14
8.0

A few unnecessary sequences hold back the episode a bit, but as a whole, No Going Back serves as a fitting conclusion to season two. And thankfully, it also leaves enough room for more intrigue and drama in season three.

The Good The story takes unexpected turns when heartrending decisions need to be made.
The Bad Like much of the season, there’s an up-and-down quality to the episode, and some moments make you question their inclusion.
The Ugly Sometimes, you never truly know someone until it’s too late.
The Walking Dead: Season 2: Episode 5 – No Going Back is available on Xbox 360, PS3, PC, and iOS. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox 360. Review code was provided by Telltale for the benefit of this review.

Actions have consequences

Editor’s Note: In order as to not spoil the events from previous episodes in this and/or the first season, the language used will attempt to remain as vague as possible. That being said, some situations may still be specifically referenced and thus, if you do not want anything spoiled, we recommend you fully play previous episodes and then return. Consider yourself warned.

After finally catching a little bit of the magic that made Season One so great in its previous episode, The Walking Dead: Season Two hoped it could continue its rebound from a slow start in Episode 4 – Amid the Ruins. Picking up right where Episode 3 left off, much of this latest chapter deals with the fallout of Clem and the gang’s escape from Carver’s compound. Decisions you’ve made along the way once again dictate the kind of dialogue you’ll have with your remaining compatriots as new bonds are formed and others are pushed to the breaking point due to the stress of your ever-changing group makeup.

While Amid the Ruins starts off strong, rich in the drama you’ve come to expect from anything based in The Walking Dead universe (especially when several problems come to an unexpected head in this episode and not the finale), the storytelling rapidly devolves about halfway through. The group splinters up to accomplish a necessary task more quickly, with Clementine moving between different cliques to help speed the process along. Besides the fact that the “fetch quest” nature of this section of the game left a sour taste in my mouth, the group physically drifting apart also signified (rather bluntly I might add) a newfound lack of focus on the common goal of surviving as a collective, punctuated by infighting and bickering becoming staples of nearly every conversation.

Though Amid the Ruins does introduce some major threats to the group in order to replace those that were solved when you left Carver’s makeshift bastion, the division of the group introduces a multitude of nagging problems that make it hard to focus on the bigger picture. Season One’s penultimate episode was so phenomenal because at the end, there were only two situations you had to focus on: Lee’s bitten arm and Clem’s kidnapping. In Season Two’s fourth episode, however, the new problems that arise are sullied by the childish spats between the group’s core members, like a swarm of buzzing flies circling your head as you try to focus on the more pressing and delicate matters at hand. And it seems that Telltale would rather have left some of the strongest new characters of the season, especially Luke, in the background saying nothing at all if they weren’t adding to the unnecessary squabbling, leaving me as puzzled as I am disappointed.

Despite the sad storytelling decline after the spike in Episode 3, Amid the Ruins does at least provide enough interesting situations to keep you on your toes. After all, in between the war of words, there’s still a zombie apocalypse going on around you, and just when you feel like you’ve had enough of Clementine being the most mature character in the game, an action-packed zombie sequence kicks in to ratchet up the tension again and remind everyone why they’re here and what they’re running away from.

The good news with Amid the Ruins? Telltale seems to have left more than enough room to top this episode and still finish the season strong, and we’ve seen from this season alone that they have the potential to bounce back from a narrative misstep. Season Two – Episode 4 of The Walking Dead, however, feels like a weak stitching together of what I hope will be the two best episodes of the season.

Developer: Telltale Games • Publisher: Telltale Games • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 07.23.14
6.0

Too many random problems arise and detract from the main issues of the story, leaving Amid the Ruins feeling like a weird valley right before the hopeful peak of the season finale.

The Good Some of the best zombie encounters yet.
The Bad Too many new problems crop up with just one episode left.
The Ugly Kenny’s face isn’t going to be getting better anytime soon.
The Walking Dead: Season Two: Episode 4 – Amid the Ruins is available on Xbox 360, PS3, PC, and iOS. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox 360. Review code was provided by Telltale for the benefit of this review.

There are worse monsters than zombies…

After the first season of Telltale’s The Walking Dead set such a high bar, the beginning of Season Two was really nothing short of a letdown. This became particularly evident after Episode 2, since the first two episodes would’ve made a lot more sense as one longer setup.

On top of this, thus far, Season Two hasn’t seen the stellar pacing and the drama of the first season, and the void of the Lee/Clementine dynamic still hasn’t been replaced. Fortunately, Season Two: Episode 3 – In Harm’s Way gets the narrative back on track and captures a lot of the magic that put Season One in everyone’s 2012 Game of the Year discussions.

After the cliffhanger ending of Episode 2, which saw the group forced to confront Carver before being dragged back to his compound, Clementine knows if they want to survive being in this madman’s clutches, they need to get out—and fast. She’ll need to make some new allies, and lean heavily on old ones, before Carver dooms them all.

In Harm’s Way features many more decisions with the potential to divide the group, leading to some fun dialogue choices that could emphasize and solidify the kind of character your particular Clem may be turning into. With the way I play, this had the added benefit of leading to Kenny and Luke starting to fill the hole of Lee’s absence, both as Clem’s protectors and as people she could look to for guidance.

This doesn’t mean that Clem becomes completely helpless, though, because she’s also always the first to volunteer to diffuse every dangerous situation—and often leads the charge to rebel against Carver. Unfortunately, like in much of the current season, this results in less puzzle-solving and exploration, but the tense and frantic action that replaces it is more than enough to take solace in.

While much of the episode did everything I wanted to renew my faith in the series, one nagging issue is the poor payoff from 400 Days. Although Carver’s compound and Bonnie, one of the five characters around which 400 Days revolved, are indeed focal points for this episode, the other characters from that narrative who joined Carver have nothing but throwaway cameos and maybe a single line of dialogue. In the grand scheme of things, I didn’t feel like anything was missing by not having Wyatt or Shel (there courtesy of my personal results from 400 Days) as integral parts of the action, but I still would’ve enjoyed a couple of lengthy conversations with them to make those final decisions in 400 Days feel worth it.

Despite this lackluster payoff from a previous episode, In Harm’s Way gets the series back on track. It returns to the first-season trademark of ending on a note that makes sense but leaves you with plenty of questions that have you begging for more. It also reminds you that no one is safe—this episode hammered that point home again. The group and its relationship dynamic can be turned on its head in an instant with just one or two poor decisions, which now will hopefully play out in spectacular fashion in Episode 4.

Developer: Telltale Games • Publisher: Telltale Games • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 05.14.14
8.5
Although the repercussions from decisions in 400 Days don’t prove as critical as Telltale promised, In Harm’s Way still gets Season Two back on track after it appeared to be losing itself in the first two episodes.
The Good A return to storytelling form.
The Bad Not as much payoff for 400 Days as anticipated.
The Ugly Clem accepting the fact that she’ll have to do everything herself.
The Walking Dead: Season Two: Episode 3 – In Harm’s Way is available on Xbox 360, PS3, PC, and iOS. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox 360. Review code was provided by Telltale for the benefit of this review.

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
6.0
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.

I am Clementine

With the new season of Telltale’s The Walking Dead now underway, I was able to pick the brains of Game Designer Sean Ainsworth and Writer Pierre Shorette about the changes this season brings to the series and some specific elements we saw in Episode One: “All That Remains.”

EGM: Clementine isn’t your typical video game protagonist and she’s a drastic shift from when you play as Lee. How do you strike a balance between making her a character all kinds of players would want to play, yet still maintain the vulnerability she naturally has being a little girl?

Sean Ainsworth: It was really difficult for us to figure out what that balance is. You don’t want people running over her with a bunch of adults telling her what to do, but you also can’t have her speak up and take charge of things because she’s 11 and that just wouldn’t happen. It’d be ridiculous. So, coming up with ways for her to have agency in the world and to feel like you have things to do with her is quite a challenge. But it feels like it’s worth that effort. It’s so different from being a big, burly, black guy now. You just can’t intimidate somebody and I think it factors more now into the group dynamics. We had to figure out ways around that and that was really cool.

Pierre Shorette: I think in Season One that you’re so enamored with protecting Clementine that it’s an interesting approach now where you have to go through a season where you’re protecting her literally, but then you’re also trying to role-play. I think it’s almost like striking a balance that’s realistic, but also allowing players to express themselves and get out of each situation what they really want. The last thing we’d want is for this to feel like some 90s kid-friendly movie and they’re running around, taking charge, driving cars around, and handling every situation. But it’s the first stumbling block we have to overcome in every scene, trying to figure out how to make her important in it.

EGM: You mentioned that Clem can’t really intimidate people, but through her dialogue choices, she can have a bit of an attitude to her depending on how you wish to play her. She can be antagonistic. She can rile the group up. She can make enemies. Is this just the natural evolution of Clem after everything she’s been through?

SA: Yeah, I think so. Living in this zombie-infested world, she’s had to grow up a little quickly to survive. That’s definitely part of it. Part of making her a little older now is that she’s had some experiences since last season. She’s still speaking straight from her heart, though.

PS: Of course, you don’t have to say anything at all. You can often choose to remain silent.

SA: Right, but she at least knows enough now to know what to say because she’s talking from experience.  And depending on how you’re playing, you can extrapolate that there may be repercussions for what you say.

PS: I think it’s interesting because depending on the scenario, I’m sure some people would be like “Clementine would never say that”, but sometimes when you’re in the moment and you’re role-playing as the character, some of those one liners are just too shiny a nugget to pass up and not see what happens next. They want to see what happens and the drama of the moment is what’s so compelling. People just want to know how it would play out. If you’re that into the role, then it can take you in a different direction and then it’s the decision you live with and it becomes the reality you’ve chosen.

SA: Yeah, it’s weird because you’re now playing as someone who was an NPC in Season One. So it’s interesting what direction you can take this NPC now as the player-character. We were a little worried actually when we started talking about making Clementine the main character, if there would be a disconnect, but when you’re playing it you just get into it and really, that’s our goal. That you get into it enough that you forget all of that.

PS: Can we ask you, now that you’ve beaten it, how did you play it? Did you go in with the goal of just protecting Clementine? Were your decisions affected by that? Or did you role play?

EGM: I went into wanting to make the best decisions possible to continue protecting Clem all I could. That was my main goal. But after the first couple of sequences and seeing what choices I had to make, I really started to play as if I was Clem and not some ethereal protector. The best way for me to protect Clem was to be Clem.

PS: Right. You began to identify yourself as her. That’s cool. I’m glad that happened with you because like Sean said, there was a fear people would be removed from the story and make everything black and white in their minds and just play god and control Clem’s existence but be detached from it. But I’m glad that you got into it.

EGM: In the group of people Clem meets, there’s a father/daughter dynamic there that reminded me a lot of Clem/Lee from Season One. The girl is a bit naïve and the father is protective of her, and its interesting that Clem is now on the outside looking in on a relationship like that. Was that parallel an intentional addition on your part?

PS: I think it just sort of emerged naturally. The opportunity to see almost a more naïve version of the girl Clem used to be is unique because now she can have an opinion on how the father is raising his daughter. I mean that’s crazy that an 11-year-old would have a valid opinion on his parenting skills and how he may be doing some things wrong or what he should be doing more of and that’s actually an example of giving her a level of agency that, from the outside looking in, might not click with the group. But we know from being in the background that Clementine has valid opinions to share on how to grow up in this world and stay safe and survive. And that’s the kind of stuff we’re seeking out all the time to make sure this is a compelling experience.

EGM: Talking a little bit more about this first episode of Season Two, it ended on even more of a cliffhanger than usual. Why did you guys decide to end the episode where you did?

SA: We obviously can’t go into a lot of detail without giving too much away, but I think we ended it here because all the ramifications that stem from your last decision in the episode will trickle out and affect the rest of the season. So, to dig into even the beginnings of that, and dig into those ramifications would require a lot more time than we had at that point in the episode.

EGM: At the beginning of Season One you guys had Glenn as part of the group, and made your way to Hershel Greene’s farm. Have you guys ever entertained the notion of intersecting again with the comics?

SA: We have an ongoing discussion about it. We’ve never ruled it out. It just has to make sense. It can’t be something that we’re shoehorning in.

PS: What’s nice is this addition, with the game existing on its own and what we did with it, shows that The Walking Dead is just a really big universe. That this is unique for the IP and not just a story that’s somewhere in a pocket in Georgia. It’s something that’s shaking up the entire world and I like that it makes the universe feel large.

SA: Also, it’s really hard to tie in dead people. [Laughs]

PS: Yeah, we were just talking about this the other day where if you go to The Walking Dead’s wikia page and under the comic book section for the characters, everyone just has a big red “X” on their faces. It’s just what they do. It’s what happens. If you stay with the main gang long enough, you’re going to get killed. So, that’s part of it, too, for sure.

EGM: Alright, last question. Telltale has worked on a lot of licensed properties over the years (Back to the Future, Jurassic Park, etc., etc.) and you just announced two more with Borderlands and Game of Thrones. If you could add another new license to the list, what would it be and why?

SA: There are so many I would love to do, but it would have to make sense for us to spend the time on it. And it’s hard to even say because we never know what we may be working on in the future. It’s just so hard to say.

PS: And even that, everyone is so excited for what we have coming up, like with Game of Thrones. It just fits what we do so well. I will say, though, that before I even worked here I was a fan. I played the first three episodes [of The Walking Dead] before coming on, but I always thought that in terms of what Telltale does, even before I was an employee, that Brian Azzarello’s 100 Bullets would be a cool adaptation because of its nature. I mean, it would be a game where the bullets matter a lot. It’s not just a number up in the corner of the UI. When a gun gets shot, it means something, when a person gets shot, it really means something. So how precious that is, or how devastating that is was something I always thought was interesting.

Oh my darling, Clementine

EDITOR’S NOTE: THIS REVIEW MAY MAKE REFERENCE TO EVENTS THAT TOOK PLACE DURING SEASON ONE OF TELLTALE’S THE WALKING DEAD. IF YOU DON’T WANT IT SPOILED, I IMPLORE YOU TO GO PLAY IT AND THEN COME BACK. ALSO, WHAT TOOK YOU SO LONG? IT’S BEEN OUT FOR A YEAR ALREADY. WELL, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?! GO! THEN COME BACK.

Last year, Telltale captivated gamers everywhere by capturing the essence of what makes The Walking Dead comics great: human drama that just happens to take place during the zombie apocalypse. In the process, we got to know—and fall in love with—protagonists Lee and Clementine. Their unique dynamic is what kept many players going to the very end, when Lee finally succumbed to his infection. Clementine’s story was far from over, though, and now in Season Two, instead of serving as her protector, we get to play as Clem herself and see just how the world around her begins to take its toll during some of her formative years.

It’s been a little over 12 months since we played the end of Season One (the first time, anyway) and six since 400 Days, so in order to get players back into the groove of surviving the end of modern civilization, the episode starts off by punching you in the gut several times with some sequences you will not see coming. If you thought you might coast for a while and get your bearings playing as Clem, you’d best think again.

This sink-or-swim approach is a brilliant move by the gang at Telltale, as it serves two purposes. Not only does it prepare you for what’s to come over the rest of the episode—both in terms of point-and-click gameplay and dramatic tone—but it also forces you into Clem’s shoes faster, preventing you from “meta-gaming” scenarios as though you were still protecting Clem (a possible side effect of your role in Season One). This habit would be harder to break later on if you became used to that idea, and the game would be less immersive as a result.

I admit that, going into this first episode, I was afraid I’d fall into that mindset myself—and that there’d be a disconnect between me and playing as Clem because of it. Due to the nature of the first few scenarios in the episode, however, I quickly found myself playing out conversations as though I were actually Clem. I was still “protecting” her, but mostly because I was protecting a part of myself. I didn’t have the time to think on a meta-scale. Thus, when things finally did slow down, I was already in the mindset of thinking as Clem and continued on that route.

I also thoroughly enjoyed many of Clem’s conversation choices. If I wanted to maintain her innocence—since she still isn’t even a teenager—the game offered options for that path. If I wanted to wear some of Clem’s emotional scars on her sleeve a bit more, I could do that, too. Other times, Clem displayed more adultlike logic, showing off her accelerated maturity due to her past experiences. I personally chose this path, and was pleasantly rewarded when it led to a particularly entertaining conversation between Clem and a sassy older woman. My Clem doesn’t take s*** from anybody!

For all the good Telltale does in this opening episode’s story, they did make a couple of questionable design choices. The most notable—and disappointing—is the lack of ramifications from the decisions you made in Season One and 400 Days. While the “next episode” teaser at the end of All That Remains does seem to hint at this situation being rectified, I would’ve loved something more than a couple of dialogue choices reflecting back on what happened down in Savannah.

Part of this could be the idea that new players may be coming on board, much like how some people start watching the second season of a TV series after hearing how popular it is. The problem is that by trying to cater to a new audience, Telltale might be ostracizing their returning fanbase with this more generic entry point for the series.

If anything, making a lot of references to prior events could compel people to go back and buy and play Season One. Even if players don’t have a Season One save, this episode has a scenario generator at the beginning that plays out the major choices so that players can experience Season Two without fear of punishment or missing out on content. So, why not reward your loyalists a bit more and throw them a bigger bone?

I also felt like the episode ended at an odd point. In Season One, every episode had a very natural conclusion. All That Remains’ end comes out of nowhere, and it’s incredibly jarring. While it works as a cliffhanger—and I understand that the next episode will begin with some major conflict—there was an earlier sequence that would’ve made much more sense as a “natural” ending. But ending there would’ve made this experience a bit too short, and as it stands now, the episode’s only 90 minutes long, so it seems that Telltale wants to make sure players are still getting their money’s worth.

Despite these couple of questionable choices by Telltale, their Walking Dead series continues to be a narrative powerhouse. Even though there’s only an hour and a half of content here, there were several instances that I had to pause the game, walk away, get a drink, and then come back. I simply couldn’t power through and ignore the events of this episode, and I found myself frantically worrying about Clem now—just as much as when I was protecting her as Lee.  Fans of Season One have no excuse not to go out on and get this first episode of Season Two, and while I think newcomers should still play Season One first, they’ll be OK using this as a jumping-off point as well.

Developer: Telltale Games • Publisher: Telltale Games • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 12.17.13
8.0
All That Remains is a fine way to kick off the second season of The Walking Dead. Telltale made some interesting design decisions putting players in the role of Clementine, and most of their choices—but not all—work out nicely.
The Good The story immerses players from the get-go.
The Bad Lack of ramifications from previous episodes.
The Ugly How easy I found it to play as a little girl.
The Walking Dead: Season 2: Episode 1 – All That Remains is available on Steam (PC/Mac), XBLA (Xbox 360), PSN (PS3), and iOS. Primary version reviewed was for Steam (PC).

Telltale’s take on 5 Lives

With fans of Telltale’s runaway hit based on Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead chomping at the bit to get their hands on the next season like a group of walkers with raw meat, 400 Days comes at just the right time—an appetizer of sorts for what the future may hold for the series. Functionally, 400 Days serves as a bridge between Season One and Two that looks to establish new characters we may meet, as well as a whole new series of choices that will continue to effect us and play out through the next season.

Now, with something so story-driven, I can’t get into many details without spoiling things. What I can tell you is that 400 Days centers around an abandoned pit stop diner/gas station where five different groups of people are put to the test throughout the first year of the outbreak. Some stand alone, while others unknowingly affect each other—and whatever decisions you make will have an effect on Season Two (when we’ll hopefully get to see Clementine again).

Yes, I can tell you that Clementine doesn’t make an appearance in this DLC. This may break a few hearts—we all want to get an inkling into the girl’s fate—but it gives a flurry of new and interesting characters who we might be able to look forward to Clementine meeting. This could give diehards of the series unprecedented insight into the people around them, not just the main character.

400 Days’ main purpose is to act as setup for Season Two more than anything, and may stand relatively far away from the first season. But it also makes plenty of subtle references to Season One that will have gamers who beat Lee and Clementine’s odyssey grinning ear to ear.

If you didn’t beat the first season, well, first: What are you waiting for?! Second, if five 20-30 minute bite-sized adventures are more your speed right now than a 2-3 hours chapter, you can still go ahead with 400 Days and not worry about spoilers. My only complaint with this DLC was that it was DLC and not a standalone episode since it makes for a perfect jumping in point for newcomers to the series. Instead, the game is only available to players who already have a Season One episode on their hard drives. Of course, this could be an ingenious way to try to hook players by making them buy both Season One and 400 Days.

In regards to the gameplay, it’s much of the same. It’s still primarily a point-and-click adventure, with occasional opportunities to walk around and chitchat with characters before making another impossible decision. The animations felt a lot smoother this time around, however, as compared to some of Season One’s episodes.

400 Days puts players in the same kind of gut-wrenching situations we expect from the franchise. I constantly had to deal with life and death choices, but the short nature of the chapters makes the decision feel like a morbid lightning round. This served as an interesting changeup to how the first season went about telling its story, while finding ways for players to invest in a whole new group of characters in a fast and fun way. All in all, this makes 400 Days possibly the most enjoyable chapter in the series yet—and a must play before The Walking Dead: Season Two starts later this year.

Developer: Telltale Games • Publisher: Telltale Games • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 07.02.13
9.5
The perfect bridge between Season One and Two of The Walking Dead, 400 Days expertly sets up new characters in fun, interesting bite-sized chunks that will do nothing but get fans more hyped for Season Two.
The Good Makes some subtle, but enjoyable nods to Season One, while expertly building a narrative bridge to Season Two.
The Bad The stories hold up enough that the DLC could’ve been a standalone release.
The Ugly We still don’t know what happened to Clementine.
The Walking Dead: 400 Days is available on Xbox 360, PS3, PS Vita, PC, and iOS. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox 360.

For Clementine

Back in April, gamers had a chance to start an epic journey—one that involved being thrust into the midst of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead universe via the start of a five-episode game series by Telltale Games. On this journey, the unlikely relationship between an 8-year-old little girl and a man turned convict after a crime of passion would consume everyone who played this landmark game; protecting this child quickly became the center of your apocalyptic world. Now, seven months later, Telltale’s episodic roller-coaster ride looks to come a halt, as Lee and Clementine’s adventures in the zombie apocalypse are all but done for the time being.

Admittedly, it’s hard to talk about a game such as this for several reasons—chief among them being that gameplay centers squarely on the story. Many gamers will have different situations going into this final episode of Season One due to the branching paths caused by the countless decisions made over the course of the previous four episodes. And because of this, the last thing I want to do is spoil any of the insane surprises in store for you in this episode. I can assure you, though, that if you thought the heart-wrenching moments and plot twists were going to slow down with this final chapter, you thought wrong.  There’s some resolution, but all I can say is that every decision has a consequence—and Lee’s sins will come back to haunt him in powerful, terrifying ways if you weren’t careful over the course of your playthrough.

I’ll also say that even though this episode may be the most emotionally charged, it’s also noticeably the shortest of the series. That’s not to say it’s not worth your money, since everything you’ve worked toward comes to a head here—but, clearly, not everything can burn at the high this particular episode does for as long as the previous episodes ran.

Aside from the emotionally charged story, this episode also features some new and tweaked gameplay elements that count on players knowing the controls. Fewer prompts and more frantic instances tested my reflexes more than any previous episode—while also heightening the tension of the events transpiring around me while I looked for Clementine.

At the end of the day, enough cannot be said about Telltale’s The Walking Dead, whether you’ve been with it from the beginning like myself and downloading the final episode today or purchasing the fully compiled season on disc on December 4th. It isn’t the most involved of videogames in terms of gameplay, but it’s truly an accomplishment in game storytelling—and this episode only continues what Telltale started while leaving plenty of questions swirling around to ensure the already confirmed second season will kick off with a bang. If you’re a fan of The Walking Dead, point-and-click adventure games, or just intricate storytelling, this series is a must-have and should be in everyone’s game-of-the-year discussions. You’d be doing yourself a disservice not playing this game.

SUMMARY:  Right from the start, this episode cranks up the tension to 11. Unfortunately, this may also be why it burns itself out as the shortest episode of the series. However, it’s also one of the most satisfying, as everything you’ve built up to finally comes to a head—and in the end, you’ll do whatever you can to protect Clementine in this accomplishment in videogame storytelling.

  • THE GOOD: Leaves itself open enough for a second season.
  • THE BAD: Shortest episode of the series.
  • THE UGLY: Human nature.

SCORE: 9.0

The Walking Dead: Episode 5—No Time Left is available on Xbox 360 (XBLA), PS3 (PSN), and PC. Primary version reviewed was for XBLA.