Telltale’s Walking Dead Season Two: What else we’d like to see
Telltale have just revealed that The Walking Dead season two will cast us as Clementine, and focus on her efforts to survive in the dangerous wilderness. It’s a key bit of information about the second outing, but it still leaves many tantalising, unanswered questions. As IncGamers’ resident fan of the world famous tear-jerker and haircut simulator, here’s what I’d quite fancy seeing in the upcoming set of episodes.
It should be obvious that this article will contain spoilers for season one, but just in case: THIS ARTICLE WILL HAVE SEASON ONE WALKING DEAD SPOILERS. There we go.
No more technical issues with saved games: Saved game transition issues plagued the PC version of the original Walking Dead. Though it didn’t affect everybody, enough players had trouble with getting newer episodes to recognise the choices made in previous installments (or losing their saves entirely.) This threatened to directly undermine one of the strongest parts of the game; the deft illusion of your choices altering the outcome of the plot. The level of support offered by Telltale over this issue was, frankly, a bit embarrassing. For season two, it’s not too much to ask for saves that work properly.
More ambitious branches in narrative: Right, with the technical pleas out of the way, let’s go for some real pie-in-the-sky stuff. I mentioned the “illusion” of choice up there. Videogames always do this, because the impact that choices can really have is limited by the scope of the story the game is trying to tell. BioShock Infinite was basically one long meta-commentary on the whole process of choice in games.
It wasn’t some sort of con job for Telltale to claim that choice would matter in the game and then craft a (relatively) linear narrative, since players were still getting somewhat different experiences throughout (did you head off with Doug, or Carley? did you saw off your own god damn arm, or not?) But once the curtain was lifted, the lack of clear, divergent paths throughout the season was as disappointing as it was understandable.
Since Telltale now have access to greater resources, I’m rather hoping for the kind of hugely unlikely Witcher 2-esque story branches that have people saying “Wait, you had a whole sequence on a blimp? I never even saw that.”
Mechanical variance: The Walking Dead is just about the only game to make me accept that quick-time events can have their place. That doesn’t mean I’m dying to play through another twenty “press X to stab the zombie” activities in Season Two though.
They’ll still have a role to play, of course, but it’d be terrific if Telltale could come up with some truly outstanding gameplay mechanics to complement their narrative talent. I’m not talking about adding traditional FPS bits or (god forbid) platforming sections or anything like that. Further experimentation with (and subversion of) the familiar aspects of storytelling within a videogame framework is what I’d love to see. Mess with our expectations.
I fully expect to see some of the time-sensitive actions introduced by The Wolf Among Us. That’s a fair start, but I have confidence in Telltale to find even more ways to stretch the structure of interactive fiction.
No magical resurrections: What I don’t want to see stretched are the boundaries of credibility. Earlier in the year there were some weird rumours that Kenny might be returning in some capacity. Honestly, I hope that’s not the case. We didn’t see a body in that alleyway, but other characters had enough of a vantage point to confirm that he stood no chance down there.
This is no slight on Kenny’s character. He was up there as one of the better written companions in the game. But bringing him back would be only a step or two shy of inventing a last minute miracle cure for Lee’s zombie bite and gunshot wound. Just silly. The only reanimated chaps I want to see around the place are zombies.
More arseholes: Feel free to give me more flawed, dubious and antagonistic characters to deal with, though. As any idiot knows, zombie media is as much about the human condition and the personal conflicts it ignites as the undead themselves. The Walking Dead embraced this truth with a big rotting hug, handing Lee a whole collection of screw-ups, angry malcontents and jaded weirdos to deal with.
People acting out of fear, ignorance or blind hatred are fantastic for narrative purposes. The early clashes between Lee and Kenny (that could eventually blossom into respect or friendship,) dealing with Lilly’s father Larry, and everything relating to pathetic human sad-sack Ben were all outstanding moments. Every one of them prompted by truculent and unhelpful characters.
The Clemtagonist: Naturally, we also need more sympathetic characters. The newly announced decision to let us play as Clementine should help fulfill that need, and serves as a handy way to call back to some of the choices we made as Lee during the first five episodes (see, those saved game transitions really need to work.)
In the first series, much of the emotional weight came from the Lee-Clem character dynamic. So it’s interesting to see Telltale (apparently) going in a totally different direction by placing Clementine on her own. I’ve no doubt she’ll be meeting up with people throughout the five episodes (that dialogue wheel needs to get some use,) but I wonder if this season will see a conscious shift away from her being part of any sort of team and towards being more of a lone survivor.
It’s going to be quite a feat for Telltale to write a child protagonist (even one we already know) who feels as compelling as Lee, but they’re one of the few studios with an accomplished enough narrative record to try. Whatever else you may feel about the choice, it’s a pretty bold one.
Stick to the schedule: The developer has been getting better at this, but the episodic nature of The Walking Dead really demands a regular release schedule. That was always the plan, but then Episode 3 slipped for a month or so and left Telltale with some rather annoyed fans. Episodes have their benefits (TV-style cliffhangers, the self-contained drama,) but this is one potential flaw.
Maintain the darkness: Doubly difficult now that Clementine is the main character. In the first season we saw starved child zombies, family deaths, brutality, inhumanity and desperate sadness at almost every turn. I don’t want those themes to let up, but I also don’t especially want the series to devolve into “horrible thing of the week happening to Clementine.” Like so many of the continuing narrative aspects of the series, this one will need to be handled with considerable skill. At this point, it’s all in Telltale’s hands.