Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Walking Dead: Episode 2

I finished my first play through of the Walking Dead: Episode 2 last night. Let me up front say it was a good time. I had some gripes, but by the time I got the game, most of the show stopping bugs seemed to have been gone, or I have a computer set up that is impervious to them. Either way, I can't knock it for failing to run properly. Let me say up front about some of my thoughts below: There will be spoilers. If you want the tl;dr version: Good game. Should buy

The game is plot; it is not very gamey. You will not have fun in the traditional sense. It is more of an experience or an adventure book. You are guiding Lee from point A to B, with awkward action scenes in between. That's fine; it is what I expect from the game. If you want a game though, you may want to look elsewhere. This is, primarily, a story experience.

With that said, it delivers there. Anyway, on to the more spoilerific thoughts.

The Time Skip

The three month time skip between episodes helps us move the plot forward and introduces the new guy. The problem is, it seems like everything else in the world has stood still. There's a few hints that things are evolving; Kenny and Lilly are getting worse and worse with each other. Larry, while still a raging jerk, is actually kind of pleasant at times. At one point, Larry even tells Kenny to calm down, and he's right. Things have happened in those three months, we don't know it all, but it feels kind of natural. I liked it.

Mark, The New Guy

I felt the introduction of Mark was actually handled fairly well. He seems like a solid, dependable sort of guy, and I thought that they handled getting to know him really well. In the first few minutes with him, we learn a lot about him, probably on par to what we got from Carley/Doug during the first game. My biggest problem with him is that he just felt like Mr. Exposition for a bit, then I realized later, he's just a gossip. He's a people person who needs people. They handled him really well. Killing him off seemed cruel, especially since no one in your group seemed the least bit concerned with him.

You can argue Lee is suspicious the whole time; when he asked to go wash his hands, I got the feeling from the look in his eyes he meant: "I'm going to go snoop now. Ok?" But, Lilly and Kenny, for all their paranoia, never demand to see their injured team mate? Poor guy; I think maybe Lee is the only one who really cared about him.

Ben, The Other New Guy

Ben is sadly out of focus most of the game. I feel like we really don't get to know him well at all. He just sort of tags along most of the time for no real good reason. He'll probably do more later, but this episode, he just felt like an incomplete character. He served to give us fairly important information about the infection, but he even handled that awkwardly. He's probably the weakest of the new characters introduced (not including his two friends who are even less well defined due to being dead.)

The St.  Johns

One problem with making nice seeming people who end up going crazy on you is that, well, it helps if they aren't several shades darker than the rest of your team and a little off-kilter from the moment you meet them. Andy and Danny literally have villain voices and color palettes from the moment they show up. The scene with Jolene is not shocking because we know Danny's got screws loose well before then. If they had been wearing brighter clothes and did not talk like card-carrying villains, then their sudden lust for revenge would've been a bit out of place, but believable. They're tired of being pushed around!

But, with their whole look and feel? There's no reason anyone should have felt even marginally comfortable there. Staying at the dairy was like the Abilene paradox. No one really wanted to be there, but everyone else thought the rest thought it was a damn good idea. I would have tried to go back to the earlier parts with them and make them less obviously menacing.

Kenny A and Kenny B

The game seems to actually have two different Kennys. The one is the semi-reasonable, friend-figure from episode one. He's reliable, protective of his family, a good leader, but a bit of a coward. Then, somewhere in those three months, he's gained a kind of blood thirsty mentality. He challenges the St. Johns instead of letting them pass; he suggests taking the dairy by force if need be (Larry, of all people, shoots this idea down). Somewhere in those three months, he seems to have hit a speed bump of just utter despair. What's worse is that, the one bug I did get hit with, is that, despite shouting Larry down in the pharmacy in episode one, he seems to think that I was pro-toss out the kid. Sometimes. Other times not. Which is part of the reason, I think, Kenny seems so disjointed in this episode; the flags for his dialogue aren't all flipping consistently. So, in one play, he'll remember how you stood by him, say he remembers that you wanted to throw his son out of the pharmacy, then say he thought you'd have his back again. None of these problems, however, mesh well with what we see of him (and Lilly) in the finale.

Heck, at dinner, when Lee rushes in to tell everyone it is made of people, Kenny tells you to calm down because you are scaring the kids. Pal: You're the one who wanted to look in the barn. Where's all that paranoia now? I don't know; of all the characters in episode two, Kenny just feels like he gets the shaft in the characterization department. Especially when he asks if Lee knows how to pick a lock because he's urban. That... came out of left field and didn't fit anything we know about Kenny.

I know we established that he's a bit of a coward when he ran off and didn't help save Shawn at the farm. But, we also see that he's got a spine in him when he needs it, coming back for you in the pharmacy and holding the line while you try to help the teacher. So, when he just sits by after we refuse to help him kill/destroy Larry, it just makes no sense. Yeah, he might be pissed at you and scared, but, since he's still with you in episode three, obviously he's not that upset by it enough to leave. Lilly doing the same when you side against her also makes no sense. This isn't them slighting you; they are actively leaving you to die till you solve the problem. Maybe I can believe Lilly is this vindictive, but Kenny comes back for you in the first episode even if you side with Larry. It just feels weird that he'd give up on you here.


You can play Lee in a lot of ways; but he has the same problems that Lilly and Kenny have. Here's really where Telltale's writing is the best. I never feel like I do in some other game conversation trees, where my responses can feel schizophrenic, swinging from one extreme to the other. Lee's conversation flows very natural, ratcheting up and down nicely as you want it.

He also really seems to be evolving as a leader. Which would be for the best, which means it won't happen. His relationship with Clementine is a central part of the story, and it really does it well. Children are usually a drag on a game, but the writers do a good job of balancing cute moments with the rest of the game. The best moment in this episode comes in the barn with the cow. "I don't know"  is delivered perfectly.

But, Lee is also kind of a real dick at times when he doesn't have to be. You need to create a distraction; I can think of loads of distractions you could do. But shutting down the generator that is protecting everyone on the dairy from zombies is not the first distraction I would accept. I mean, you know they'll come out to try and fix it. That's a given. But if they can't, and there's nothing wrong, then you've ruined everything.

I mean, from the very start, I don't think Lee, the character, is really sold that the place is safe or good. You can try and play him that way, but he seems suspicious. Even if you try and make him say things that are supportive of the dairy, they don't really come across that way. I like Lee, the character. I just feel we're more shaping at the edges than really creating. Which is again, fine. But, I think that's an important distinction for people thinking of playing the game to keep in mind.

Anyway, this is a rather unstructured series of thoughts on the game.

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