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Thursday, 13 November 2014

Telltale Games' The Walking Dead Season 2, Episode2: A House Divided.

Telltale Games' The Walking Dead
Season 2, Episode 2
A House Divided.

Bear with me, it's been a week since I played this episode, some of the details are hazy. I - liked the part where two young lovers died due to a tragic misunderstanding? No, wait, that's 'two houses both alike in dignity.' I liked the bit where the house changed size and there was also a gigantic labyrinth beneath it? Er, hang on, that's - um, that's House of Leaves. I liked the bit where a man drew upon the power of Satan to cast out demo - no, Gospel of Mark, never mind.

Picking up directly where All That Remains left off, A House Divided has Clementine escape and return to the cabin of her new friends, where she is quickly confronted by a strange man named Carver, spooking the cabin residents into fleeing up north. A few weeks pass, and they find a ski cabin on some slopes - but the ski cabin is occupied, including a familiar face.

... The familiar face is Kenny from the first series, by the way. I would try to keep it a mystery, but I can't really write this review if I do, because a lot of the conflict in this episode hinges on Clem being torn between pretty, snuggly, warm Luke; and a seemingly reformed Kenny, who was never really Clem or Lee's favourite person in the first series, seeing as he spends about three episodes just hating Lee's guts, but is at least familiar. 

I, naturally, went with Luke, due to the position of the sun and the moon, as well as how I hate Kenny's guts. 

Whereas I quite like Luke.

A House Divided builds on a solid start from All That Remains, and it's a much meatier episode. Not necessarily in terms of length - I had a playtime of only about twenty-five minutes more than All That Remains - but in terms of gameplay and story. There's a lot of story packed into this episode, including Clem's first meeting with antagonist Carver, a murder, a meeting with a new group, a siege, and a hostage situation. That's not even including all of the fun interactions between Luke and Clem, who have become an adorable sibling-y team of adorableness. 

(Luke makes a good caregiver, I've decided. Lee needs to stop being dead so that he, Luke and Clem can be a family. Make it happen, Telltale Games.)

Even better, the story is bolstered by some fun gameplay. A fair chunk of that is quicktime events, which are not my favourite parts of The Walking Dead, but there were also choices that felt pretty meaningful here: The entire conversation with Carver felt like it was made up of meaningful choices, even though it was probably an illusion, and a rather serious conflict within the group later gave the opportunity for some nice, tense choice-making moments.

Zombie Catering Lady was an especially good addition to the cast.
I loved her character arc.

The cast also didn't feel too unwieldy. There were more than a few moments in the first series where you had so many people to manage and try not to annoy that it was difficult to keep track of everyone. 'Who are you?' I often found myself asking. 'Am I trying to get you on side? Are you part of the racist old white dude's power bloc?' Even though there's at least ten characters to keep track of here, I didn't feel overwhelmed by it. I don't know their names, but I could identify their major character traits, motivations, and relationship with Clem, and that's always handy. 

It's also done well in setting up a villain. The first series didn't really have one: The last few episodes sort of had an antagonist, sure, in the form of a man whose car you robbed from earlier on whose mild irritation somehow turned him into a Machiavellian genius, and whose name, face or general attributes I cannot remember - but the villain was, for the most part, 'the imminent threat of death from all sides', and that was fine. 

Carver, meanwhile, is clearly erudite, dangerous and intimidating from the moment you meet him, and his entrance defiles what was an otherwise safe place for Clem and the player, which sets up his villain cred quite well. He only builds on it when he shows up again later - in my playthrough, this involved him murdering multiple people and shrugging off a bullet wound like the villain from a slasher film. He's a very human villain, as opposed to the rather nebulous antagonistic force of 'we live in a horrible world' from the first series. 

The horrible, zombie-filled world.

(One question the learned colleague I was playing with did ask was 'Why haven't his own people killed him yet?' on the logic that he's dragging them out on a many day long expedition into dangerous zombie-filled territory just to track down one person, and that's probably the surest way to get shot in the back. Alas, we may never know. Charisma, I suppose.) 

So, I liked this episode. More than I did the first one, although I'm certainly fond of that one too, and so far, not-quite-halfway into the series, this series of The Walking Dead is doing pretty well for itself.

Next episode, it looks like we're getting to see the slightly cultish community Carver's built, in all of its horrifyingly brutal glory. I wonder if Carver will actually survive Episode 3. 

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