[Editor's note: This review contains spoilers for the first season of the game]
Coming the week before Christmas, The Walking Dead season two is specifically designed to crush your holiday spirit. I don't care how merry you are from the caroling and eggnog; Telltale's newest game is guaranteed to bum you out. It's a stark reminder that no matter how bad you have it now, things could always be much, much worse.
Then again, it's not like the first season of The Walking Dead was a trip to Santa's workshop. Critics and gamers alike fell in love with the episodic series because of its unflinching look at surviving a zombie apocalypse. Nobody was safe in this brand new world, not even the likeable main character. Each episode was more emotional than the last, ultimately climaxing in one of the most gut-wrenching moments in video game history.
If this brand new episode is any indication, The Walking Dead hasn't changed much in its one year hiatus. It's hard to not feel a real sense of hopelessness as the survivors barely make it from one day to the next. It doesn't help that we've already seen how this plays out. There's no such thing as safety, because something bad is always around the next corner. If the first season taught us anything, it's that horrible things will happen, even when everything seems to be going your way.
As we begin the second season, things are definitely not going Clementine's way. As one of the few people who made it out of the first season alive, Clem has been forced to fend for herself and stay alive through any means necessary. A year and a half has passed since Lee died, and the once whiny young girl has morphed into a tough and seasoned young woman. She may have only grown a few inches, but the situation has forced her to mature faster than her age.
Although we learn the fate of Omid and a very pregnant Christa, most of this episode involves Clem surviving the elements on her own. And it's not just zombies she has to look out for this time around. This season premiere sees our pint-sized hero dealing with animals, other scavengers and even the rushing water of a river. She looks for food, shelter, medicine and friendly people that can help her make it one day longer.
I'll confess, I worried when I first heard that Clementine was taking over as this season's lead character. Don't get me wrong, I love Clem. She won me over early and I enjoyed watching her grow under the tutelage of Lee. Although she acted like a little kid, she was never annoying in the way that many children are written in video games, TV shows and movies. But as much as I loved her in those first five episodes, I was concerned that she might limit what the storytellers can do.
I was wrong to doubt Telltale Games. I like this new, independent Clementine. Lee taught her well, because this is a girl that can get out of a terrible situation. This episode gives her a lot to do, including puzzle solving, fighting and an extended sneaking section that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Clementine is able to do things that Lee never could, which gives me hope that this season will offer new gameplay mechanics tailor-made for this smaller protagonist.
There's a great moment when Clementine meets up with another young girl stuck in a similar situation. Unlike our weathered hero, this new girl has been sheltered and kept away from the horrors of the world. The juxtaposition between these two girls couldn't be more striking, perfectly illustrating just how much Clem has grown in the last two years. This new girl may be older, but you would never know it based on the way the two handle the harsh world.
Fans of the first season will feel right at home with this new installment. Although we've switched from Lee to Clementine, the basic structure remains unchanged. The episode is broken up between action, investigation and conversations. You'll spend a lot of your time choosing how to responds to people, potentially changing what they think of you. And just like the first season, the story changes based on the choices you make.
As a season premiere, All That Remains gets the job done. It gets us right back into the thick of the action, introduces us to new characters and offers up a few mysteries that will be resolved in future installments. So much of this episode is about catching up with Clementine and seeing how she's grown in the last year and a half. I found all that entertaining, but this is far from being one of the strongest episodes of The Walking Dead.
On the other hand, the questions it sets up have me intrigued. Who is this mysterious bad guy these new people are so concerned about? When will we meet up with the group from the 400 Days DLC? And with Clementine as the star, will Telltale be able to top the first season? I can't wait to see how this season unravels.
All That Remains is a satisfying episode that will remind you just how hopeless things can be. It doesn't change the formula or improve the series in any substantial ways, but it offers a compelling story with a bunch of new mysteries to uncover. Fans of the award-winning first season will not be disappointed with this premiere episode.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
If you thought the second season of The Walking Dead was going to be more lighthearted, then prepare to be disappointed. All That Remains sees a more mature Clementine battling to survive by herself. As first episodes go, this one definitely gets the job done. The hard part is waiting for the second episode.
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