I’m not really here to talk about the unfolding events of Telltale Games’ season two for The Walking Dead and what latest hole Clementine and company have dug for themselves this time. In short and without spoiling things, people get hurt, both by zombies and their fellow humans, and there’s traveling and dashed dreams and madman-inspired plans and–everyone’s favorite–many soul-crushing decisions, which you have to often make in a split second. Y’know, basically everything that was great from The Walking Dead‘s first season is back once more. Well…maybe not everything.
In this episodic adventure series’ first season, back when you controlled smart, encouraging Lee Everett, it was very much a traditional point-and-click experience, but on a console and with a focus for storytelling and action-heavy sequences. You still explored scenes, talked to people, collected clues and items for your inventory, and solved puzzles using those items on other things. However, over the first three episodes of season two, namely “All That Remains,” “A House Divided,” and “In Harm’s Way,” I’ve noticed the game losing most of those elements, turning into more of a linear product of pure interactive fiction than anything else. I still love it and have a blast deciding who is going to remember what, but it does kind of bum me out that there’s less to do creatively–and, for lack of a better word, videogamey–between big scenes. I mean, remember when you got to play detective with Duck and actually solve a mystery; those days are long gone, I’m afraid.
Maybe it has to do with the fact that The Walking Dead has now infected–yes, pun intended–every piece of technology capable of playing a videogame. Yup, talking about mobile devices like iPhones and iPads. You can clearly see the developers thinking about this subset of gamers, given how many more action scenes rely on “swiping” as a means of a quick time event instead of just button prompts. It’s a little weird using a controller to press down via the analog stick to have Clementine hide from an incoming zombie, but maybe it feels more effective on a touch-based device. That said, it’s now a game series of dialogue choices (good!) and QTEs (bad!) and backseat steering (very bad!), which probably works better on mobile devices than the places The Walking Dead was initially born.
Let me slightly spoil a section from the latest episode–“In Harm’s Way”–to get my point across about how stripped and, dare I say, dumbed down The Walking Dead is at this point. Gameplay-wise, people. Gameplay-wise. So, Clementine is sneaking into an office to turn on a PA system for…well, reasons. You get into the office via a cutscene, walk over to a desk and inspect the PA system with the press of a button. Upon a closer look, you can then press a switch to flip on the external speakers. You do that; there is no other way to try things, you only have one choice to move forward with the “puzzle.” Then you are told to turn on the mic, so you try, and it’s not working. A quick cutscene has Clem then following the power cords from the PA system over to the CD player, which you try to turn on, only to find out there is no CD in its tray. The camera then does this back and forth motion, as if searching, and you instantly see a CD right next to the CD player. Sigh. You click on the CD, and the puzzle, if you want to call it such a thing, is does. Your hand was held the entire time, and there weren’t even any options to try things differently or mess up. Like, all you had to do, Telltale Games, was hide the CD in the room, anywhere, and have Clem actually search for it.
Trust me when I say that I’m, without a doubt, finishing this second season of Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead. I’m too invested in the story at this point, but knowing how much has changed with the gameplay bums me out enough to wonder that, if I have a mobile device capable of playing the probable, but not yet announced third season when it does drop in late 2015 or early 2016, I might just experience it there. True, I’ll be losing all of my choices I’ve made up to that mark, but what do choices matter in a world where you are no longer in control? Yes, Paul will remember that.
Also, I’m deeply worried about what Telltale Games is going to do with Game of Thrones. We all remember how Jurassic Park: The Game turned out, right?