[As Read on GIO.]
Putting Clem into the Frying Pan Yet Again…
Just in Time for a New Fire to Start.
Clementine’s very character is definitely one of the most enjoyable I’ve witnessed transition from stuttering and semi-meek (not weak though!) little child to stout and brave kid, and her life post-Lee is equally depressing and action-packed as ever. In the zombie apocalypse, action isn’t necessarily a good thing most of the time, but surprisingly (although always hinted at) the majority of the threats do not stem from the Walkers themselves- although they remain a large part of the background, but rather from the other humans roaming the now desolate world. As much as Season Two has been a coming of age story and a fight for survival between Clem’s crew and the scavengers, murderers, and other oddballs they’ve thus far encountered, it also has boiled down simply to actions versus words and whose speak loudest and clearest at the end of the day. You’d be surprised just what you may find yourself able to do at the end of the day, and what Telltale will allow Clem to do as a result…
There is the ever-present issue of mortality- how little of it makes its way into and through Robert Kirkman’s zombie apocalypse of choice, as your allies constantly have the ‘opportunity’ to die on your watch right and left, although admittedly sometimes there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. One of last year’s most desperate and depressing factor’s and moments in gaming was definitely not being able to do anything but choose between one of two friends or companions- a la Kaidan/Ashley from Mass Effect 1, and as much as it killed me (and everyone else usually) it was a rush and definitely eye-opening. Telltale still doesn’t hold the punches back even now, having reach Season Two’s halfway mark, and there is still so much more to be seen of the dreadfully brilliant story and conflicts continuing to emerge. Sure, some actions and reactions available to a child no more than ten or so seem a bit on the ridiculous side, but after all it is a game revolving around the apocalypse, so some leeway is to be expected and given rationally. If you thought Season One’s ending was bleak enough, there have been many moments already in this one that put it to shame and up the ante in several ways, although I won’t ruin them now.
That all having been said, please also bear in mind that as dark as the road has already gotten and as twisted as things are, it is surely going to get worse- as it definitely does for the duration of this particular episode in terms of story and actions. I know there’s supposed to be a silver lining to most things and that nothing is ever truly impossible or insurmountable, but if it isn’t now it’s getting pretty damn near unbearable for Telltale’s cast, and it’s going to be all the more interesting to see who cracks next. The questionably sane Carver character makes an appearance of course yet again, with the plot definitely revolving for the most part around his Darwinistic and methodical approach to cruelty and ‘survival.’ Just like the ending episodes of Season Four of the television show counterpart in which the cannibalistic inhabitants of Terminus are obvious brainwashed into following the orders of their leaders, so too are Carver’s followers- pretty much mindlessly heeding his sadistic orders (although also probably out of fear for their own well-being and lives).
Survival is a theme that has run deeply throughout the series for good reason- it’s the apocalypse, and that theme definitely resurfaces here more-so than it has in the last two episodes, making Clem’s trials and tribulations for the sake of becoming or remaining strong all that much more real and scary. As scary as it is to see the girl battle with various demons that she shouldn’t have to deal with at such a young age, and scenarios she is placed in- often thanks to Carver’s pretty much evil ways, it would be so much scarier if she did indeed crack as others have and not only die, but worse- find herself indoctrinated into the ‘cult’ which the madman/villain runs. Constantly throughout the episode the gambling grows riskier and the stakes increase, only starting with dangling some things you (and as a result Clem) hold dear before you, so tantalizingly close, and ending up who knows where by the end of things… That is the scariest bit of all. Imprisonment and trials (or tribulations) are two major themes throughout the episode, as well as of course the hinted dangers always present- even mentioned in the title itself. Others react in a variety of believable ways to this imprisonment- if they’ve made it this far, and it is interesting to see how returning and new characters alike respond to the situations.
I think one of the most interesting factors about the episode is the further portrayal of the series’ characters, both newly introduced and already known or heard of. Some 400 Days characters make appearances- assuming they survived those events of course, as well as the other familiar and/or constant faces, alongside naturally, new and semi-intriguing specimens as well. Also naturally, some people seek escape above all else while others mull things over and actually think things through instead of simply cracking under pressure or the sadistic choices which Carver presents from time to time in return for ‘progression’ or even the tantalizing possibility of freedom. As aforementioned, Clem is far from unaffected- and although things could’ve been a lot worse by the end, I’m still reeling over the possibility that she is becoming more and more Carl-like every day and her scarily calm demeanor is fairly similar to the borderline sociopathic mentality that the other child of the Walking Dead possesses. Hopefully however, this is just something Telltale has done in order to preserve some semblance of reason in an insane world or to make things not so dreadful for Clem and players, but as with anything here…I’m not entirely sure, and that bothers me.
As with the majority of the second season’s formula, and that of the series thus far as a whole, the gameplay remains pretty much unchanged and works as well as it ever has. Choices, character to character relationships, and the tense, fragmented action sequences are all present in this episode in varying quantities and are also pulled off quite well. At times the story may seem rushed in order to cram as much as possible in, however the pacing still comes away as working correctly and never jams too much in your path- aside from times when this is purposely done in order to send signals and messages of overwhelming despair or insurmountable danger the player’s way. Something that is all-too scary and a valuable tactic in Telltale’s ever-evolving arsenal, it would seem. Many of the choices here are presented with little to no reaction time besides instinctual button presses and you may find yourself surprised as to the results in their turn as well, often for ill and rarely (never, honestly) for good or for another being’s good anyway. Sometimes it may be as ‘simple’ as saying the right or wrong thing to somebody at the right or wrong time whereas many other times it will be giving you the opportunity to possibly save a friend or frenemy, or not. Amdist the chaotic zombie apocalypse, these were by far some of the best (and most dastardly) choices yet presented in the season and series.
This next portion may seem petty in more ways than one, and very much so could be recognized as such, but please hear me out for now. Since Telltale’s last playable character was a grown man named Lee, and therefore a very different character from the child-like (in body and stature anyhow) Clementine, many things have changed throughout the game’s formula that make its believability more difficult to bear at times. For example, many action sequences are tougher because Clem can’t fight most of her enemies straight up and is often forced to simply evade them or outsmart them, sort of like Ellie in The Last of Us (at odds with Joel’s similarly Lee figure). I’m not complaining about this at all, but it does build up to a certain point I’m about to arrive at. What does annoy me is the fact that a child- even one as experienced as Clementine, would be asked to perform all of these different tasks by her companions. Sure, many are relatively believable, and naturally everyone must step up in such hard times, but some are downright sadistic in their own right- I mean, seriously! Sure, it’s for the sake of story progression and the game, but because Telltale couldn’t come up with many other ways to progress the story in the same directions, it sort of kills the mood and setting for me, and often Clem’s growth cycle as a character is nipped back a bit as well because of it. However, all in all, this is a very minor gripe in my mind as much else is handled excellently or at least better.
As is often the case, it hasn’t been desperation that has been the worst thing Telltale has crafted in their story thus far, but ironically rather it has been hope. Giving us that hope and then more often than not crushing it, yet still having us dogging along beside the equally dejected characters could be called sadistic if it weren’t a game, and probably still is, but I’m certainly ‘loving’ it- if that’s even that right, related word for matters such as this. I’m hardly enjoying myself or Clem’s trials and troubles, but you know what I mean, surely. As much as I don’t doubt that Telltale could or would kill Clem given the opportunity, I hardly think it would be at the end of this season- although we’ve been shocked before so anything could happen. That having been said, as much as I want to murder Carver and many of his cronies myself, or give the other NPCs a piece of my mind, or see Clem triumph in the end, I know that inevitably and sadly so, there is always going to be at least one human and one zombie out there, and that distinguishing which is the true monster in specific circumstances may be more difficult than anticipated as well. As Christopher Nolan’s Batman said… “Which is worse- being a hero or living long enough to see yourself become the villain?” After this particular episode, I’m drained, but I still remain hopeful against all odds and can’t wait to see into what dark, far reaches the series travels next…
Concept: Continue the desperate tale revolving around Clementine and her interactions with both enemies such as the dead walking and other human beings, as well as her so-called friends and companions- an unknown and unexpected variable or three being inserted along the way.
Graphics: As usual, the same visual scheme can be seen, however for what it is worth the animations did seem somewhat smoother this time around, so maybe there is at least some small improvement to be had thus far as well.
Sound: A dark tone is easily established thanks to the chilling and oftentimes haunting melodies utilized, and the characters’ voices all fit accordingly in with their very looks, actions, and general tones as well which is definitely a plus.
Playability: As with the rest of the series, the controls are never really an issue, although they do always take a little while to get a grasp on for newer players.
Entertainment: This episode definitely featured more fastballs and curveballs than any slow pitches, although it remains to be seen if Clem and Telltale have hit any homeruns just yet, despite getting what is undoubtedly a great start already as the story has progressed thus far.
Replay Value: High.
Overall Score: 8.75
As a final note, which I do not often include in my reviews, I would like to say that thus far- especially apparent in my spate of reviews for this Season alone, the series has definitely continued to improve both in gameplay pacing and storyline. Simply put, look at the progression from Episode One to now- I gave the first an 8.0, the second and 8.5, and this one has elicited a very close series high (for me) of an 8.75. I’m excited to see if we can continue to reach new heights and what highest highs or lowest lows the story will dive or fly to. Until next time, I’ll leave this here review for you all to peruse.